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Advertisers Not Swayed by Fights

Nov 29, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Don’t expect TV advertisers to bolt from sports programming in light of recent near-riots at an NBA game and a Southeastern Conference football game, according to media executives.

“We haven’t seen any defections,” said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports Customer Marketing and Sales. “Nobody said, `We are pulling out business.”‘

A Nov. 19 NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons that aired on ESPN erupted into a brawl when Pacers players mixed it up with Detroit ticket-holders. Suspensions were handed down for big-time Pacers players Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal, the Pistons’ Ben Wallace and a number of other players.

The next day, a South Carolina-Clemson football game finished with a wild melee between several players and police officers. As a result, both schools declined to make end-of-season bowl appearances.

Despite these incidents, media agency executives agree TV sports advertisers know the score when it comes to TV and won’t be changing their media plans anytime soon.

“The nature of sports is that it is live,” said Larry Novenstern, senior VP and director of national broadcast for Deutsch Inc. “Unfortunately, these things happen.” Mr. Novenstern said advertisers know that fighting incidents during sports events are rare.

Jason Maltby, senior partner and managing director of national broadcast for MindShare US, also said advertisers have had little or no reaction to recent events with regard to their media business plans. “Unless, of course, there is another fight next week,” said Mr. Maltby. “Then advertisers may look a little more closely.”

ESPN, ABC and TNT televise NBA games nationally. A TNT spokesman said: “We have not experienced any of our NBA advertisers pulling out.”

David Stern, the NBA commissioner, took immediate hard-line action in the aftermath of the melee in Detroit, suspending players to protect the NBA’s name among marketers, players and fans.

“David Stern sent a very strong and somber signal that this is not good for the NBA brand and its sponsors,” said Mr. Erhardt. “I admired what he did. It is good for the business.”

Inadvertently, the NBA may gain somewhat from the skirmish. Media agency executives note there could be a bit of ratings gain-especially on Christmas Day, when interest will be high in two games in particular.

The Detroit Pistons will be in a return match against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, but because of the suspensions both teams will be without the key players who were involved in the Detroit brawl. Additionally, the Miami Heat plays the Los Angeles Lakers, with former Laker Shaquille O’Neal returning to face his ex-teammate and occasional nemesis Kobe Bryant.

Television sports programming-like nonsports TV programming-doesn’t need any more controversy to drive advertisers to the sidelines. The fourth-quarter TV advertising market is particularly weak, with pricing at or below that of the upfront market. That situation has been tough on a number of broadcast and cable networks.

ESPN/ABC Sports has been performing well, though, Mr. Erhardt said, adding that the division will hit its fourth-quarter sales goals. Media agency executives said the network has only a handful of commercials left to be sold in “Monday Night Football” and college football’s Bowl Championship Series.

Starting in 2007, ESPN/ABC Sports will give up the BCS to Fox Sports. But ABC Sports will retain one piece of the end-of-the-year college football festivities-the Rose Bowl game.

That means ABC will still get a national title game during the next four years because an agreement stays in place among colleges that the title game will continue to rotate among the four major bowls: the Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl.