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TBS Set to Swing for the Fences

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It’s perhaps a bit premature for any Major League Baseball franchise to start hanging out the stadium bunting just yet, but with three weeks to go before the postseason begins, a number of major-market teams can smell a whiff of October in the late summer air.

The number crunchers at Baseball Prospectus have projected that franchises representing four of the top 10 DMAs have at least an 80 percent chance of claiming a spot in the playoffs, while a fifth (San Francisco) has a 50-50 shot. As of Friday, Sept. 10, the club with the best odds of playing October baseball is the 2009 World Series champion New York Yankees; per Baseball Prospectus’ calculations, the odds of the Bronx Bombers storming into the postseason are 98.7 percent.

As one might expect, another appearance by Forbes magazine’s No. 1 sports brand has MLB broadcast partner Turner Sports putting the champagne on ice. Heading into its fourth postseason, TBS once again boasts the exclusive rights to carry the American League and National League Division Series, and per the terms of its alternating schedule, the net will also cover the American League Championship Series.(Waiting on deck for the Oct. 16 start of the National League Championship Series, and the 2010 World Series after that, is Fox.)
TBS has sold between 85 percent and 90 percent of its guaranteed game schedule.

According to media buyers, the network is asking between $80,000 and $90,000 for a 30-second spot in the ALDS and NLDS, and between $125,000 and $150,000 for time in the ALCS.

Entitlements are once again playing a major role in Turner’s sales strategy, and among those buying premium sponsorships are returning clients BlackBerry, Captain Morgan and Hass Avocado. Also suiting up for Turner’s postseason lineup are Chrysler-Jeep, Capital One and AT&T. Heading into what is shaping up to be the waning weeks of its tenure as an official MLB sponsor, Anheuser-Busch InBev will hold down the fort for the beer category.

BlackBerry is the first to step into the batter’s box, taking its cuts as presenting sponsor of TBS’ ALDS and NLDS coverage. In addition to voiceovers and logo placement leading in and out of commercial breaks, BlackBerry has broadened up its digital footprint. The company will sponsor a playoff countdown clock on Yahoo Sports’ MLB page and will be featured in highlight video pre-roll and bumpers.

With the first two playoff games set for Oct. 6, Turner’s sellout levels are well ahead of where they were a year ago. Some of the momentum can be chalked up to multiyear commitments with premium sponsors, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. According to Jon Diament, executive vp, Turner Sports ad sales and marketing, 27 new advertisers have signed on for the 2010 MLB playoffs, and the endemics have been particularly robust this time around.

Financial services account for the greatest percentage of TBS’ playoff bookings, and revenue is up 67 percent versus a year ago. Auto continues to come on strong, as foreign and domestic dollars have improved 140 percent.

Chrysler-Jeep, which will take the field as the title sponsor of the 30-minute pregame show TBS MLB On Deck, is new to Turner’s postseason roster. Last year, the Chrysler Group invested an estimated $115.4 million on sports, focusing on a pair of NHL sponsorships, ACC basketball and the Motor City Bowl (since rebranded as the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl).

Diament said he’s not surprised that car dollars have been pouring into October baseball, given automakers’ mad scramble for NFL and college football inventory earlier this summer. “The health of the NFL marketplace definitely helped baseball sales,” Diament said. “The scarcity of football inventory made postseason baseball a healthy alternative.”

While regular season national baseball ratings are slumping, Turner believes it’s in for a blockbuster playoff stretch, with clubs from New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas and San Francisco likely to be in the mix. Last season, TBS was snakebit, as three of its four division series were sweeps, robbing it of as many as six games. The Phillies-Dodgers NLCS also was truncated; the five-night series was marred by two blowouts and delivered an average 5.9 million viewers, down 20 percent versus the seven-game 2008 ALCS, which drew 7.45 million.

“When football moved the chains on the upfront, we knew that fall sports in general were going to be a hot commodity,” said one national TV buyer. “Baseball’s like basketball, as far as not being able to control how many games you’ll get. Knowing this, you load up on the first three or four. The rest is gravy.”

All told, TBS’ slate of 18 MLB playoff games averaged 5.15 million viewers, down 4 percent from the 5.38 million it drew with its 22 postseason telecasts in October 2008.

The run-up to the Fall Classic has always been a strong promo platform, and as such, TBS has been filming a number of segments with Conan O’Brien. The former Tonight Show host debuts his new 11 p.m. series, Conan, on Nov. 8, and he’ll be well represented throughout TBS’ playoff coverage. While details remain scant, sources confirmed that O’Brien also will pop up in a spot for AT&T.   

Despite taking pains to measure its away-from-home deliveries a year ago, Turner will not make guarantees against that bonus viewership. TBS’ playoff deliveries increased 13 percent when out-of-home viewing was added in, while adults 25-54 grew 16 percent, per Arbitron’s ARB-TV data.