Advertisers Gamble on World Series

VIDEO: Master Cards 2010 World Series commercial.
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With the elimination of the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies in the league championship series last week, baseball fans and advertisers alike were surprised to see two underdog teams still standing.

Advertisers and Fox, which will carry the World Series, must hope the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers play captivating baseball, since their primary fan bases are only the sixth and fifth largest television viewing markets, with secondary markets in Sacramento, Calif., and San Antonio Austin, Texas.

The top six markets are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth and the San Francisco Bay Area, according to the Nielsen Company.

"Despite not having two big-market teams on the calendar, people will watch this," said Brian Steinberg, television editor with Ad Age. "Live sports are more attractive to advertisers these days than sitcoms and dramas."

The Nielsen Company does not forecast figures for viewer audiences and television analysts will not be sure what the actual ratings will be until the series takes place.

Buying ad time ahead of a sporting event can be somewhat of a gamble. Fox sold all its advertising spots for games one to five in early October, before the either league championship series had finished.

The average cost of a 30-second television spot for the World Series is around $450,000, more than Sunday Night Football's average estimate of $415,000, according to Steinberg. "American Idol" hovers around $467,000.

He said the World Series figure is surprisingly high, just under the price tag for ads run during the Oscars and finales of popular television series.

But while new recording technologies, the Internet and a weak economy have all made television advertising less effective, advertisers are attracted to live sporting events to grab fans who want an immediate viewing experience.

"Sports are generally TIVO and DVR proof," Fox Sports Networks spokesman Lou D'Ermilio said. "We've been fortunate. The marketplace is fairly strong."

The business incentives of advertising during sporting events can increase the goodwill of a company in the eyes of passionate, sometimes obsessed, fans and customers.

MasterCard, which has been an official sponsor of Major League Baseball since 1997 and is one of 55 advertisers for this year's World Series, will continue airing an ad entitled "100%," with the company's "priceless" slogan.

The TV spot features the stadiums and fans of the Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox and Cubs.

The MasterCard ad, which debuted during the All-Star Game in July, draws attention to its promotional discounts on mlb.com/mastercard.

There is no hint in that ad or many other commercials of the two teams playing tonight, but advertisers are still hoping the two teams will still grab the hearts and minds of viewers.

"Through our long-standing MLB relationship, MasterCard is able to engage with its cardholders in a forum that matters and resonates to them on a local and national level," said Cheryl Guerin, MasterCard's Group Head of U.S. Marketing.

An Anheuser-Busch commercial that will also air during the World Series, "Day Game," was filmed at Wrigley Field in Chicago and Busch Stadium in St. Louis, not the Giants' AT&T Park or Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.

Taco Bell has a commercial featuring Yankees coach Joe Girardi and pitcher Mariano Rivera.

"The rooting interest of advertisers and of networks is really not for teams, it's for eyeballs," said Stephen A. Greyser, a professor at Harvard Business School who specializes in sports business.

"And it doesn't mean that they don't like a particular team," he said. "It does mean they know the Yankees will bring a huge TV audience, not only in the greater metropolitan New York area, but they also know that the Yankees have a national following."

Greyser said there are at least three factors that will attract an audience to the World Series and make advertisers happy: a team with a national following, star players and a competing rivalry between contenders.

Will the Rangers' Cliff Lee emerge as the star of the World Series? Does San Francisco's Tim Lincecum have a national following?

"We will find the real answers to those empirical questions on opening night," said Greyser.

Other advertisers include Chevrolet, whose special partnership will allow game three of the World Series to start one hour earlier on Saturday. The 6:57 p.m. ET first pitch might be less attractive to advertisers than a later prime-time start, but will allow a broader younger audience to watch the game.

D'Ermilio said the World Series will give Fox 15 to 25 hours of top ratings and expects the series to post Fox's highest prime-time ratings of the season, above its number one show, "Glee."

Major League Baseball spokesman Matt Bourne said a closely contested matchup is likely. For every seven-game series, the longer the series goes, the longer the interest and excitement rises.

Obviously if you go deep into a series, it means both teams have won and played games well, and the winner is in doubt.

"The Texas Rangers have never won a World Series and the New York Giants last won in 1954 and moved to San Francisco after that," Bourne said. "One of them will obviously break that streak."

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