ESPN stepped up to the plate for affiliates last week,
saying that effective March 2000, it will boost local ad avails on its popular SportsCenter
show by 50 percent.
The cable-sports network -- already the biggest
local-ad-sales generator -- had previously indicated to MSOs that it would add more local
spots to the inventory that it had increased in conjunction with a rate hike to pay for
its eight-year, $600 million-per-year National Football League contract.
ESPN said it will give affiliates two additional 30-second
units to sell locally -- for a total of three minutes per hour -- during each regularly
scheduled SportsCenter of one hour in length or more.
That should mean 6,000 additional 30-second spots, raising
the total to 41,000 per year, as well as $75 million to $80 million in annual sales,
according to ESPN.
ESPN and ESPN2 combined already rank as the leaders in
generating affiliate sales, at 21 percent of overall local sales volume, surpassing their
closest competitor (Cable News Network) by 42 percent, according to a Bortz Media &
Sports Group 1998 study.
At least one operator said last week that he was glad to
get the extra inventory, but he was a little worried about what it might portend.
Said Cable One's vice president of ad sales, Ron
Pancrantz: "I'm cautiously optimistic and hopeful that it's not a precursor
to some major rate increase on the [affiliate] contract side."
He added that he was unaware of any other networks mulling
such avails hikes: "All's quiet on that front."
Sean Bratches, ESPN'ssenior vice president of
affiliate sales and marketing, said the decision to add SportsCenter avails grew
out of a request from some top MSOs' ad-sales executives at a meeting at ESPN
headquarters in Bristol, Conn., last year.