NBC Regional Sports Networks Grow Ad Revenue With Help From Digital Sites

The professional sports seasons this year have created some
key opportunities for TV ad sellers. They've also led to some potential
obstacles, such as the London Games telecasts on NBC possibly siphoning away
some ad dollars from other sports.

The addition of an extra Wild Card berth in both the
American and National Leagues has made the MLB telecasts more meaningful to a
wider range of viewers this season, while the National Hockey League locking
out its players-potentially delaying or even canceling the season-has helped
knock hockey ad sales clean off its skates.

How those factors impact the sports ad sales of the national
broadcast and cable sports networks and the regional sports networks can
sometimes vary wildly.

Ray Warren, executive VP and chief revenue officer for NBC
Sports Regional Networks, talks here about the year-to-date ad sales for
the company's 10 RSNs and how things are looking for fourth-quarter
when the 11th RSN goes live in Houston.

How has the
baseball season played out for NBC Regional Sports Networks in
regard to ratings and ad sales?

We have some good stories and some not-so-good stories. The Oakland A's and San
Francisco Giants produced great ratings which helped ad sales. On our Chicago
network, ratings for the White Sox were good and for the Cubs were not so good.
The Cubs lost a lot of games and our ad sales suffered from it. With the Cubs,
however, we knew this was going to happen going into the season so our
expectations weren't that high. We do not sell advertising for the Phillies
games in Philadelphia; the team sells the ads. But we do sell advertising for
our pre- and postgame shows for the Phillies telecasts and their play had a
negative effect on our sales. In general, though, we had good sales for the
summer and sales overall were up.

What impact did the
Olympics have on your ad sales?

Very little. Ad sales for our programming and game telecasts held up
well. The Olympics may have had an impact on sales in some places and with the
national networks, but not with us. It speaks to the strength of the
regional sports networks.

Are you anticipating
strong ad sales for MLB postseason coverage?

Well, we don't televise any games but we will do pre- and postgame coverage for
any of the teams in the markets we have networks in. Right now, the San
Francisco Giants are in and Oakland is close, so we will do highlights and look-back-on-the-season-type
shows and shows looking ahead to how the teams might fare in the playoffs.

Have you sold ad inventory
for programming surrounding a Giants playoff run?

We do have some deals in place. Clients put money aside for postseason and once
a team gets in, those deals are finalized.

Where do you stand
with ad sales for the NBA season?

We have a lot of NBA coverage on our networks so we [were] actually
starting to pitch ad sales for the next season during the playoffs of the
previous season. In general, we start selling the upcoming NBA season in May.
We televise the Celtics in Boston, the Bulls in Chicago, the 76ers in
Philadelphia, the Warriors in San Francisco and the Wizards in the
Washington, D.C., market. And this season we will also be televising
Rockets games on our new regional network in Houston, which premieres on Oct.
1. We've done most of our renewal deals, sponsorship deals and deals with new
advertisers. We still have some inventory left.

How do your NBA
sales compare to last season?

By opening night of the NBA season, we will be ahead of last season as far as
ad revenue goes. Overall, our fourth quarter this year will be better than fourth
quarter last year and last year's fourth quarter was up from the year before.

Has the large
influx of political ad dollars at the broadcast TV stations locally in your
markets had an impact on your RSNs?

We are not getting much political advertising, but we actually are getting more
general market advertising because some advertisers are getting shut out
on the TV stations. Our networks are actually broader than the stations as far
as reach goes because we are regional and they are just in the local DMAs. We
reach more viewers and that has made us attractive.

How are sales going
for the new RSN in Houston?

We have our sales force in place and the Rockets have been very active in
rebuilding their team. They've made a lot of moves including bringing Jeremy
Lin in. Our Houston network will be hyper-local, very Houston focused. In
addition to our pro sports coverage, we will televise high school football
games and college games including the University of Houston and Rice. Fox
Sports was the previous RSN in the market, but it covered a lot of Dallas
sports also. We are going to focus on Houston. We are hoping that all the local
corporations in the 30-to-50-mile radius of the city will support us with
advertising. We'll also be televising the Astros' MLB games next season.

Will the NHL
lockout have any impact on your ad sales?

The situation for hockey is very fluid. If the lockout continues, we may put
college hockey games on. We are working on that now but we don't want to do any
deals that will lock us in in case an agreement is worked out between the
league and the players. Our programmers will decide what programming will fill
the time when the NHL games would normally run. But we will work with all of
our sponsors to try to get them into our other sports programming. In Chicago,
Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and the Bay Area we have both basketball and
hockey so we could move some dollars. In Boston, we don't have hockey so we won't
be affected there. We just televise the Celtics games there. And in Houston, we
only televise the Rockets basketball games.

Has the continuing
growth in the number of college sports conferences that are starting their own
networks had any impact on your regional sports network ad sales?

Not really because our regional networks are built around professional sports
teams for the most part. We don't have as much college sports, although we do
have Atlantic Coast Conference programming and televise Maryland college games.
We have some college programming but it is not what we have built our business
around. Our reach is also much broader than the college conferences, as is our
audience. Our networks are in eight of the top 10 DMAs in the country and
professional sports are more of a ratings driver than college sports.

What are your
largest ad categories and what are some categories that have shown the most ad

Automotive advertising is by far our largest ad category and beer and wireless
are also very strong. There's been a resurgence of the insurance and
banking categories. Other strong ad categories are home improvement chains, home electronics products and the oil and gas companies.

How are
the RSNs doing with digital ad sales?

Digital is the best ad growth story we have. Ad sales for digital will double
over last year, and last year they tripled over the year before. We are having
a spectacular run in digital. We have created mobile apps for all of our
regional network sites. About 25%-30% of our audience views our sites via
mobile. We continue to hire more professional sports beat writers from the
local newspapers to write for our sites in the various markets.

How has
your RSN group been working together with the other media properties that
are part of NBC Sports?

The NBC broadcast network, NBC Sports Network, the Golf Channel
and our Regional Sports Networks all work together. We work closely
with Seth Winter [executive VP, sales and marketing, NBC Sports
Group], who cross-sells all of our properties in deals that he puts
together. Earlier this year, NBC National Spot Sales, which is part of the NBC
Owned Television Stations group, began selling national advertising
for some of our RSNs and Joseph Gallagher is the VP of national
sales overseeing that effort. So far, they are doing national selling for
our RSNs in New England, Mid-Atlantic, Northwest and Philadelphia and will be
selling for the Houston RSN also. Right now, he has a three-person sales team
based in New York, but is planning to add two more sales people to the team,
one in Los Angeles and one in Dallas. We also have added two research people
who will work with the RSNs.