MBPT Spotlight: Hitting Streak Continues as Regional Sports Net MLB Ad Sales Has Another Record Season

Live sports telecasts continue to be in demand by marketers, whether they are on national networks or one of the regional sports networks. Home Team Sports (HTS), a division of Fox Sports Media Group, which sells advertising for RSN telecasts for every MLB team except the Toronto Blue Jays, is having another record ad sales season for 2014, on top of record ad sales for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Kyle Sherman, executive VP of HTS, says his sales organization is pacing about 10% ahead of last year in ad revenue at this point, with sellout levels for each team’s RSN between 70%-80%.

Sherman adds that because each RSN is televising close to 150 games, it is almost impossible to sell out every available ad unit in every market in every game for the entire season. But depending on the team, some will sell out more games than others. He adds that once the season begins, his sales staff can put customized packages together for marketers who want to come into some or all of the MLB markets.

Among the RSNs seeing more ad revenue coming in at the same point this season than last, Sherman says, are NESN (home of the Boston Red Sox), YES (New York Yankees), Fox Sports South (Atlanta Braves) and FS Detroit (Detroit Tigers). Other RSNs “in heavy demand” by marketers are Comcast Network Bay Area (San Francisco Giants), FS Midwest (St. Louis Cardinals) and FS Southwest (Texas Rangers).

Sherman adds that FS Kansas City has a new sponsor for the Kansas City Royals games, while FS Florida has a new sponsor for the Miami Marlins games.

On a national basis, Intel and a P&G men’s health care brand are among the new advertisers. The P&G deal was still not finalized, so Sherman did not want to name the specific brand. He says his sales teams are also close to locking up other new advertisers.

Many Happy Returns

Just as important, Sherman says, is that about 25 major advertisers are back from last year and several of them have increased their ad spending totals.

Taco Bell, T-Mobile, Chase, P&G and Bridgestone-Firestone are new advertisers from last season who are back into the RSN telecasts across the country this season.

Sherman says outside of traditional TV commercials, marketers can also buy other ad components such as sponsorships of on-screen features during the games, but most of those deals are usually done by January.

HTS has also been doing more selling across the other platforms of the RSNs, and their websites and digital ad sales have been growing. And HTS just announced a new partnership and sales alliance with Access Sports Media under which HTS will be able to sell advertising in more than 50 professional sports stadiums and arenas.

National advertisers will be able to reach fans during live sporting events through the access network of over 20,000 concourse screens in MLB and NFL stadiums and in NBA and NHL arenas nationwide. The screens play live feeds during the game and pregame; also, in-game and advertising in between innings will be sold. So marketers who are advertising on the RSN TV telecasts and on their websites will also be able to run advertising inside the MLB baseball stadiums.

The Access Sports Media network is measured by Nielsen and according to HTS, generates more than 370 million impressions annually and reaches more than 70 million fans each year.

Sherman says HTS is planning to do a multiplatform sales push during the upcoming upfront for next season.

“Each year over the past four years our ad revenue commitments during the upfronts have grown,” Sherman says. “This year we are going to use the motto ‘Surround the Fan.’ We’ll be selling TV spots and digital ads on our RSN websites, along with social media opportunities, where marketers can hyper-target fans in local markets. We’ll have a pathway for marketers to hit the hometown fans in many different ways.”

Sherman says about 60% of advertisers buy national packages, with the other 40% cherry-picking different teams and RSNs. “Some retailers, like Jack-in-the-Box, buy ad time only on RSNs in markets where they have stores.”

For the national advertisers who want to be in the entire HTS RSN network, it is available in 94 million homes.

By the Numbers

The highest-rated RSN for MLB telecasts last season was FS Detroit, which averaged a 9.63 household rating. FS Midwest averaged an 8.79 rating and ROOT Pittsburgh an 8.13. FS Ohio (home of the Cincinnati Reds) averaged a 7.68, NESN averaged a 7.30, FS Kansas City averaged a 6.46 and MASN/MASN2/WJZ in Baltimore averaged a 6.42.

RSNs showing the largest ratings increases last season were FS Kansas City, up 72%; STO (home of the Cleveland Indians), up 43%; FS Prime Ticket (Los Angeles Dodgers), up 40%; MASN/MASN2/WJZ, up 33%; FS San Diego, up 30%; ROOT Pittsburgh, up 27%; FS South, up 22%; NESN, up 16%; and FS Midwest, up 15%.

Most of the lower-rated RSNs or the RSNs that showed the largest percentages of decline last season, televised games of teams that either had losing records or teams that did not meet preseason expectations. YES, which covers the Yankees, for example, saw its 2013 ratings decline 30% from 2012. CSN Houston (Astros), declined by 60%; CSN Chicago (White Sox), declined by 46%; CSN Philadelphia’s coverage of the Phillies games declined by 40% in the ratings; FS Florida (Marlins), declined by 35%; and SNY (New York Mets), fell by 31%.

Overall, Sherman says ratings over the past 10 seasons have been pretty consistent and stable because there are always a number of teams that do really well, making up for others that don’t do quite so well, all of which affects viewership.

There are some exceptions, however, with instances of viewer increases despite teams not performing so well, or declines that were small compared to the poor seasons some teams had.

For instance, the San Diego Padres finished with a 76-86 record, but its ratings on FS San Diego were up 30%; the Seattle Mariners posted a 71-91 record and their ratings on ROOT Northwest were up 10%; the Colorado Rockies recorded a 74-88 record and their ratings on ROOT Rocky Mountain were flat; Minnesota had a record of 66-96 and its ratings on FS North were only down 7%; and the Chicago Cubs also had a record of 66-96 and its ratings on CSN Chicago were down only 8%.