Is YES an Impact Player In Ad Game?

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The acquisition of Alex Rodriguez and the recent arbitration ruling that places Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network on Cablevision Systems Corp.’s expanded basic won’t have a major impact on advertising sales on the regional sports network this year.

Bruce Thomas, executive vice president of media services at YES, which will televise 130 New York Yankees games this season, said the additional Cablevision homes that will have access to the regional sports network won’t be a big boon in the overall ad market.

Thomas said that contingency pacts based on distribution were made for the 2003 season, but advertisers have secured their schedules this year based on ratings.

“Deals were put in escrow, so to speak, based on what was going to happen with distribution with Cablevision,” he said, referring to the interim deal that was brokered just hours before the Yankees’ 2003 season opener. “This season, we sold against respectable ratings gain.”

YES averaged a 3.4 DMA rating for 130 Yankees games in 2003, versus a 2.0 for 130 contests in 2002, when Cablevision did not carry the network over license fee and channel positioning issues.

In 2003, Yankees games were available to some 1.5 million Cablevision homes. With the six-year binding arbitration ruling handed down on March 24, it is expected that YES will be in front of 2.5 million of Cablevision’s 3 million homes for the 2004 season.

Thomas conceded that last season, a number of advertisers sat on the sidelines because of the uncertainty over Cablevision distribution. “A lot of people held off for a year,” he said.

“That was the reason we kept our clients away in 2003,” said Zenith Media local media buyer Alison Shapiro, who noted that the agency has bought a half-year sponsorship package for client Toyota on Yankees games and other YES programming.

Other new additions to YES’s sponsor roster this year include: Coors, Beck’s, Ricoh and Lojack, which has also purchased a “caught stealing graphic” enhancement as part of its deal.

Among the incumbent advertisers: Heineken, Corona, Continental Airlines, Adidas, New York State Lottery, Verizon DSL, AFLAC, a number of local auto-dealership groups, Dodge, General Motors and Nissan. The latter is YES’s biggest auto advertiser. Thomas noted that Samsung had also returned, “stepping up its package.”

Although he declined to specify, Thomas said YES was in “a better sell-through” position than last year at this time, with early-season games against the rival Boston Red Sox sold out. “We got our rates based on building long-term relationships,” Thomas noted.

He said the Yankees’ addition of Rodriguez, arguably Major League Baseball’s best player, won’t reap many immediate broad sales benefits.

“We sell our packages year-round, so we were well into the marketplace before A-Rod arrived,” he said. “We don’t sell against any one player, but if he and the Yankees do well, the ratings and our business will presumably grow.”

Thomas did say the additional Cablevision homes and Rodriguez could lead to some upticks in the scatter market, provided that the Yankees play well and ratings improve.

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