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ESPN, ABC Court Viewers for NBA

Jan 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

With ratings and ad sales already up this season for their National Basketball Association games, ESPN and ABC Sports are looking to pick up the pace with some nontraditional promotions for basketball season.
The promo ideas range from a recreational vehicle that will be traveling to Sunday afternoon games being broadcast on ABC to a special version of Google Earth that lets fans find basketball hot spots, including the National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., and Rucker Park in New York’s Harlem.
As the writers strike changes network schedules, advertisers have been flocking to live sports, where there’s also a good chance viewers will stay tuned for commercials. And the NBA games are certainly no exception.
“We are seeing new advertisers come into this sport,” said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN and ABC Sports customer marketing and sales.
He said Hanes has signed on as the presenting sponsor of ESPN’s Wednesday night games. Wrigley also has signed on for a major multiplatform package.
Also lacing up for NBA coverage are some European and Japanese auto makers.
“When you look at sports, it tends to be about people buying a lot of scatter, and the scatter market is robust,” Mr. Erhardt said. But with the larger sponsorships and the multimedia deals, “You’re talking about someone who wants the NBA.”
Mr. Erhardt said sales are pacing 20% ahead of last year and that “pricing is commensurate with the strength in the marketplace.”
Turner, which made a new digital deal with the NBA (see sidebar), is reporting strong sales and ratings for its basketball telecasts as well.
Advertisers also are signing up for the playoffs. This year, ESPN has the traditionally weak Eastern Conference finals, where the re-emergence of the Boston Celtics as a powerhouse this season has helped build interest, Mr. Erhardt said.
For the first time, under a deal with the league that kicked in this year, ESPN is able to sell courtside signage during games broadcast on ABC, including the finals, to official NBA sponsors.
Previously, sponsors were able to buy signage only on games televised by Turner.
ESPN has been promoting the NBA on ESPN with spots showing its on-air announcers and NBA players in an RV traveling from game to game.
But Jeff Gonyo, director of sports marketing for ESPN, said, “We like to extend into nontraditional areas when the ABC games kick in.”
The promos are designed to appeal to younger, more tech-savvy viewers.
In one promotion, ESPN will have an RV travel to about 20 games, mostly those being broadcast by ABC, starting in Orlando when the Magic takes on the Celtics Jan. 27.
The RV will be outfitted to create a mini fan-fest, with video games and a hoop on the back, where free-throw shooting contests can be staged.
It’s not clear whether ESPN’s talent will take part in the pre-game festivities. Their priority will be preparing for the game, but if there’s time, they might do some hand-shaking.
ESPN also has online offerings. One is an interactive online game called NBA Front Row that’s designed to work with social networks such as Facebook. The game is like Bingo, with questions about an NBA contest in each space, such as which team will be first to have a scorer in double figures. The center square will be who wins the game. The correct answers will be revealed in real time.
On Jan 25, ESPN is launching a micro-site on ESPN.com called yourNBAdestination.com, which will feature a Google Earth-type look at places that are important to basketball fans.

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