Connecting the Dots in Sports Sales

Dec 8, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As sports programming has increasingly migrated to cable during the past few years, so have the ad dollars.
That spelled opportunity for AdLink, one of the nation’s leading interconnects and the one serving the Los Angeles market. With much of L.A.’s large sports inventory underutilized in the ad sales marketplace, AdLink formed a new division, SportsLink L.A., in July. The company’s ad revenue in sports programming is already up 80 percent over 2002.
The goal with SportsLink L.A. is to take sports on cable and “brand it, organize it, separate it from the other nets promotionally,” said Matt Brown, VP of marketing and communications at AdLink.
Cable dominates sports coverage in Los Angeles, where this year 13 cable channels are scheduled to carry 1,752 sports events. That’s 74 percent of the locally televised events, said Neil Viserto, VP of sales and marketing for SportsLink L.A.
Mr. Viserto’s job is to create a variety of marketing and sponsorship opportunities around those events. For an advertiser looking to reach the typically high-end golf viewer, for example, SportsLink L.A. can offer a combination of 140 golf tournaments on USA, ESPN, Golf Channel, CNBC, ESPN2 and TNT; four majors on TNT, ESPN and USA; and weekly golf programs such as “Golf Central” on the Golf Channel, all in one tidy package.
In addition to commercial spots, the deal might include five- to 10-second tags on the network’s tune-in promos that can be customized with local advertiser identification. Advertisers also can receive on-site exposure at USA youth golf clinics and trips to various sporting events.
Mr. Viserto explained how a typical package might come together. The L.A. Lakers and L.A. Clippers, for instance, are carried mostly on ESPN, TNT and Fox Sports. On each of those networks, Mr. Viserto might sell one to two spots per regular-season game to a particular advertiser. If the client is committed to the NBA, SportsLink L.A. can offer playoff games as well. In addition, the package can be expanded to include the NBA All-Star Game on TNT as well as All-Star Saturday. TNT’s “Inside the NBA” and ESPN’s “NBA Tonight” can be added, as can other NBA regular-season and playoff games.
Since TNT and ESPN provide promotional spots to SportsLink L.A., the local sponsor can then tag those spots in the final 10 seconds, Mr. Viserto said. Through relationships with local radio stations, Mr. Viserto can then offer radio spots in the L.A. market to expand the value of the package. Another component would be to include a full-page ad for the advertiser in the printed program guide or viewers guide that the networks publish each season.
“No one ever put the pieces of the puzzle together in a local cable interconnect this way,” said Mr. Viserto, who previously served as VP, broadcast and marketing, for the Washington Redskins. “We’re really just connecting the dots.”
AdLink, whose equity partners include Adelphia, Time Warner, Comcast, Charter and Cox, traffics an average of 100,000 spots each day. At the close of this year, revenue is projected to be more than $142 million, about 23 percent higher than last year.
Networks have responded well to the new division. Jerry Ware, VP, local advertising, at Turner Network Sales, said the SportsLink L.A. packages will help drive additional media exposure for TNT.
That’s why the cable net has ponied up $95,000 worth of goodies for SportsLink L.A. in connection with the February 2004 NBA All-Star Game, to be held in L.A., Mr. Ware said. That includes 50 tickets to and a booth at the NBA’s “Jam Session” before the game, tickets to the “Rookie Challenge,” the All-Star Game itself and postgame parties and premiums such as hats and T-shirts.
In exchange for those items, which can be used to entice advertisers, SportsLink L.A. will run a number of cross-channel promotions, tagged by local sponsors, for the three weeks leading up to the game, Mr. Ware said.
Ten of the 13 cable networks in L.A. that carry sports offer promotional spots for SportsLink L.A. to tag. Those that do not are the Fox Sports regional networks, Mr. Viserto said.
Sports marketing packages were uncommon before SportsLink L.A. “Sports was among the landscape of 44 networks, and [advertisers] would call and say, `Hey, you have the Lakers?’ or, `You have Sunday night football?”’ Mr. Viserto said.
As more sports programming traveled to cable over the past few years, the issue became how to monetize the additional content. “With sports we can do so much more because there is a whole different passion about it,” Mr. Viserto said. “People who buy into sports programming pay a premium for it. [They] do it because there is a real value to branding yourself with sports marketing and a team logo and running side-by-side on ESPN,” he said.
Coordinating such a marketing opportunity is outside the realm of most cable ad sales people, said Kevin Barry, VP of local sales and marketing with the Cable Television Advertising Bureau. “Nobody really thought to do it before,” he said.
With SportsLink L.A.’s success, that may be changing.
As the first cable interconnect, AdLink has a way of influencing others in the field. The New York Interconnect has explored launching a similar division but did not have the budget in place this year, said Ed Renicker, senior VP and general manager for the interconnect, which serves 3.6 million Comcast and Cablevision customers. Mr. Renicker said he expects the interconnect to launch such a division eventually, probably in 2005.
“There is so much inventory that to package it and present it to advertisers that way is captivating,” Mr. Renicker said.
The SportsLink L.A. model will work best in large markets with enough sports franchises and revenues to support it, said Tom Olson, CEO of National Cable Communications, the nation’s largest spot cable advertising representation firm and the national sales firm for AdLink.
SportsLink L.A. has helped NCC garner more interest in Los Angeles sporting events. “It gave us more ammunition about sports to offer to advertisers,” Mr. Olson said. n