‘Road Trip’ Says YES to Brand Immersion

Nov 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Wait till next year.

The New York Yankees will be back on the YES Network next season as they try to dethrone the Chicago White Sox as baseball’s best. And returning for a second season will be “Ultimate Road Trip,” an original YES show that is emblematic of the regional sports network’s efforts to be as advertiser-friendly as possible.

In “Ultimate Road Trip,” four lucky Yankees fans were chosen to attend all 162 of the Bronx Bombers’ games. To get to and from the games the fans used a variety of sponsors’ products, such as Dodge trucks and Continental Airlines flights.

YES President and CEO Tracy Dolgin said he dreamed up the show after drinking a few bottles of merlot. He characterized the effort as going beyond product placement to something he calls “product immersion,” a notion he developed while he was president of Fox Sports Net.

“The definition of product immersion is where the product is not placed in the show, but it is integrated into the show so it is obviously in the show and an integral part to what goes on within the show,” Mr. Dolgin said. “You’re upfront about it: We intentionally put this product in the show and focused on it.”

Built around Yankees broadcasts, the 3-year-old YES Network already has the highest ratings and highest revenues of any regional sports network, said John Mansell, an analyst at Kagan Research. According to Kagan, YES had subscription revenues of $188.5 million and ad revenues of $38.5 million in 2004.

Last season, Mr. Dolgin said, advertising on Yankees games on YES was more than sold out, including extra innings. “Thank God for pitching changes,” he quipped.

But the network must generate revenue when the Yankees-or the New Jersey Nets of the NBA-are not playing. Mr. Dolgin is doing that by jumping headlong into product immersion and other nontraditional media approaches that marketers are clamoring for these days.

YES decided to televise “Road Trip” just 40 days before the last baseball season started. “We had to find advertisers who not only were available and had funds but were sort of brave in trying something untested,” Mr. Dolgin said.

One product to be featured was the Dodge Durango. In the show, the Durango was “like the fifth member of the ‘Road Trip’ crew,” Mr. Dolgin said. They talked to it, kissed it, washed it and talked about it. Another sponsor was Continental Airlines; the travelers stretched out in comfy Continental lounges and remarked on how they never had to check the departure boards because Continental planes are always on time. Other advertisers included Blimpie, Dunkin’ Donuts, Fujifilm, Tekserve and local restaurants.

Mr. Dolgin declined to say how much it costs clients to sponsor “Road Trip.” “It enables you to become a partner with your advertiser,” he said. “It’s not how much you make across the product enhancement. It’s how much can you make if they’re all over your schedule.”

Dennis Adams, president of the New York Dodge Advertising Association, which represents 99 Dodge dealers in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area, said he is interested in sponsoring the show again next season. “We had people who said they saw the show and saw the Durango. I’m not going to say that it drove them in to buy the vehicle, but it definitely gave it additional exposure and it showed the lifestyle and people getting use out of the vehicle.”

The Dodge dealers were already advertisers on YES and paid a fee to be included in “Road Trip,” Mr. Adams said. That fee came from funds the dealers shifted from in-stadium marketing efforts.

Continental also is likely to take another swing. “A lot of times when you do product placements you see yourself in one or maybe two episodes of a show,” said Danny Cuellar, manager of domestic advertising for Continental. “I have a big stack of tapes on my desk from YES that are all product placements from over the course of the baseball season.”

Continental already was a YES sponsor, and providing air travel was a big part of the airline’s cost to participate in the show.