ESPN, Affils Score Big with NFL Promo

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Just as Olympians strive to be faster, stronger, and go higher, so ESPN tries to generate greater affiliate participation and amass more local ad dollars with each autumn's National Football League promotion.

ESPN vice president of affiliate ad sales and marketing Jeff Siegel said last Wednesday that its fantasy-themed NFL sweepstakes promotion once again ranked as the cable industry's most widely participated in promo and as the one that garnered the most local ad revenues for affiliates.

The promotion, which ran throughout October, attracted 501 affiliates and interconnects reaching 61.3 million subscribers — including all of the top 10 DMAs, 47 of the top 50 markets and 71 of the top 75. That's up from 454, reaching 61 million last fall.

ESPN is projecting that this year's NFL promotion will deliver between $31 million and $33 million to affiliates' advertising coffers, once all the numbers are tabulated — including "the halo effect" on their local avails in other male-appeal cable networks, Siegel said. That compares with some $27 million last year.

Of the 501 participants, 338 affiliates and interconnects used the promo as an ad-sales vehicle and the rest for marketing purposes, Siegel said.

The promotion benefited from several factors. ESPN tends to fare well nationally and locally, even in a soft advertising market, Siegel said, because that's when "buyers revert to networks they're most comfortable in buying, ones that are proven brands."

The October campaign also came at the right time, just as the advertising market was turning around, he said.

Moreover, ESPN is a prime choice when it comes to targeting the male audience that tends to be hard to reach on television, he noted.

The sweepstakes prizes are based on NFL Prime Time
anchor Chris Berman's own dream ways to watch an NFL game. The winner's choices: a trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii; a trip to a Sunday-night NFL game that includes a pre-game "Tailgate with the Truck" party; and a trip to an ESPN Zone restaurant to watch a Sunday-night game with three friends, followed by a limo ride to the network's headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

As expected, the automotive and auto aftermarket were strong promotion categories, according to Siegel. The gridiron promotion also enabled the affiliates to score with new-to-cable clients, he added, citing successes with furniture and clothing retailers, fast-food restaurants and the medical segment, notably hospitals and insurance.

Siegel didn't detail the markets that MSOs had the most success with during the promotion. Instead he said: "All the MSOs are very well-represented in this, plus — because it's such a turnkey operation, a lot of smaller cable operators."

ESPN The Truck has been so successful for affiliates' local "Tailgate" tie-in events that the programmer now is in discussions to add another. "The truck is on the road 50 weeks a year," Siegel said. To share the demand, ESPN is in discussions with unnamed advertisers to sponsor a second big truck, which he said could hit the road "by the end of March."

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