Fox’s Playoff Payoff

Oct 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

For a change, baseball is being very, very good to Fox.
In past seasons the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series have disrupted Fox’s fall schedule launch plans and produced declining ratings. But this season the games have been exciting, the teams involved have rabid followings and viewers are tuning in numbers not seen for years.
“They hit the trifecta,” said Neal Pilson, a sports television consultant. “They’ve got great big-market teams with storied traditions in the postseason. The games have been absolutely electric. And the third item is the series have been running to four and five games.”
That’s translated into higher ratings in the playoffs. “It’s amazing. It’s about double our estimate,” said Tony Vinciquerra, president and CEO of the Fox Networks Group.
Fox’s postseason baseball ratings were up 29 percent as of Oct. 8. The Oct. 7 National League championship series opener drew a 10.1 Nielsen rating 17 share, up 38 percent from a year ago. The Oct. 8 games drew a 12 rating and 20 share, up 46 percent from the similar split broadcast a year ago. The fat ratings should provide Fox with a solid promotional platform for launching the rest of its prime-time lineup.
Fox doesn’t want its baseball run to end just yet. Mr. Vinciquerra said he’d prefer the Chicago Cubs to make the series, as a baseball fan and from a business point of view. “The Yankees [against the Cubs] would be like David and Goliath, and the Red Sox and the Cubs would be historic.” In deference to Florida Marlins fans, he added that any of the match-ups among the remaining teams would be compelling.
Baseball’s blazing postseason has translated into extra ad revenue for Fox. “The ratings and the match-ups, they’re very attractive and we’ve written a fair amount of money in the last few days,” said Jon Nesvig, president of sales for Fox.
The network still has ad time left in the if-needed games for the World Series, plus make-good spots that might not be needed if the ratings stay high.
Mr. Nesvig said Fox hasn’t tried to push ad prices up much higher since the playoffs began. Most of the remaining spots are in the as-needed games, and those sell at lower prices than the games that advertisers can count on being played.
Spot Prices Rise
Fox is getting about $325,000 for spots in the first five World Series games, up from about $300,000 last year, according to Mr. Nesvig. The price for spots in Games 6 and 7 dip to about $275,000, but Mr. Nesvig said that because of the demand, prices might tighten up.
“We like a long series,” he said.
Spots in the league championship series were priced in the $135,000 range.
The World Series could become even more attractive to advertisers.
“If the interest level keeps growing, they’ll probably get more volume than has been typical,” said Bill Cella, chairman Magna Global USA. Some advertisers may get swept up in the excitement over the high-visibility cities that could be involved in the series and the dramatic baseball that’s been on display throughout the postseason. In Boston and Chicago, “these are two teams the whole country roots for as underdogs. I would think there would be money generated because of the interest they are generating.”
Mr. Nesvig said a few sponsors have signed up for baseball since the postseason started. “We’ve written a couple of sizable pieces of business and we’re certainly talking to both Boston-based and Chicago-based companies to see if they have any interest in doing something a little special in the World Series,” he said.
The playoffs were also very good for ESPN. The division series on ESPN and ESPN2 amounted to “13 games in six incredible days,” said Len DeLuca, senior VP, programming strategy, at ESPN. The ratings on cable were 52 percent higher than last year. Last year some games appeared on ABC Family.
ESPN, ESPN2 Thrive
Coverage of the MLB Division Series helped drive ESPN and ESPN2 to their most-viewed week. From Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, ESPN averaged 3,320,000 households in prime time and 1,370,000 impressions in total day, marking the first time ESPN surpassed 3 million homes in prime time. ESPN2 averaged 1,022,000 household impressions in prime time and 442,000 impressions in total day, eclipsing 1 million homes in prime time and 400,000 homes in total day for the first time.
ESPN2 had its highest-rated telecast in its history on Oct. 5 when the Red Sox played the Oakland A’s and drew a 2.0 rating, representing 1.7 million homes.
“Credit for the ratings go to Major League Baseball, ESPN and to some extent Fox because we were able to work out a seamless schedule. Everybody was working on the same page in the best interest of the major league fan and viewer, and I think we hit a home run,” Mr. DeLuca said. The games were great, but “you have to put yourself in a position to take advantage of great moments. That’s exactly what ESPN and MLB did.”
In addition to smoother cross-promotion, when one game was on ESPN, a later game would sometimes be started on ESPN2. If one channel wasn’t available, a regional feed would be created, so viewers in, say, Atlanta and Chicago could see the first innings of the Cubs vs. the Braves.
“It was a challenging week, but it demonstrated the value of all of our platforms,” Mr. DeLuca said.