TBS, Fox Rounding the Bases on Post-Season Baseball Sales

They’ll be hanging out the bunting in the Bronx this October, and as post-season baseball returns to New York after a yearlong hiatus, the TV ad dollars are piling up.

Boasting a murderers’ row of big-market clubs–along with the Yankees and a pair of Los Angeles-area contenders, no less than six of the playoff-bound MLB franchises represent top 10 DMAs–the promise of a deep run to the Fall Classic has Turner Sports practicing its home run trot. (Waiting on deck with its fingers crossed for a great World Series matchup
is Fox.)

Heading into its third year of October baseball, TBS has sold 75 percent of its avails, signing on a roster of clients that includes endemics Anheuser-Busch (official MLB partner) and JPMorgan Chase, returning sponsors BlackBerry and Captain Morgan, and rookie Hass Avocado.

The buys extend through TBS’ exclusive coverage of the American League and National League Division Series, as well as the National League Championship Series, and include enhanced positioning and onscreen entitlements.

In a deal that closed late last week, Anheuser-Busch returns to the TBS lineup with Budweiser’s presenting sponsorship of the NLCS. The King of Beers will be featured in a full-screen animation at the top of each NLCS telecast, and pop up throughout each game in isolated lower-third billboards and virtual home-plate signage. (Per Nielsen, A-B in 2008 invested $277.4 million in sports TV, representing 81 percent of its total ad spend. A-B has
been the official beer of the MLB since 1996.)

BlackBerry leads off with a presenting sponsorship of TBS’ postseason coverage, reprising its role of a year ago. A key element in its buy is a custom 15-second promo featuring studio show co-host Ernie Johnson, which will run during each game of the four Division Series, as well as the NLCS.

As part of the “EJ’s Mailbag” segment, Johnson will solicit viewers to feed him questions via his Blackberry; the best queries will be answered on the MLB.com TBS HotCorner page. (According to Nielsen IAG, the promo was one of the most recalled hybrid ads of October 2008.)

With postseason play beginning Oct. 7, Turner’s sellout levels are about where they were a year ago. If the recession has been as disruptive as a 98 mph beanball, TBS isn’t backing off the plate, said Jon Diament, executive vp, Turner Sports ad sales and marketing. “We’re pleasantly surprised with how well it’s been pacing, given the overall economic picture,” he said. “A lot of non-endemics have lined up, and that’s taken some of the heat off of the auto category. And a lot of money might be coming from places that are not rebounding but may be looking to the opportunities that have worked for them in the past.”

Some categories that threatened to go the way of the spitball will be represented in TBS’ playoff coverage. Last week, Chase Card Services launched its “Ink” line, a suite of four credit cards for small-business owners. As part of a new national ad blitz, Chase will sponsor TBS’ “Game Break,” a studio call-back that runs at least once per game, in lieu of a traditional commercial break.

Along with reach––last year’s ALCS averaged 7.45 million viewers, up 74 percent from the net’s inaugural playoff run––Chase expects to access a very upscale TV audience. Per Nielsen, TBS’ 2008 postseason telecasts drew adults 25-54 with a median income above $80,000, besting Fox’s NLCS and World Series draw ($74,000), as well as all regular-season NFL and college football broadcasts.

According to media buyers, Turner is asking between $70,000 to $80,000 for a 30-second spot in the ALDS and NLDS, and between $120,000 and $150,000 for time in the NLCS.

For its part, Fox has sold out 80 percent of its postseason inventory, which includes time in the ALCS and the World Series. Pricing at flat to low-single-digit CPM increases, the broadcaster has whipped up support from a host of categories, including: wireless, retail, fast food, movies and auto, said a source close to the network.

As expected, Fox is getting strong support from official MLB sponsors. Among the brands in the league’s starting lineup are A-B, General Motors, Taco Bell, Gillette and Pepsi.

As of Sept. 25, only the Yankees had clinched a playoff berth. That said, with a week of regular-season action remaining, Los Angeles is a double-barreled lock, thanks to the Dodgers and Angels, as are Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis.

“The networks are looking at a lineup of big-cityteams, and that presents an attractive opportunity,” said Neal Pilson, a consultant and former president of CBS Sports. “Given the size of the markets, the allure of postseason baseball and the strengthening sports marketplace, there’s cause for optimism.”

The high-profile nature of the playoffs also allows TBS to stretch its creative muscles. The net has teamed up with Avis to develop a series of three baseball-themed spots in support of the company’s “Rental Health Day” campaign. The 60-second narratives are spun by peripheral ballpark figures, like a costumed mascot (“I have the best seat in the house, but no peripheral vision”) and a jumbotron operator.

Meanwhile, the Captain Morgan and Hass Avocados sponsorships should particularly resonate with out-of-home viewers. Noted Diament: “If you’re in a bar and you see an ad for Captain Morgan, it becomes almost like real-life product placement.”