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With NHL Lockout, TV Rights-Holders Could See Hockey Ad Dollars Move to Other Networks

The fourth quarter is one of the busiest times of year for
sports on television, with the Big Four professional sports leagues in action
either airing regular- or postseason games. And the bulk of Q4 TV sports sales are
done, except for the usual scatter buying.

Kevin Collins, senior VP and director of national broadcast
for media agency Initiative-where he oversees TV sports buying for MillerCoors among
other clients-took some time out to discuss the fourth-quarter TV sports
advertising scene, including the impact the National Hockey League lockout
could have on the networks that hold league TV rights.

The National Hockey
League has locked out its players, which means the new season could be delayed,
shortened, or at worst, cancelled. What impact does that have on sports

This situation is not the same as the [2011] NFL lockout, where advertisers
would lose large ratings so they were willing to hold off a little while before
spending those dollars elsewhere. With the NHL, you are dealing with smaller
ratings and not as many ad dollars. On top of that, there are not many
nationally televised games in the fourth quarter. But there are advertisers who
spend a good amount of ad dollars locally with the regional sports networks
that televise hockey and they are going to lose those dollars. We can't be left
holding money for our clients at the end of the fourth quarter. We need to
spend it elsewhere.

Where would advertisers
move their NHL money?

With hockey, they are looking to reach younger males so we would probably
move it to the younger-skewing male networks on cable. I'm talking about
entertainment networks, not the cable sports networks. Some of those networks
are relatively cost-efficient. However, even ESPN's SportsCenter telecasts are a possible location for moved dollars. SportsCenter in many cases can draw
larger audiences than some of the hockey regular-season game telecasts. The
only issue would be where they have available time.

As far as you can
tell, where do the NFL telecasts stand in terms of sellout?

Upfront sales for the NFL telecasts have come and gone and they sold well.
Advertisers still want to be in the NFL. Not only is it DVR-proof but it is
appealing to more of a mass audience that includes women. Everyone wants NFL
inventory it seems. Most of the networks are sold out for the first two months
of the season, but you can still get into a game here and there. The networks
have held some inventory back for possible make-goods and as the games are
played and the ratings start to come in, there could be some of that inventory
released. But several games on NBC in particular are sold out.

What about NFL
playoff ad inventory?

Most of the playoff inventory is also sold during the NFL upfront. It moves
with the regular-season inventory. Each network might have 15 or 20 spots
overall that they are holding back and some advertisers wait to see what the
matchups will be. But postseason inventory is very expensive and has higher
unit costs than the regular season because the postseason ratings are so much

What are you
hearing about Super Bowl inventory and avails? CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said the
game is 90% sold out and the network is now getting more than $4 million per ad
unit in the game.

Well, CBS keeps its information pretty tight, but they do seem to have some
inventory left. The better positions, the "A" positions, may be sold out or the
first half may be sold out. As availability gets tight the prices can go up.
But those last few units always seem to be harder to sell.

Where does postseason
baseball stand as far as those networks selling out their ad inventory?

MLB postseason inventory can also be bought when you buy regular-season
inventory, at least through the first four games of the World Series. I've
heard that Fox and Turner are progressing with the postseason sales but they
still have some work to do before they are sold out. Sales will move faster
once it becomes clearer which teams-and from which markets-are going to make it

NFL advertising
cost advertisers high single-digit price increases this year. What ad rates are
the MLB postseason telecasts getting?

Live professional sports never get decreases from the previous year and
baseball is no different. While they are not getting the same percentages that
the NFL gets, it seems like MLB playoff inventory is selling for mid-single-digit
increases over last season.

The matchups in
postseason are important, but more so for baseball than football since in the
MLB playoffs, the same teams play multiple games, and if two smaller-market
teams face each other, the ratings could be much lower. While that can hurt the
networks and result in them having to give out make-goods to cover ratings
guarantee shortfalls, the advertisers are protected, correct?

We are protected but we still want to see the best matchups possible
that bring in the most ratings. While the matchups might be more important for
the networks, the advertisers still want to reach the most possible viewers
with those telecasts, even if they are protected if there are ratings