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Turner Sports has sold out all available ad inventory in and around its presentation of the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend festivities, and in the course of booking commitments from automakers, beverage brands and movie studios, the cable outfit has generated a record amount of revenue.
According to Jon Diament, who serves as executive VP of Turner Sports ad sales, the company sold the last of its All-Star Weekend ad slots late last week, marking the earliest the three-day exhibition has ever gone out of sale. And while host city Toronto isn't quite the basketball mecca for advertisers that New York is -- Madison Square Garden served as last year's primary venue -- the event's popularity among the increasingly-hard-to-reach younger male demos has made the setting something of an afterthought.
"At first we were a little concerned that this year's All-Star Weekend would not live up to last year's, because New York's obviously a hard act to follow," Mr. Diament said. "But the demand for the event has never been stronger."
The weekend, which includes a celebrity scrimmage, a slam dunk challenge and a three-point contest, culminates on Sunday night with the 65th annual NBA All-Star Game on TNT. The Western Conference squad, led by league MVP Steph Curry and a sublime frontcourt featuring Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant, will square off against a clutch of wizened vets from the east that includes the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.
If many fans will tune in to see Kobe Bryant take part in his last midseason exhibition, for marketers, the weekend is an opportunity to take part in a high-profile sporting event that faces little in the way of endemic competition. "There's one hockey game on [Flyers-Rangers, NBCSN] opposite the All-Star Game, and that's it as far as sports goes," said one TV buyer who has a number of clients locked in for the big hoops weekend. "There's no football, no baseball -- it's a rare chance to get in on a must-see sports thing that isn't competing with 10 other broadcasts for viewers."
While the All-Star Game is more or less running unopposed on the live sports front, that's not to say that the target demo won't have other options on Sunday night. The biggest threat to TNT's overall ratings performance will take the form of a herd of famished, promenading corpses, as AMC at 9 p.m. launches the second half of season six of "The Walking Dead." (PBS' "Downton Abbey" is no slouch either, although the Venn diagram of NBA fans and Lady Mary enthusiasts probably looks like a toppled snowman.)
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Last year's All-Star Game averaged 7.2 million viewers and a 3.1 rating among adults 18-49, marking a slight decline from the year-ago 7.51 million/3.3 demo. Not only did the 2015 showcase have to contend with rapacious GRP-eating zombies, but it also faced an unforeseen juggernaut in the "Saturday Night Live" 40th anniversary celebration. NBC on Feb. 15 scared up a massive 23.1 million viewers and a 7.8 in the 18-49 demo, which likely took a bite out of some of TNT's live ratings.
TNT put up its biggest All-Star Game ratings in the first year of its stewardship of the event. Back in 2003, Michael Jordan's 14th and final All-Star appearance drew 10.8 million viewers.
While Turner does not furnish ad sales results, the company is believed to have booked nearly $25 million in sales over the course of the 2015 All-Star Weekend. (The East-West scrimmage alone generated three-quarters of the overall haul.) As will be the case again this time around, last year's Noo Yawk-centric All-Star Game was simulcast on TBS.
Mr. Diament said that the ongoing strength of the scatter market, where commercial time is secured close to the air date, and a strong showing from the official NBA sponsors led to the early sellout and a 14-year high in dollar volume. "The NBA properties have never been healthier, and the market hasn't been this strong in a long time," he said. "When you combine a highly-rated commercial environment with a bunch of categories -- men's grooming, sneakers, auto, movies, wireless, QSR -- that are obsessed with the demo … well, let's just say we shouldn't have been worried about not living up to last year."
Among the brands that will be featured prominently throughout All-Star Weekend are new NBA sponsors Verizon and Mountain Dew. Verizon, which replaced Sprint after the telco decided against renewing what had been a four-year, $225 million deal, will serve as the presenting sponsor of Saturday's Slam Dunk competition on TNT. For its part, Mountain Dew will look to build on the momentum of its splashy Super Bowl moment by teaming up with Verizon to sponsor Saturday's installment of "TNT Overtime." The beverage brand also will co-sponsor Sunday's "Overtime" with long-term NBA partner Kia, and will bow a new ad campaign during Friday night's All-Star Celebrity Game.
Speaking of Kia, the automaker's logo will appear on the official All-Star Game jerseys. This marks the first time one of the major U.S. professional sports leagues will include a non-apparel partner's logo on a game uni. The season-long sponsor of TNT's "Inside the NBA," Kia also will reprise its familiar role as sponsor of Sunday night's All-Star Game.
Other key All-Star Weekend backers include Taco Bell (Skills Challenge), American Express (Halftime Report), Intel ("freeD" Replay), State Farm (All-Star Saturday Night), Autotrader ("NBA Tip-Off"), BBVA Compass (Rising Stars Challenge) and Foot Locker (Three-Point Contest).
Lastly, fans in and around Toronto's Air Canada Centre this weekend will find themselves immersed in a number of activations from the likes of Samsung, Nike and Under Armour.
The 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend tips off Friday night at 9 p.m with the aforementioned BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. The following evening will be given over to the multidisciplinary State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, which includes the various skills contests, and the weekend closes out with the All-Star Game on TNT/TBS. The East and West squads hit the hardwood at 8:30 p.m. EST.