After kicking the tires on the “double box” ad format in Nascar races and during the Jan. 4 AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, Fox Sports is taking its innovative break to the next level, prepping it for its Major League Baseball debut.
On Saturday evening, Fox will air two double box pods during its live broadcast of the Red Sox-Tigers game. The game will be seen in 40 percent of the country, including major East Coast markets like New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami and Baltimore. (Naturally, the game will also air in the No. 6 DMA, Boston, and No. 10 Detroit.)
The first execution will appear between the third and fourth innings (break seven), while the second will air as the bottom of the fifth gives way to the top of the sixth (break 11). Both pods will consist of four 30-second spots.
When Fox throws to commercial in break seven, 92 percent of the screen will be occupied by the ads and a special reverse L-shaped “skin” that brackets the creative with the client’s logo and brand messaging. (For example, a national pizza chain conceivably could use the skin as an opportunity to remind viewers that the fourth inning is an ideal time to order a large pie.)
A small box in the upper right-hand corner of the screen will feature the sort of between-innings activities viewers do not see during traditional commercial breaks. The Comerica Park snippets may include everything from shots of untouchable Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer warming up on the mound to first baseman Prince Fielder tossing the ball around the infield.
Among the eight sponsors who have committed to Saturday’s double box executions are American Express, AT&T, General Motors and T-Mobile.
When AT&T’s double box ad aired during the Cotton Bowl, the skin bore the legend “AT&T: The nation’s largest 4G network.” The company’s signature white-and-blue globe logo and the tag “Rethink Possible” appeared just below live crowd shots from Cowboys Stadium in Arlinton, Texas.
The inaugural MLB execution comes as Fox Sports preps for the launch of its new 24/7 cable network. When Fox Sports 1 goes live on August 17, the network expects that anywhere between 25 percent and 50 percent of the ads will be presented in the double box format.
According to Bill Wanger, evp, programming & research, Fox Sports Media Group, the double box format helps keep viewers tuned in during ad breaks. “The ads are 18 percent more engaging in this format than they are in a traditional full-screen environment,” Wanger said. “The data also shows that the complete pod is more engaging all the way through. In other words, the C position is just as valuable as the A position.”
Fox began testing the format back in 2011, airing the custom pods in the final three races of its Nascar Sprint Cup Series package. Since then it has used it in a number of other Nascar broadcasts—auto racing is particularly well suited to the double box construct, as fans can watch live action that they would otherwise miss—and in a few UFC matches.
“We really believe that this is a win-win,” Wanger said. “For the advertiser, this is a much more effective buy in terms of engagement and for viewers, it’s a great way to ensure that they don’t miss a second of the action.”
In order to streamline automation, Fox is making significant investments in its Charlotte-based traffic department. “At present, it’s a labor intensive operation, which is why we’re picking our spots,” Wanger said. “We’re doing this methodically…but in time we hope to see a 100 percent adoption of the format on Fox Sports 1.”
At launch, FS1 is expected to reach 90 million households. Along with a roster of live sports programming (MLB, Nascar, UFC, college football and international soccer), FS1 also will produce a complement of original shoulder programming. Among these are Crowd Goes Wild, a daily drive-time (5 p.m.-6 p.m.) roundtable hosted by Regis Philbin and a panel of sports figures, reporters and other enthusiasts, and Fox Sports Live, a nightly news program designed to compete with ESPN’s monolithic SportsCenter.
The undefeated (10-0, 3.08) Scherzer takes the hill Saturday against Boston’s struggling young righty Allen Webster (0-1, 11.74). The first pitch is scheduled to hit Brayan Pena’s mitt at 7:15 p.m. EDT.