WORLD SERIES VIRTUAL AD SALES LAG

Fox Leaps In With Its Own Digital Insertions

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For the first time, Major League Baseball has permitted World Series broadcasts to include virtual ads inserted behind the batter on the screen. But due to the slow economy demand for the service from MLB's corporate sponsors has been less than expected, a person familiar with the matter said.

So that has given Fox the unexpected chance to promote its own programming behind TV shows such as Boston Public and 24.

Under the new six-year deal MLB signed with News Corp.'s Fox, the network has the right to offer only those advertisers who are official MLB sponsors the chance to run an ad behind home plate for a half-inning in exchange for three commercials purchased to run during the game, the person close to the situation said.

Not enough sponsors
Fox, though,

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has had trouble selling out the World Series, and not enough MLB sponsors purchased the required three spots to fill the 18 half-innings of home plate signage. So MLB allowed the agreement to be altered so sponsors that purchased only a single spot could have an ad behind the plate for a half-inning. Sponsors that bought multiple spots would get more than one half-inning. MLB also allowed Fox to take up to five half-innings to plug its own shows.

During Tuesday's Game Three, Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser, John Hancock and MasterCard bought enough spots for home-plate ads for two half-innings each, while Radio Shack, Nextel, Gillette Co. and PepsiCo's Gatorade took out ads for a single half-inning.

Fox used the opportunity to promote The Simpsons, 24, The Tick, Boston Public and the 20th Century Fox film Shallow Hal over an additional five half-innings. MLB ran its logo during two other half-innings.

A Fox Sports spokesman would not comment specifically on details of the contract, but said that "there have been certain adaptations this year based on the current marketplace, and those factors may be different next year."

A Fall Classic first
Though home-plate ads have been used during games for years on local and national regular-season broadcasts, MLB has never allowed them during the Fall Classic until now. The ads were not used during the first two rounds of this year's divisional and championship playoffs.

The ads were virtually inserted using technology from Sportvision, the same company that created the yellow first-down markers Fox used on National Football League telecasts until abandoning them earlier this year in a cost-cutting move.

A call to MLB was not immediately returned.

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