ESPN Out to Prove Case for Sales Impact

12/14/2003 7:00 PM Eastern

ESPN has been quietly sharing some of the pages from its advertising-sales playbook with local systems.

To date, the total sports network has handed out a slew of ratings, sales and purchase information to MSOs in 15 markets, including New York, Orlando, Cleveland and Albuquerque, N.M.

The aim of the effort, which began last spring, is to arm local-ad sales executives with data that enables them to better compete with broadcast stations for spot dollars in their attendant DMAs.

"We're providing customized local research for affiliates upon request," said director of local and affiliate research Ed Gordon. "We want to help provide more value for our affiliates by helping them increase their ad sales with ESPN and ESPN2 through better targeting of categories and clients."

ESPN officials have long claimed the network is the leading driver of local ad sales in cable, ascribing $1 per month per subscriber to the service — a figure that has been disputed by a number of MSOs.

The "ESPN Local Market Revenue Wrap-Ups" feature Nielsen Navigator data for top-rated ESPN and ESPN2 programming in a DMA.

On a top-line share basis, the wrap-ups assess category dollars spent across all competitive media in the market: newspapers, local magazines, radio, outdoor, couponing and spot TV.

The reports, which also cite information from Nielsen Ad*Views and Nielsen Monitor Plus, also include a breakdown of category spending against a certain type of program — say college football (see chart) or pro basketball — on local broadcast carriers. From there, the wrap-ups drill deeper, showing spending by area auto dealerships, banking or health-care facilities.

Additionally, by plugging in Media Audit data, ESPN is furnishing indices about such factors as ownership of automobiles in the DMA, versus ESPN and ESPN2 viewers, or fast-food consumption patterns for area residents against the services' respective viewers.

"The idea is to talk up our sports programming and how to sell them, to maximize revenue in a market," said Gordon.

Tom Hurley, general manager of Comcast Corp.'s Albuquerque system, said only ESPN and the Universal TV Group (which owns USA Network and Sci Fi Channel, among others) provide such detailed local data.

"Otherwise, you have to extrapolate down from national or regional data," he said.

Added Time Warner City Cable vice president of ad sales Steve Jacobs: "This is a great tool if you're getting ready for a client presentation, or preparing for a sales staff meeting. It helps you kick out ideas: 'Hey, did anybody think about that, or overlook this?' "

Along those lines, Jacobs said he was unaware about the relatively high female skew for ESPN/ESPN2's college basketball coverage.

"There are more women than I thought. That means I'm going beyond the usual categories like beer, financial and travel. There are retail opportunities with Macy's and others," he explained.

Hurely said the wrap-up underlined the strength of college football in the market and the increase in viewership for ESPN's Sunday night National Football League game.

"With the beautiful weather we have here, a lot of people are engaged in outdoor activities on Sunday afternoons. Then, they come home and watch the game that night," he said.

Hurley added the ESPN account executive Pam Stinson made a presentation to its sales staff prior to a kickoff luncheon for 120 prospective pro and college-football advertisers last June. Sales packaging efforts helped the MSO ring up a 20% increase in NFL dollars this season, and a "tremendous rise with NCAA football," according to Hurley.

Albuquerque Ad Allocations
Spending on broadcast for college football, July 22, 2002-Jan. 12, 2003
Rank/Product Category Total
Source: Nielsen Monitor Plus, Share of Business Report
1. Autos & Light Truck-Dealerships $81,250
2. Light Trucks & Vans-Factory: New & CPO $57,980
3. Restaurants, Hotel Dining & Nightclubs $53,980
4. Passenger Cars-Dealer Assn: New & CPO $50,100
5. Hotels & Resorts $46,710
6. Household Furnishings & Appliance Stores $31,630
7. Passenger Cars-Factory: New & CPO $30,730
8. Miscellaneous Retail $30,630
9. Political, Union $28,860
10. Cable Television Stations (Networks) $25,110
Totals $434,980

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