MBPT Spotlight: Here’s the Pitch—Fox Has Just About Sold Out Its Regular Season MLB Commercial Time

When Fox Sports 1 televises its first two Major League Baseball games, a doubleheader on Saturday, April 5, Fox Sports sales executives say they expect regular season in-game commercial time to be sold out on both FS1 and the Fox broadcast network.

“I’m not trying to panic any advertisers but inventory is very tight,” says Neil Mulcahy, executive VP of Fox Sports ad sales. “We will still be able to sell inventory that can run during pitching changes or in extra-inning games, but the rest of the ad time should be all sold. We expect to be in an oversold situation.”

Mulcahy says part of the reason is strong advertiser demand, and the other is that Fox is only televising games on half the number of Saturdays this season with FS1 taking the other half, as part of its new MLB TV rights deal that allows the new cable network to televise up to 40 total games. Upstart FS1, which premiered last August, is not expected to draw massive audiences right away, but Mulcahy says Fox has been selling packages that include both Fox broadcast and FS1 cable MLB telecasts for the 2014 season since the upfront last summer.

“We have sold a lot of inventory, demand has been high and we have less rating points to sell on Fox broadcast,” Mulcahy says.

All of the official MLB sponsors are back and Mike Falco, VP of Fox Sports ad sales, says they make up about 40% of the commercial time sold. And Mulcahy says about six to eight new advertisers will be on board, including Target, which MLB announced as a new official sponsor. Mulcahy says the other new advertisers who have signed deals asked him not to identify them prior to the start of the season.

MLB sponsors returning include General Motors, Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, Taco Bell, Bank of America, Gatorade, T-Mobile and P&G.

Last season’s MLB All-Star Game reportedly spurred a lot of marketer interest because it was played in New York, but Mulcahy and Falco both say ad sales for this season’s big game at Target Field in Minneapolis has been equally strong.

Ratings Shift

Fox last season produced regular season ratings that were down slightly from the previous year. Fox averaged a 1.6 household rating, 4 share and 2.4 million viewers, compared to a 1.7 household rating and 4 share and 2.5 million viewers in 2012. The All-Star Game pulled in 11 million viewers compared to 10.9 million viewers in 2012.

But Mulcahy believes MLB on Saturday afternoons and nights gives marketers “a safe, comfortable, family environment.” Also, after the NBA and NHL end by June, baseball continues to offer marketers the sports option to advertise in live, DVR-proof events.

Mulcahy did not want to disclose pricing, but sources familiar with ad sales said Fox is getting high-single-digit increases. Although not confirming that, Mulcahy said Fox Sports has been able to spur marketer interest by putting together attractive packages that include regular season, All-Star Game, Division and Conference postseason games, along with the World Series.

While inventory levels for postseason usually fill up later in the year, Mulcahy and Falco say most of the regular season advertisers will also sign up for the postseason.

FS1 has a total-day median age of 48.6, and 47.7 in primetime, so it could be drawing in some younger viewers to watch its MLB games. 

With Fox Sports dedicated to growing FS1 into a major all-sports network, it has given up some top 2014 game telecasts. For example, on Saturday, April 12, at 1 p.m., FS1 will televise the Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees and a rematch in Boston on Aug. 2. FS1 will televise five Yankees games, six games featuring last year’s World Series runner-up the St. Louis Cardinals and four Los Angeles Dodgers games. FS1 will also televise 10 primetime games during the season.

Fox will air its first MLB games on Saturday, May 24, with three simultaneous games beginning at 7 p.m., and will televise Saturday night games weekly through July 12, leading up to the July 15 All-Star Game.

Falco says that with Fox or FS1, and sometimes both, televising games every Saturday throughout the entire season, it also makes packages attractive for advertisers who he says might want to reach consumers with a continuous message from April till November.

“We have become a very attractive baseball partner for marketers because we can offer them games from the start of the season right through the World Series,” Falco says.

And baseball is not the only sport that Fox Sports’ ad sales teams are having conversations about. “We have already had marketers approach us about NFL ad sales for next season,” Mulcahy says. “The fragmentation of primetime TV has caused many marketers to look to move dollars into programming that has large, immediate mass reach audiences, and that is live sports.”