Despite the enduring complaints about fan-selected starting rosters and a power vacuum in the slam-dunk contest, the NBA heads into All-Star Weekend with a full head of steam.
With three weeks to go before the event tips off in Dallas on Feb. 12, host network TNT has moved 80 percent of its All-Star hoops ad inventory, thanks in part to a resurgence of auto and retail business.
Purists may moan about the fan’s role––having secured 1.27 million votes, Allen Iverson and his 14.4 points per game will suit up as a starting guard for the Eastern Conference squad––but noted Jon Diament, executive vp, Turner Sports ad sales and marketing, sponsors follow stars, and stars are singled out by the much sought-after male 18-34 demo.
“From our perspective, fan input can only help drive ratings,” said Diament. “The viewers that vote are also the consumers who buy sneakers and soda and beer.”
Last season’s All-Star Game drew 7.62 million viewers, bettering the previous year’s delivery by 20 percent and marking the biggest audience since the 2005 expo. And Turner execs expect that this year’s showcase will hit its guarantees, despite going head-to-head against NBC’s Winter Olympics.
“From a ratings and revenue standpoint, we’re anticipating a great weekend, regardless of what’s airing on NBC,” Diament said. “The NBA attracts a much greater concentration of young male viewers than the Olympics, and we believe our sweet spot will be sound.”
If the Olympics are unlikely to have a major impact on the bulk of TNT’s gross ratings points—NBC is airing figure skating and women’s alpine skiing on All-Star night—Friday night’s program may be a bit of a letdown. The T-Mobile Rookie Challenge lines up opposite NBC’s Opening Ceremonies coverage. “If you’re not a presenting sponsor, you’re probably buying across the three nights,” said one national TV buyer who declined to speak for attribution. “They may take a hit on the first night, but that’s not the big draw.”
Certainly, TNT gets a big lift from its association with the NBA. Official league partners such as Taco Bell, Sprite and T-Mobile make up the bulk of the network’s presenting sponsorships, which are structured as multiyear deals. For example, Sprite has served as the presenting sponsor of the Saturday slam-dunk competition since 2003.
Meanwhile, some of the more vulnerable categories are coming back to TV sports. Retail, auto and financial service commitments are on the rise, and last year’s replacements (movies, gaming, packaged goods) are staying put. On the domestic auto front, Ford has bought :30s across the slate.
To ensure optimal viewer turnout, TNT this week tips off its All-Star marketing blitz, a blend of prime-time broadcast and cable spots, radio, and print, including USA Today, Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine and Entertainment Weekly.
And on Jan. 29, an exclusive cross-promotional music video starring R&B artist Usher will run in 600 Regal Cinemas nationwide.