Forgive Turner Sports president David Levy for rooting for more competitive series in Major League Baseball’s playoffs in 2008.
Last year, TBS’s first under a seven-year contract with Major League Baseball, four of the five series it carried were sweeps, reducing the ratings build-up that accompanies longer series and an attendant bump in ad sales “When did that ever happen before?” Levy asked.
Nevertheless, TBS’s 2007 postseason coverage helped the “very funny” network win cable’s ratings race last October and set the stage for the first season of its national Sunday afternoon package.
Buoyed by a number of in-game sponsorships, TBS, which has been in a strong ad sales position all year with its rookie Sunday-afternoon offering, is sold out for the remainder of its regular-season. (First pitch for the Aug. 3 game matching the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at the New York Yankees is slated for 1:07 p.m.ET). Among the companies that have enhanced positions in TBS’s regular-season games: Holiday Inn with the “Mid-Game Recap;” “Lotrimin Ultra Power Rankings;” the “Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Game;” “Sonic Diamond Rivalry;” “Old Mutual Hit Protector;” “Orkin Protective Play of the Day;” “John Deere Upcoming Schedule” and Applebee’s “Call at the Plate” vignettes.
“Baseball has a lot of momentum. There’s been a lot of water cooler conversation about Josh Hamilton [the Texas Rangers outfielder wowed the Yankee Stadium crowd during the Home Run Derby, with 28 deep homers in the first round of the competition] and the tight pennant races,” Levy said. “That’s helped our sales position.”
Through its first 17 games, TBS’s Sunday afternoon package averaged a 0.6 household rating, 545,000 homes and 663,000 viewers, including 293,000 persons 25 to 54. It’s been a mixed debut performance from Levy’s perspective.
“There’s still some tinkering with the schedule,” said Levy, noting that TBS selects its contests about three weeks out, and the network’s selection follows that of Fox (Saturday afternoon) and ESPN (Sunday night). “We’ve been going between picking the hot clubs, like Tampa Bay [Rays] or Philadelphia [Phillies], versus the national branded teams like the [New York] Yankees or the [Chicago] Cubs.”
Sports analyst John Mansell believes TBS’s regular season mark is pretty good for stepping to the plate for the first time.
“I think [TBS] is doing alright. Fans aren’t accustomed yet to turn to TBS for baseball on Sunday afternoon,” he said. “Plus, it’s non-exclusive. There are all the games on the regional sports networks. WGN has games and ESPN has Sunday nights. There’s a lot of baseball out there.”
Mansell also said the regular season is incidental to what really counts, the baseball that’s played in October.
“Just like Fox, most of TBS’s [rights fees and advertising] money is in the postseason. The regular season’s a throw in.”
Turner financial executives would likely disagree with that characterization. Together, TBS paid an estimated $800 million for its national regular- and postseason packages, which extend through 2013. As for postseason ad sales, Levy said TBS is “pacing way ahead” of last year, relative to both sell-through and CPMs. He declined to specify the ratios.
He also said that a majority of the advertisers listed above would have some postseason presence, and that Turner got a leg up on the process during the upfront this season “We were much more organized this year and took advantage of some substantial opportunities during the upfront,” he said. “They were largely incremental dollars from marketers that wouldn’t necessarily have been involved with Major League Baseball.”
Despite the spate of sweeps, TBS still has a good Nielsen story to tell and sell from its inaugural post-season: The four division series produced numbers big enough over the 13 games to top the average of ESPN and Fox by 26%, even though only one of the series — Yankees-Cleveland Indians — went beyond the minimum.
But the National League Championship Series, featuring late-night starts (for East Coast viewers) in which the Colorado Rockies swept the Arizona Diamondbacks, fizzled quickly, becoming the lowest-rated primetime LCS ever.
“They were relatively new teams that don’t have the national branded heritage yet,” said Levy. “And then it was a sweep. It’s like the NBA, when you get the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, big branded teams, you get better ratings.”
All told, the 17 post-season contests averaged a 4.2 household rating, 3.99 million homes and 5.37 million viewers, including 2.34 million adults 25 to 54.
Although the races are still taking shape, MLB and TBS, as of late July, had big market clubs from New York (the Yankees and Mets), Los Angeles (Angels and Dodgers) and Chicago (White Sox and Cubs, who are looking to end a 100-year World Series drought), not to mention the defending champion Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and a traditional power like the St. Louis Cardinals in postseason contention.
This season, TBS, in addition to its division series exclusivity, will present the American League Championship Series (Fox gets the NLCS in their alternating-season scenario) and Levy has a certain matchup in mind.
“I think we’ll be in good shape if it’s Yankees-Red Sox,” he quipped, alluding to the game’s biggest rivalry, who met in the 2003 and 2004 ALCS.
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