Turner Strikes Gold With NBA All-Star Sellout

Even the olympics can’t slow down the NBA’s fast break.

Commercials during the league’s All-Star Game on Turner’s TNT, to be played on Feb. 18 — in the middle of the Winter Olympic Games — are completely sold out, according to Jon Diament, executive VP for Turner Sports Ad Sales.

The entire three-day All-Star weekend, filled with fan and sponsor activities, is sold out as well.

“We’ve recorded record revenue figures,” Diament said. “We’ve never done better.”

Ad revenue for last season’s All-Star programming rose 30% to $36.9 million, according to Kantar Media. It drew an average of 7.8 million viewers, up 3% from the prior year and its biggest audience since 2013.

Key sponsors include Kia, presenting sponsor of the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday and Inside the NBA; Autotrader, which presents the pregame NBA Tip-Off and Players Only, Mountain Dew Kickstart, which presents Friday’s Rising Stars game; and MetroPCS, sponsor of Kevin Garnett’s Area 21 talk show.

All-Star Saturday Night is presented by State Farm and includes the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the JBL Three-Point Contest and the Verizon Slam Dunk competition.

All of those sponsors are year-round NBA advertisers on Turner, Diament noted. In fact, 70% of Turner’s NBA clients buy spots on basketball year-round, including the NBA Draft and summer league.

TNT NBA halftime sponsor American Express expanded its deal with Turner to also become the sponsor of the American Express Road Show, a four-day festival at L.A. Live near the Staples Center featuring music performances, fan experiences, basketball clinics and food trucks. JBL is sponsoring a basketball court where fans can show off their skills, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey is hosting a mobile music studio and Tissot has put its brand on the 24-Second Challenge quiz contest.

Turner has also formed a partnership with Intel to provide a virtual reality version of the All-Star Game, the dunk contest and other activities.

Another source of rising ad revenues is the entertainment category, including the new digital and streaming players. Companies from Apple and Netflix to YouTube and Amazon are pushing their video content on big-ticket sports programming.

This new category that’s emphasizing content has emerged as one of the most aggressive categories for the NBA. “It’s healthy,” Diament said. “These advertisers follow the trend and say, ‘Let me park my money where I know the distribution and the ratings and the engagement are going to be.’ ”

During All-Star Weekend, viewers can expect to see some of the ad format innovations popping up in sports programming, including picture-in-picture ads that don’t interrupt fans’ view of the arena, and six-second ads that also aim to be less disruptive.

Many ad packages also include Bleacher Report, the online sports service, which will have a major presence at the All Star Game.

With ratings on TNT’s NBA games rising 18% over the season’s first 38 telecasts, ad sales are also up, Diament said. When it comes to the playoffs — Turner has the more glamorous Western Conference Finals this year — “we’re tracking significantly ahead of where we’ve been,” he added.

Why is the NBA soaring when other sports, notably NFL football, are down in both ratings and ad revenue? “The league is super popular right now,” Diament said. It is particularly popular with younger viewers. “Millennials just don’t watch linear the way we grew up watching. For some reason they are still watching the NBA in its traditional form.”

One reason could be the way the league, teams and players connect with fans via social media. “These players are just more recognizable and relevant to the fans and maybe that’s why the linear experience has been pretty positive,” Diament said.

The NBA is thriving while up against the Olympics because its roster of sponsors is different from those who will advertise in the Winter Games from South Korea on NBC, Diament said.

“The NBA skews very tech-oriented, very millennial,” he said. Plus Turner does a lot of its business with NBA official sponsors and a growing number of national marketers who sponsor individual teams. “We have not been affected by the Olympics at all.”

Ball Control

During The Walt Disney Co. earnings call, the Olympics were blamed for ESPN’s slow ad sales in the current quarter. But there, too, basketball sales are a slam dunk. “We are significantly ahead of last year,” ESPN senior VP of multimedia sales Wendell Scott said.

“Every season has it ebbs and flows from the tip off to the heart of the season when the NFL playoffs are complete, but we’ve seen phenomenal growth since the tip-off and it hasn’t gone south,” Scott said.

ESPN has been getting matchups that fans want to see, particularly on its Saturday night ABC package.

“They’re doing a great job of scheduling showcase-type games on Saturday evening,” Scott said. “And quite frankly, when you look at what we see on Wednesday, we’re just getting incredible matchups.”

Scott said NBA sales haven’t been affected by the Olympics because a lot of its basketball business is done in the upfront. “The NBA has a very dedicated fan base that looks to watch their favorite teams whenever they’re on.”

ESPN is looking forward to the playoffs and to the ABC-televised NBA Finals, one of the top properties in May and June. “It’s great to have high-rated programming at the right time of year,” Scott said.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.