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TBS Televises Baseball Playoffs for First Time

Sep 30, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Turner Sports President David Levy is touching all the bases this week.
Mr. Levy will be at his broadcast center in Atlanta checking out Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Thomas and Ernie Johnson’s new baseball studio show on TBS on Wednesday. From there, he plans to jet to Chicago, Boston and New York, the likely sites of games that will be televised by Turner.
His travels come as TBS for the first time will be broadcasting Major League Baseball playoff games. Mr. Levy’s $70 million deal for exclusive rights to all the divisional playoff series, plus one League Championship Series annually for the next seven years, clinches Turner’s emergence as a big league force in the sports marketplace.
Turner’s move into big-time sports, once the domain of powerful broadcast companies, reflects the play cable networks are making on a lucrative market. Buoyed by a combination of advertising revenue and license fees from cable system operators, the cable networks are securing more and more deals.
While not a full-time sports channel like ESPN, live games have been a part of TBS since cable mogul Ted Turner owned the Atlanta Braves and reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” were a staple of the self-described superstation. In recent years, Turner Sports has been focusing on higher-profile events.
“I don’t know if any other single network has more post-season sports,” Mr. Levy said.
In addition to its baseball contract, Turner recently renewed its deal giving it the bulk of the National Basketball Association’s playoff action. It also airs six consecutive weeks of NASCAR Nextel Series races and two major golf tournaments.
“Turner is selective. They only look at sports properties that are compatible with their entertainment properties and special programming,” said Neal Pilson, a consultant and former president of CBS Sports. “You can’t just bring an average sports event to Turner.”
Mr. Pilson called the MLB playoffs “one of the marquee properties in our American sports scene.” Those high-profile sporting events offer more tangible benefits to Turner than a halo effect, he said.
“It helps them generate higher [ad rates] for their entertainment product” by packaging shows with high-rated sport events, he said.
Sports rights are increasingly expensive, which puts pressure on network profit margins. But Mr. Levy maintains “every deal we entered into, at the end of the deal, it will be profitable.”
Mr. Levy said he looks at the baseball playoffs as a showcase, both for the production quality of Turner Sports and for TBS’ regular programming. Playoff games generate significantly higher viewership than regular-season games.
Turner’s exclusive rights to Yankees and Cubs games, for example, will draw those teams’ fans to the network, he said.
That means baseball fans who aren’t TBS regulars will be exposed to the network and its programming.
“What the NBA did for TNT, I believe baseball will do for TBS,” Mr. Levy said.
Turner also is becoming a more important place to buy ads for live sports events.
“Turner definitely competes for that money,” said Sam Sussman, senior VP-media director at Starcom, who said post-season baseball on both Turner and Fox appears to be selling well, aided by overall strong demand for prime-time programming..
Turner said its playoff and LCS games are about 80 percent sold out. TBS has signed Chevrolet as presenting sponsor of its “TBS MLB on Deck” pre-game show and Captain Morgan rum as sponsor of the “Inside MLB” post-game show.
Ad market sources said Turner is asking $60,000 to $75,000 for 30-second spots in the playoffs and $150,000 for its League Championship Series. Fox, which has the other LCS games, is asking $200,000 per spot for those games, and $385,000 to $420,000 for the World Series.
Turner’s price is lower partly because the TBS games will be on cable and will have about 20 percent less distribution. But some buyers say a Cubs-Mets league championship on TBS that goes seven games could outdraw a shorter Cleveland-Angels series on Fox.
Mr. Sussman said Turner’s ad sales effort is being helped by its push to secure digital rights to properties, in addition to linear video rights.
“They just have the ability to create and customize marketing programs that fit our clients’ needs,” he said.
Mr. Levy said Turner has a three-pronged digital strategy: First is setting up digital extensions to events it has on the air, such as the “Hot Corner” Internet video feature, which appears on the MLB.com Web site. Turner Sports also produces and sells ad space for NASCAR.com and PGATour.com. Lastly, Turner’s Play On! unit secures broadband video rights for leagues, schools and sports that don’t have TV deals and makes games available on a subscription basis.
“We believe there’s a way to aggregate these impressions in order to create a bigger reach package to sports advertisers,” Mr. Levy said.
But this week will be about baseball. TBS has been broadcasting the sport for decades, and it’s never had to be in four locations to broadcast games at once. The network is counting on its experience with the NBA playoffs and a squadron of freelancers—many with playoff experience at Fox—to carry it through.
A week ago it looked like Mr. Levy would be touring most of the biggest baseball markets, including New York, Chicago and Boston, and that made him smile. As the weekend approached, however, the Mets’ lead was dwindling, the Cubs were iffy and Colorado and Philadelphia were threatening to crash the playoff party.
Whoever wins, Mr. Levy plans to visit most of Turner’s locations.
“I want to see the truck, I want to see the production, I want to say hello to our new talent. This is very important,” he said.

74 Comments

  1. i never cable and been a cubs fan for over30 years and iam disappointed!!!!

  2. 1st time broadcasting the playoffs…i believe it.
    The Rays play in St Petersburg, Not Tampa. theres a whole body of water between the two…just like several major metropolitan cities.Fact Check dudes.
    These guys “on deck” (Cal, you should be ashamed)are lost or maybe they’re mad because they were left in the studios in
    Marietta!
    GO RAYS !!!!

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