Fox Hits for the Cycle With MLB All-Star Game

New Business Pours In as Intel Signs on as an Official Baseball Sponsor

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A lineup crammed with baseball's most exciting young stars and the promise of reaching July's largest TV audience has advertisers swinging for the Petco Park fences on the eve of Fox's coverage of the 2016 MLB All-Star Game.

MLB All Star Game logo.
MLB All Star Game logo. Credit: Courtesy MLB

While the power-hitter categories (automotive, movies, telco, sports apparel, beverages) once again have snapped up much of the available in-game inventory, Fox is particularly chuffed about a few new elements that cropped up in time for the Midsummer Classic. According to Fox Sports Media Group's exec-VP of sales Neil Mulcahy, thanks to a hitherto unannounced new deal that makes Intel an official sponsor of Major League Baseball, the tech giant "will participate in the broadcast for the first time in nearly 10 years."

Intel in 2015 spent approximately $73.5 million on national TV inventory, per estimates, and while its top four targets were live NFL, NBA and college football and basketball broadcasts, its total MLB investment was a little more than $15,000.

Predictably enough, the new sponsorship deal has opened the floodgates on Intel's MLB spend. Since July 1, or shortly after the contract was signed, the semiconductor manufacturer has invested $246,855 in live MLB inventory. Prior to that date, Intel this season hadn't spent a dime on baseball broadcasts.

Intel's renewed interest in America's Pastime comes as the many of the top tech/consumer electronics players have snapped up time in next week's All-Star Game. According to Mr. Mulcahy, spots for Apple, Samsung, Dell and Hewlett-Packard will be aired throughout the broadcast, a techie land grab that's in stark contrast to last year's game when Cisco was the lone standard-bearer for the chipsets and computers category.

Along with the new business from Intel, the All-Star Game also has a new presenting sponsor in MasterCard, which succeeds T-Mobile as the broadcast's most visible backer. After having renewed its longstanding deal as the official credit card/payment system of the MLB back in April, MasterCard was named the presenting sponsor of the next five All-Star Games.

Per terms of the deal, the MasterCard logo has been incorporated into the All-Star Game logo, a perquisite that had not been extended to T-Mobile. Not only are the company's distinctive twin interlocking circles situated directly beneath the MLB's silhouetted batsman, but the color flourishes -- a star that functions as the hyphen in "All-Star," a ribbon and the background of the MLB logo -- have all been tweaked to match the yellow-ochre hue of the righthand orb.

Mr. Mulcahy said MasterCard also will be featured during a new pre-game ritual, in which kids from the San Diego area will accompany the players onto the field for the singing of the National Anthem. Fox and the MLB are importing the tradition from FIFA, which has made the practice an integral facet of international soccer.

While MLB sponsors like Budweiser, Pepsi and Chevrolet will be well represented during the broadcast, at least one officially vetted advertiser will be riding the pine in San Diego. After making its All-Star Game debut last year, the embattled daily fantasy sports broker DraftKings is sitting out this year's contest, a decision that is in keeping with the company's overall marketing strategy. As it awaits word from New York as to the legal status of its core business model, DraftKings has all but shut off the TV tap. According to iSpot, the company since Opening Day has invested just $761,691 in TV inventory, down 95% versus its year-ago outlay of $14.6 million.

While last year's All-Star Game was the second least-watched contest since Nielsen began keeping track back in 1967, the 10.9 million viewers who did tune in were nothing to sneeze at. Moreover, its demo (a 3.1 among adults 18-to-49) and household deliveries (6.6) made it TV's highest-rated broadcast in the month of July.

If the days of the All-Star Game delivering a double-digit household rating have vanished alongside such '90s-era greats as Cal Ripken Jr. and Paul O'Neill, baseball's grand exhibition remains the sports world's top draw for all-star matchups. Fox's 2015 broadcast ran roughshod over ESPN's coverage of this year's NFL Pro Bowl (7.99 million viewers, 2.8 demo, 4.5 HH rating), TNT/TBS' presentation of the Feb. 14 NBA All-Star Game (7.61 million viewers, 3.3 demo, 4.3 HH rating) and NBCSN's hosting of the NHL All-Star Game (1.6 million viewers, 0.6 demo, 0.9 HH rating).

While Fox generally sets aside a handful of spots for on-air promotions, the show that stands to garner the most attention during this year's All-Star Game is the baseball-themed fall drama "Pitch." Starring actress Kylie Bunbury as a right-handed phenom who becomes the first woman to get called up to the big leagues, "Pitch" bows Thursday, Sept. 22 in the 9 p.m. slot, where it will square off against a fellow newbie in ABC's "Notorious," as well as CBS and NBC's tag-team coverage of "Thursday Night Football."

"Pitch" is a contextually perfect fit for the All-Star Game -- as it so happens, Ms. Bunbury's character plays for the San Diego Padres, which makes for a welcome coincidence for Fox's marketing team -- and the network will take every opportunity to play off the juxtaposition of sport and fiction. A clip from the pilot will air during the pre-game show, and at some point during the ballgame, Fox cameras will cut to a shot of the actress watching the action from the stands. An in-game promo or two will tie the various elements together.

Fox's coverage of the 2016 MLB All-Star Game airs live on Tuesday, July 12. The first pitch is expected to hit the pocket of Royals catcher Salvador Perez at around 8:15 p.m. EDT. Pre-game festivities start at 7:30.

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