Advertisers turn to live sports to zap ad zapping

Whether they come down to a finish line, final buzzer, final seconds or final inning, live sports continue to be hot for ad sales.

Live sports programming got a bump in viewers and ad spending thanks to the writer's strike, but the increased enthusiasm is showing signs of going long.

Many new marketers were drawn to live sports by the lack of other fresh programming, but they may be sticking around because of something longtime sports advertisers count on: Consumers are much less likely to use ad-skipping TiVos and other digital video recorders to watch the events.

"In this world of technology it's not 100% TiVo-proof, but people want to see a sporting event as it happens," says Tony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch bud, whose $500 million ad spending this year includes high single-digit growth for sports programming. "Watching it after takes a lot of the luster from it."

That's why A-B has locked in exclusive alcohol advertiser status until 2012 for such high-profile sports events as the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500.

For networks, higher demand means higher ad rates. Totals due in March from Sports Business Journal are expected to show sports ad spending rose 5% in 2007 to $13 billion, and spending in 2006 was up nearly 11% vs. 2005.

"Judging by the continued growth in rights fees for sports … networks are apparently not worried about advertisers closing their wallets any time soon," says David Broughton, research director for Sports Business Journal.

Networks that have got game:

•TNT. The NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 17 had a 7% dip in viewers to 6.3 million but showed a continued rise in young men, with a 20% gain for males ages 18 to 34 vs. last year's game. Across the board, NBA audiences are up 19% for adults ages 18 to 34 and up 25% for males 18 to 34, says Trish Frohman, executive vice president of ad sales for Turner Sports.

Frohman wouldn't say how much ad revenue is up for the season but says there is "very strong interest" from advertisers. "The combination of new players gaining traction, the fan base and divisions becoming more competitive is helping."

•Fox. Super Bowl advertisers paid a record average $2.7 million for a 30-second spot.

Ad time for the Feb. 17 Daytona 500 NASCAR race sold out faster than last year at 15% higher prices: $550,000 per 30-second ad. The rest of its race season is 90% sold.

Now, Fox is going for a blowout baseball season.

"Live sports has been extremely strong," says Neil Mulcahy, executive vice president for Fox sports sales. "Regular season baseball is pacing ahead of last year with five or six new advertisers and new categories."

•CBS. The network is hoping to boost revenue 60% this year through its free on-demand viewing for the NCAA men's basketball tournament that begins March 20.

This year CBS has converted its top three sponsors, Coca-Cola, Pontiac and AT&T, into premium official game sponsors that give them equal billing for all tournament promotions.

The network has also attracted new advertisers for the tournament games on network and Web TV. Web watching has helped attract more viewers, as many games in the early rounds of the tournament are played during daytime work hours.

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