NBC Sports Ad Sales Reaping Benefit of NHL Playoff Ratings

NBC's decision to televise nationally-for the first time
ever-every game of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC, NBC Sports Network
(formerly Versus) and CNBC has been paying off big in both ratings and ad
dollars. Viewership is up double-digit percentages on both NBC and NBC Sports
Network and ad sales have been so strong, even with all the ad inventory
available, that NBC Sports Sales is only selling the remaining inventory as
part of packages tied into some of its other upcoming sports events.

Helping to boost ratings in the first or conference
quarterfinals round were a record 16 overtime games, 32 games won by one-goal
margins, and several series that went the full seven games. NBC televised six
playoff games on the broadcast network and averaged 2.5 million viewers, up 39%
from last year's four televised games, which averaged 1.8 million viewers. That
was the most-watched first round of NHL playoff games on a broadcast network
since 1998, when Fox averaged 2.7 million viewers for two televised games.

NBC Sports Network averaged 744,000 viewers per game, up 16%
from last year's games on Versus, and the highest average for a Stanley Cup
first-round series of games on cable since 2001 when ESPN averaged 745,000.

When the Stanley Cup playoffs finish in June, the NBC family
of networks will have televised as many as 105 playoff games and as much as 260
hours of programming.

Seth Winter, executive VP, sales & marketing, NBC Sports
Group, talked to MBPT about selling the Cup playoffs and about advertiser reaction
to what appears to be the growing popularity of professional hockey.

How does the level of ad sales compare for this year's playoff
telecasts to last year's?
It's hard to do a direct comparison because we are televising so many
more games this year and also because the number of games will vary depending
on how long series go. But I can say that we are running well ahead of last
year in terms of volume. And the ratings are going to grow even more. In the
first round, our telecasts were not exclusive, in that the regional or local
sports networks who have the individual team rights were able to also televise
those games locally. But from the second round on, we have exclusive coverage
for every game, so the ratings will grow.

What has the advertiser reaction been to NBC televising every game of
the playoffs?
There is a sense from advertisers that there is more consumer awareness
to the NHL and they see our commitment to making the sport much more visible
and accessible to viewers. There has been more press coverage and more social
network talk about hockey this year. Advertiser reaction has been very positive
to all of the increased visibility.

How would you describe the pre-sale of ad inventory for the NHL
playoffs this year?
We had an extraordinary healthy sponsorship season that started last
June and July. More sponsorships were sold than ever before. Most of the hockey
advertising was sold in packages that began with the first games of the season
and went through the Stanley Cup finals. Sponsors like Geico, Verizon and Honda
bought entire season packages through the playoffs.

Who are some of the other major advertiser sponsors of the playoff
Some of the major sponsors include MillerCoors, Discover and McDonalds.
We also have a lot of QSRs like Quiznos, Subway, Sonic and Dunkin Donuts.

What other ad categories had strong demand?
The auto category we sold out. We had to turn business away in that

Where do you stand right now as far as percentage of ad inventory sold?
We just finalized another $1 million worth of ad time. We are more than
90% sold out for the rest of the playoff telecasts.

But higher ratings open up more ad inventory, is that right?
Yes. Higher ratings mean we can take some of the inventory we put aside
for make-goods and now sell it.

And longer series also give you more opportunity to sell additional
We sell each series based on five games, so if a series goes longer, we
again have more inventory that opens up.

So if advertisers not already in the telecasts want to jump in, there is
commercial time available?
There is, but we are not selling any more inventory just for the
Stanley Cup playoffs. Any of the remaining inventory we sell for the playoffs
will have to be part of packages for some of our other upcoming sports
telecasts like our Triple Crown race coverage or U.S. Open golf. We want to
monetize our remaining inventory as best we can.

In addition to commercial time, what are some of the other
opportunities for playoff advertisers?
We are able to sell advertising on the dasher boards around the rink.
We control the entire side of the rink that our cameras are facing and what the
viewers can see on-air. We are allowed to superimpose our sponsors on the

How have advertisers reacted to the name change from Versus to NBC
Sports Network?
Everyone saw the benefit of an increase in awareness by viewers toward
the network. Versus just didn't have a strong enough brand name. NBC is just a
stronger, more defined and established brand and that has helped bring in more
viewers. But we are just starting to promote. We've only just begun. It will
take time to continue to establish the network. But it's all starting to fall
into place.