No-Spot Race Revs Up

Jun 6, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Few sports are more commercial than NASCAR, where the vehicles serve as 200-mile-per-hour billboards for sponsors.
And yet, next month, Turner Broadcasting’s TNT plans to air the Pepsi 400 race without national commercial breaks.
Turner this week said it signed up Autozone, Ford, Miller Brewing, Principal Financial and Subway as sponsors for the race. They join Pepsi, Toyota, Sprint and DirecTV on the telecast.
The move comes as advertisers are looking for ways other than traditional 30-second commercials to reach consumers on TV. The issue has escalated as more homes acquire digital video recorders. While sports are mostly viewed live, Turner still felt a need to try some out-of-the-box thinking with NASCAR.
“This was our way of creating a different and breakthrough platform for TNT,” said Trish Frohman, executive VP for Turner Sports Sales. “Not just in sports, but across the board, sellers have been challenged to think about creative ways to integrate content that is organic and not intrusive. This allowed us to take on that challenge and is our response to it.”
In order to sponsor the spot-less Pepsi 400 on July 7, Ms. Frohman said, advertisers had to buy more traditional media in the other NASCAR races that will appear on TNT.
Turner is creating branded content for the sponsors that will appear during the race. The content will occupy about a quarter of the screen, while the race proceeds silently on the rest of the screen. At the same time, the lower third of the screen, which normally carries race information, will be filed with an animated graphic for the sponsor. (There will be local commercial breaks during the telecast.)
Ms. Frohman said the on-screen idea works particularly well because, unlike most other sports, NASCAR races have no natural breaks.
At the same time, “Our viewers tell us all the time how they hate when television broadcasters break away for commercials because they’re missing live action,” she said.
With Turner’s Wide Open coverage, she added, “You don’t miss a pass. Or a crash, for that matter.”
The race is good for sponsors because they get a unique opportunity to deliver their message during a race with a NASCAR theme. Each content insert is between one minute and two minutes in length. In them, the sponsor gets to talk about a particular product or promotion.
“Every one of them is very different,” Ms. Frohman said. “What’s been so exciting about this project is that it allows each of these partners to talk to the viewer in different ways than their traditional 30-second spot might talk to them.”
Most of those sponsors don’t have NASCAR-themed commercials. The branded entertainment content produced by Turner, working closely with the sponsors, gives those sponsors a chance to be closer to race fans.
Ms. Frohman said the sponsor content will take up less time than traditional commercials would during the race. The extra time allows producers to program more race coverage and show more of the special features and other enhancements during the telecast.
Even though it’s got no spots and is giving less time to sponsors, Turner’s not losing money over the six races. “We’re comfortable where we are in the big picture,” Ms. Frohman said.
Turner has experimented with commercial-free sporting events in the past. Last year, Philips sponsored the Oklahoma State-Texas college football game with limited interruptions. And back in 2000, TBS aired “no-breaks coverage” of the UAW-GM 500 race from Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“You have to be able to fill the time appropriately,” she said.

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