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.

"This is a way to keep more people engaged in those early rounds when the games are unique," says Chris Simko, senior vice president sports sales and marketing. "The goal is to keep them engaged with the tournament so that when we get down to the Final Four and championship nights they stay with us to the end."

•NBC. The network is about 70% sold out of ad inventory for this summer's Olympics in Beijing. It expects more than $1 billion in ad revenue, with 30-second prime-time spots selling for an average of $750,000, 15% more than prime-time rates for the 2004 Games in Athens. Starting on Aug. 8, the network will begin 17 days of coverage with 3,600 hours of programming across all media including live streaming video.

"Projections for Beijing are north of $1 billion," says NBC spokesman, Brian Walker. "Interest in the Games is very strong, with advertisers buying across all platforms, prime time, cable and digital."

Misty-eyed marketing.

ABC and TV Guide have joined to promote Sunday night's tear-jerker TV: the premiere of Oprah's Big Give charity-focused show and a new Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Some 150,000 TV Guide subscribers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago will get a packet of tissues advertising the shows with today's edition.

It may be rival network heads who have to blot tears. Oprah Winfrey doesn't host the new show — decorator Nate Berkus stars — but she is an executive producer and will do guest spots. And her name alone may be ratings magic for the series about fulfilling the dreams of regular folks.

Going to the dogs.

As humans lap up fortified drinks, beverage maker Cott has rolled out FortiFido enhanced water for their dogs.

The one- and two-liter jugs come in four flavors, including spearmint (beats doggy breath) and peanut butter with added calcium (for strong bones). The press release made the Ad Team want to howl. Dave Vautrin, vice president of marketing and innovation, actually says, "The concept has 'legs.' "

In case you wonder, says not to worry if the kids get a taste for the stuff in Fido's bowl: "While we don't suggest that a child routinely drink FortiFido, it is made of ingredients that are safe for human consumption."

Here's the scoop.

Baskin-Robbins hopes to make a mint off putting York Peppermint Pattie into the chain's cones, sundaes and shakes.

The silver wrapper on the mint-chocolate candies is recognized by the large script "Y" in "York." Ad Team thinks Baskin-Robbins' $4.99 York Peppermint Pattie Brownie Sundae should come with a giant "C" — for calories. The minty pieces, ice cream, hot fudge and brownie bites weigh in at 1,610 calories.

Cooking for the planet.

If culinary students have their way, future cuisine will be greener and reflect international fusion. Green business practices will play "some role" in their careers, say 97% of 906 students from the International Culinary Schools at the Art Institutes recently surveyed online. The Pittsburgh-based cooking school offers training in more than 30 locations.

About 84% would consider a fusion specialty mixing world cuisines. Top combos: Japanese/French, followed by Thai/Mexican.

Playmate pick-me-up.

Playboy will dive into the beverage business with a namesake energy drink that features its iconic bow-tied bunny on the can. While it doesn't specifically promise to juice up your sex life, it's made with ingredients said to raise energy levels: ginseng root, guarana extract and damiana leaf.

The $1.99 bunny brew is rolling out in Boston, then shows up in Miami, Los Angeles and Las Vegas in March. While senior Playboy Hugh Hefner doesn't partake in energy drinks, the company's public relations folks say all visitors to the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles and mansion party guests will be offered the beverage.

Now that's giant.

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning may be a Super Bowl MVP, but he's going to have to compete for attention with a real giant next season. Going up just steps from Giants Stadium in New Jersey is a 2.3-million-square-foot Xanadu entertainment complex capped by a 287-foot Ferris wheel with the red, white and blue Pepsi logo on its side. The soft-drink company paid an estimated $100 million for 10-year rights to sponsor The Pepsi Globe, visible for miles.

The wheel, similar in design to the United Kingdom's 443-foot London Eye, opens in November. It'll offer a 25-minute ride in 26 glass-enclosed, climate-controlled capsules with views of the New York skyline and Hudson River. As it might also provide a good camera position for Giants' practices, you might run into some New England Patriots taking a spin.

Applicants welcome.

Love basketball? Looking for a new job? Describe your hoops passion and "dynamic" personality in 200 words or less at, and you could win one of four positions in Coke Zero's dream job promotion.

Those who win the jobs won't be getting a cushy corner office, but they'll get to live large in a 40-foot luxury motor coach parked at NCAA Final Four host city San Antonio from March 16 to April 5. The job requirements: Watch 122 hours of NCAA Tournament basketball on flat-screen TVs and blog about the experience.

There's no salary, but the "workers" get some considerations, including a $75 per diem for expenses, free travel accommodations, lots of Coke Zero and a personal escort by former NCAA and NBA star Sean Elliott to lower-level seating for the Final Four.

Ad Track reader question:

Q: Has Verizon changed the actor who used to say, "Can you hear me now?" (The present guy) seems to resemble the original guy. What happened?

A: He resembles the original guy because it's actually him. Paul Marcelli may look different because he's seven years older (the Ad Team also thinks he's lost a few pounds). Verizon Wireless has used him since 2001 and still does. Last week, he appeared in an ad to promote $99 unlimited calling. Over the years, he's been in more than 250 TV ads and twice that number of print and billboard ads.

Marcelli, from New York, wears his own horn-rimmed glasses in the ads and is in the same Verizon Wireless worker jacket. He first appeared as the "Test Man," based on an actual worker who tests the network's coverage. Now he stands with an army of others who represent the Verizon network.

"You seem him with more people, but it's the same person," says Brenda Raney, Verizon Wireless spokeswoman.

•View the new ad at

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