ESPN hopes to score another touchdown for affiliates with its fifth annual National Football League promotion, described by executives as the all-sports network's largest-and one of cable's biggest each year.
The "ESPN Football Blitz" has attracted more than 700 affiliates and 68 million subscribers, up from 600 systems with 55 million subscribers last fall, ESPN director of affiliate ad sales and new business Jeff Siegel said last week.
The "Blitz," which breaks this week and runs through Oct. 31, was initially scheduled for September. Since affiliates had just ended an August promotion for the Summer X Games, however, it was postponed.
"It was too much for affiliates" to run two major ESPN promotions back to back, said Siegel. Summer Olympics coverage on NBC, CNBC and MSNBC did not weigh into that decision, he noted.
The sweepstakes' grand prize includes a trip to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., tickets to a Sunday night NFL game, a visit to an ESPN Zone restaurant and a free subscription toESPN TheMagazine.
After weighing the results from operator focus-group interviews, Siegel said, ESPN made several changes to the promotion. Operators complained because they were required to pay a registration fee for the promotion and to buy point-of-purchase materials.
"ESPN waived the fee this year and last," he said.
Due to that same research, ESPN also has "beefed up the local prizes," which now include an "ESPN gear bag" containing sweatshirts, jackets and hats, he said. The network also shipped the taggable spots and other sweeps materials earlier, in mid-to-late July, to give operators more lead time, he said.
The NFL promotion is a lucrative ad-sales vehicle for affiliates, Siegel said. Because there is no national sponsor, affiliates are not barred from pitching certain categories.
Overall, local avails during NFL games, studio shows and packages through which ESPN uses the NFL to move lower-tiered networks' inventory can earn its affiliates "between $350 million and $370 million" per season, Siegel estimated.
Affiliates average an 89 percent sellout rate for their NFL inventory, he said, noting that ESPN is the biggest network driver of local ad sales.
Each affiliate generally sells one sweepstakes sponsor, according to Siegel. "No.1 has been automotive, and it will probably continue to be," he added.
Other major local categories include insurance and financial-services firms, he said.
AT & T Broadband, Comcast Corp. and Cablevision Systems Corp. are among the biggest MSO participants, Siegel added.
Also, ESPN has started offering an "Affiliate NFL Football Pool" via its ESPN Affiliate Zone Web site said ESPN director of affiliate marketing E.J. Conlin.
To date, sales and marketing staffers at 200 local affiliates are competing in the pool, she said. They can win trips to NFL games, including the Pro Bowl, she added.