Fox Sports’ Big Ten Network Huddles Up With Politicos | Adweek Fox Sports’ Big Ten Network Huddles Up With Politicos | Adweek
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Election 2012

In Late Push, Candidates Target Big Ten Network

Fox Sports' RSNs drum up big business with Obama, Romney backers

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller passes against Illinois. | Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

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Local sports have elbowed their way into the presidential election season, as both campaigns and the various PACs looking to sway voters have targeted RSNs in key battleground states.

President Barack Obama’s campaign has been particularly active on Fox Sports’ RSNs, outspending Republican candidate Mitt Romney by nearly a 10-1 margin. At the same time, both camps have invested heavily in college football games aired by Big Ten Network, an RSN jointly owned between the athletic conference and Fox Sports.

According to Kyle Sherman, evp of Home Team Sports, a subsidiary of Fox Sports, the rival campaigns will have spent “in the mid to high seven figures on the Big Ten Network when is all said and done.” He added that the channel serves football-mad markets in swing states like Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Given its role as kingmaker, Ohio has attracted the bulk of the Big Ten-targeted ad spend. Rather than ponying up big bucks to unseat a loyal local advertiser on, say, ABC’s Columbus affiliate (WSYX-6), campaign managers were able to make a buy in an Ohio State Buckeyes game on Big Ten Net and not only reach the capital but every other DMA in the state as well.

The Obama campaign has been spending on Big Ten Net since May, when the primary focus was on college baseball. The past two months have seen a significant upswing in football buys by both candidates, with the incumbent outspending the challenger by a 6-1 margin.

Sherman said that Team Romney started making significant buys on BTN once campaign organizers saw how much Obama backers were spending on Buckeye and Penn State football. Since September, college football games that aired in Ohio have hosted nearly 20 percent of all candidate and PAC spots.

That political dollars have flowed into the RSNs is largely a function of reach and demos. As Sherman notes, college sports not only delivers gross ratings points, but they also tend to draw a great cross-section of voters from all walks of life. “It’s a great mix of younger viewers and older viewers, conservatives and liberals,” he said. “College sports really transcends partisan politics.”

Another advantage of making RSN buys is that sports content is a more engaging environment than the old political standby, local news. According to a Smith-Geiger research study, unaided recall of political messages is 32 percent higher when the spots run in local sports versus when they appear in a local news telecast.

For the week of Oct. 22-29, the Columbus market was the seventh-biggest local media target, as viewers were barraged by no fewer than 3,277 campaign ads, per Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. Other crucial DMAs in the Buckeye State are Cleveland (3,668 ads) and Cincinnati (3,301).

Since May 1, Obama for America has spent $72.8 million in Ohio, while Romney for President has coughed up some $43.2 million. Last week alone, the president’s backers spent $9.5 million in the state.

When the PACs’ contributions are factored in, Romney is outspending Obama in Ohio by a margin of $100.6 million to $91.7 million. Some of Romney’s more generous backers include the super PAC American Crossroads, the Republican National Committee and Black Rock Group co-founder Carl Forti’s Restore Our Future.