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Out there, no ones buying it

With advertisers somewhat jittery about the slowing economy and a later-than-normal Olympics sucking sports dollars out of the advertising market, sales for the World Series, on FOX this year, are essentially flat.

So much so that, last week, the network gave its owned-and-operated stations and affiliates additional time to sell. The reason: Local stations can sell it at higher rates than the network can.

Normally, FOX affiliates receive 7.5 minutes of time to sell in the games. Typically, the network sells 64 units per game. But for the playoffs and the series, FOX gave the stations an additional two minutes of time to sell. For three of the spots, the give-back is optional, where the affiliate sells the time and splits the revenue 50-50 with the network. Whatever time the stations can't sell would be used as promotional spots for FOX prime time programming.

"This marketplace isn't exactly gangbusters," says Jon Nesvig, president of Fox's ad-sales division. "I think the Olympics is having an impact on the market. Football is in really good shape, but it's taken longer for baseball because you had half again as much or more money out there, so a lot of sports dollars got sucked out early. It's definitely having a bit of a hangover on this market."

As of last Thursday (Oct. 19), the network had not sold out the series. "There is still a unit or two in the first four games, and a few more than that in game five," Nesvig said. Games six and seven are wide open, as they usually are until late in the sales process. "We did pick up recently, but people tend to wait and see" how the first couple of games go before committing to the last two games.

There's great debate about how well this year's series will do ratings-wise. Some think the country is so anti-New York that the Subway Series will turn off most of the heartland, while others believe that the hype and excitement of an event that last occurred over a generation ago may spur viewership.

But FOX is sure hoping viewers don't turn off the series like they turned off the playoffs. The league championship series were down 24% from last year (to an average 7.0 rating and 13 share between coverage on FOX and NBC). Make-goods were the result, although Nesvig says that all the make-goods were placed in the LCS itself.

At a media luncheon in New York last week, Tony Petitti, general manager at WCBS-TV, noted that NBC's decision to allow affiliates to decide whether to carry playoff games or the presidential debates may not have simply been that network's attempt to placate the FCC. Since NBC loses baseball to FOX next year, the network had no incentive to bolster playoff ratings.
Meanwhile, the spot give-back was "a win-win for the affiliates," said Robert Leider, WSVN(TV) Miami general manager.