Despite a disappointing 2004 season in which the Seattle Mariners have won fewer than 40 percent of their games through August, the baseball team in the Pacific Northwest has propelled its TV home, FSN Northwest, into an enviable spot. That’s because, with an average 8.4 rating, the Mariners are still the second-highest-rated draw this year among the 25 major league teams that are carried over the 20 regional sports networks that make up FSN’s national footprint.
In fact, 17 of the 72 Mariners games FSN Northwest aired through Aug. 2 ranked No. 1 in prime time in Seattle, said Mark Shuken, VP and general manager for FSN Northwest. The games placed in the top five 38 times and in the top 10 55 times, he said. Indeed, Mariners games have been among the highest rated of any baseball team dating back to 1996, when FSN began carrying the games, and the Mariners have been the top-rated baseball team for FSN in seven of the past eight years.
“There’s nothing I have seen like it,” Mr. Shuken said. “Everybody in the community has interest in this team, and I think it has a lot to do with winning. That helps.” But this season’s ratings indicate viewers are loyal even when the team loses, he said.
As a result of the ratings success, FSN Northwest has a sturdy platform on which to lure in-game local ad dollars. In addition, the network has built surrounding programming, such as pre- and post-game shows and magazine-style programs, opening doors for local advertisers to be closely associated with the team in many programming venues.
“We have seen significant increases in advertising revenue over the past 10 years as a result of our relationship with the Mariners,” said Brett Bibby, VP and general sales manager for FSN Northwest. “We have made a concerted effort over the years to offer new and innovative sponsor elements to our Mariners telecasts and ancillary programs.”
Those efforts have helped retain advertisers and gain new clients as well, though FSN Northwest would not reveal specifics on revenue increases. Some of FSN Northwest’s most prominent advertisers, in Mariners and other programming, include Northwest Chevy Dealers, Bank of America and Nextel.
Success Helps Everybody
FSN’s success with Mariners-related programming benefits Comcast and the other, smaller Seattle cable operators as well, giving them a more attractive product to sell to advertisers.
This season the regional sports network has introduced a host of on-screen technological innovations that are open to sponsorship. For instance, FSN Northwest was the first FSN channel to debut SimulCam, a computerized animation of players, and StroMotion, which tracks the baseball’s trajectory.
SimulCam allows an animation of one player to be placed on top of another to illustrate, for instance, how much faster Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki arrives at the first base bag than another left-handed hitter does, Mr. Shuken said. FSN Northwest is seeking sponsors to use both new technologies in recurring spots.
In addition, the network planned in early September to roll out text messaging, allowing, for instance, fans to vote on a game’s most valuable player. Local advertisers could sponsor various components of the messaging, Mr. Shuken said. The results of the messaging and its availability would be promoted on-air.
Because of its eagerness to test new tech tools, FSN Northwest will also incorporate a wireless camera option in its coverage of the National Basketball Association’s Seattle Supersonics games this fall. “We will do a wireless camera that you can access everywhere in the arena,” Mr. Shuken said. “We are trying to show we have absolute access.” The camera will also be sponsorable.
Mr. Shuken said the Mariners’ ratings success has made most of the production enhancements possible.
Over the years, FSN Northwest has also grown its stable of surrounding programming, such as “Mariners Double Play,” a condensed version of the night’s game airing at 10:30 p.m. after the team has played on the East Coast, and the debut this season of “Before the Bigs,” a “Biography”-style show that gets into the background of Mariners players and other area athletes.