NFL Posts Gains in Upfront

Jul 8, 2007  •  Post A Comment

NFL football, one of the few television franchises showing ratings growth these days, is scoring in the upfront advertising market.
The networks that carry football said they are getting beefy price increases as they line up for the 2007 season after pulling 2006 ratings that were their highest in six years.
“It looks like it’s shaping up as another strong year for football, NFL and college,” said Sam Sussman, senior VP and media director at media buyer Starcom.
While the rest of the industry is largely turning to commercial ratings, most of the sports business is still being done based on program ratings.
Rino Scanzoni, chief negotiating officer for media buyer GroupM and a leading proponent of commercial ratings, said Nielsen Media Research hasn’t worked out all the bugs in its system for calculating commercial ratings for regionalized sports broadcasts, so sports gets a pass until next year.
Also, sports aren’t much affected by the use of digital video recorders because viewers want to watch the games as they happen. “The reality is sports is live,” said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN ABC Sports consumer marketing and sales.
After “NBC Sunday Night Football” saw some advertisers initially shy away from its debut season in 2006, NBC sales executives say they are getting double-digit price increases this time out.
“A lot of advertisers were skeptical when we launched,” said Seth Winter, senior VP for sports and Olympics sales at NBC. “Now those skeptics have become our biggest converts.”
“Sunday Night Football” averaged 17.5 million viewers, up 2.5 million from ABC’s “Monday Night Football” in 2005, which suffered from a very weak schedule. NBC’s schedule looks strong again in 2007, and its deal with the NFL gives it the ability to switch out unattractive games in the later part of the season. Last season, NBC achieved its audience projection of an 11 rating, sources said.
“We’re extremely bullish on the marketplace right now, and want advertisers to know to get their money down now,” Mr. Winter said. “Some games are going to be sold out in short order — even preseason games are moving quickly — because costs and audience guarantees won’t be there if they wait too long.”
Back on board as key sponsors for NBC will be Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Southwest Airlines, with automotive, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications companies also signing on.
After last year’s robust season, “I think demand is strong,” Mr. Erhardt said. ESPN has a number of multiyear deals for “Monday Night Football,” whose ratings jumped from “Sunday Night Football” on ESPN.
The number of integrated deals ESPN is doing with football has grown by about 25 percent to 50, Mr. Erhardt said. “People with integrated deals want to get their money down. They recognize there’s demand against those assets.”
College Games Hot
Mr. Erhardt added that there was also strong demand for prime-time college football on ABC Saturday.
At CBS, John Bogusz, executive VP for sports sales, said NFL games were drawing high single-digit increases. He said the network’s golf sales are in good shape and that sales of the U.S. Open tennis tournament was at about 90 percent of the network’s goal. “The market this year has been better,” he said.
Fox, which has set a price of $2.7 million for a 30-second spot in the 2008 Super Bowl, said it expected the market to be very healthy as it heats up this summer.


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