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NBC to buyers: no playoffs, no prime

Apr 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

A hobbled Michael Jordan won’t provide help, so NBC found another way to give sales of the NBA playoffs a lift: using its desirable prime-time lineup in package deals with the ratings-hobbled NBA.
Though not an absolute, the General Electric Co. network is making purchasing time on the NBA playoffs a price of entry if an advertiser hopes to launch a campaign on its prime-time schedule. The strategy has legs because there is a drought of available network prime-time inventory with Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and News Corp.’s Fox largely sold out due to a flood of make-goods owed advertisers.
At the same time, NBC remains the top-rated network among the coveted adults 18 to 49 demographic and has some spots available, making it a Valhalla for advertisers these days.
“They’re leveraging the fact that they have prime-time availabilities to help their NBA sales,” said one media buyer. The buyer described conversations with NBC as full of notions such as: “You pick up a couple of units on the NBA and I’ll be very kind to you in prime time.” With second-quarter scatter pricing as high as 15 percent to 20 percent over last year’s prime-time upfront pricing, markerters can lower overall CPM by adding the NBA to their buy.
The NBA playoffs, which begin April 20, aren’t the only sports property to get a jolt from the scarcity of network inventory. So has NBC’s Triple Crown and Fox’s NASCAR, both of which are near sellouts. That’s a turnabout from last year when the oversupply of sports programming threatened to drive prices down on all the networks.
“It’s a trickle-down effect,” said Larry Novernstern, senior VP and director of national broadcast for Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Deutsch, New York. “There’s got to be spillover.”
Pricing has also benefited: Executives said NBC is in the $250,000-plus range in the Triple Crown’s Kentucky Derby for a 30-second spot, where the bulk of the broadcast is pre- and post-race coverage since the event itself is a quick lap around the track. “Ridiculously priced” is how the media buyer described it.
Ad costs for the NBA conference finals and league finals are also robust, in the $300,000 and $400,000-to-$500,000 range, respectively. One executive said pricing for the finals has climbed 5 percent in price from last year’s finals.
An NBC Sports spokesman declined to comment on any aspect of its sports pricing.
Another reason NBC may be employing the prime-time leveraging strategy is that the network loses the NBA in June to Walt Disney Co.’s ABC/ESPN. That means it has less incentive to make enticing long-term deals with NBA advertisers.
Of course, the network ad-space shortage is not the only factor driving NBA playoff sales. NBA conference-finals sales typically benefit from taking place as networks begin to run repeats as the summer begins. In particular, movie studios use the playoffs to promote their would-be summer blockbusters.
“The NBA, especially with movie studios, cleans up as the only original programming [in May] with double-digit male ratings,” said Steve Siskind, senior VP of media and co-op advertising for News Corp.’s Fox Filmed Entertainment.
“[The NBA’s] a little bit tainted because the ratings have been down, but especially this time of year when you get into the playoffs, it’s still a great property,” said a media buyer who has bought NBA time.