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Playing Hard Ball

Fox plays to win. So when the Yanks play the Red Sox on April 16, the network's first regular-season prime time game will knock its ad rates right out of the park.

Spots that usually cost $35,000 for a Saturday-afternoon game were upped to $125,000-$150,000 for the Friday-night rivalry. (Fox's typical $2 million take from a Saturday-afternoon telecast jumps to nearly $9 million.) In fact, these 30-second spots are selling for nearly half
the $325,000 Fox got for World Series commercials last fall. And almost 90% of the 58 available positions are gone. America's pastime just went platinum.

Why the big bucks home run? The game shot to the top of Fox's priority list after the Red Sox acquired 2001 World Series co-MVP Curt Schilling, and the Yanks snagged superstar shortstop-turned-third baseman and American League MVP Alex Rodriguez. Though handling the game separately from the rest of its baseball package, Fox ad execs took the 58 available spots to its regular baseball advertisers. They scored with Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Taco Bell, and newcomer Scotts lawn care.

Ed Goren, Fox Sports president, and David Hill, Fox Sports chairman and CEO, had this white-hot match on their radar. Recognizing the intense Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in both markets, Fox made a pitch to Major League Baseball (MLB) to air this game, agreeing to give up two others. No wonder: The network expects to double the number of households that watch its weekend games and score a 12-13 share of adults 18-49. "It's a much bigger event than Saturday-afternoon baseball," says Jon Nesvig, Fox ad-sales chief.

Fox's regular season begins May 22 and isn't a big crowd-pleaser. Fox averaged a 2.5 rating for Saturday-afternoon games last season and has lost money with its $2.4 billion, six-year deal with the MLB. And this year, Fox's Friday-night prime time isn't doing much better. It averages only a 3.3, a far smaller audience than Fox thinks the Yankees-Red Sox will draw.