'Contender' proves a lightweight; Toyota KO'd

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"The Contender" wrapped up its season on NBC last week, but failed to deliver the knockout punch that marketers had hoped for.

According to executives in Hollywood and on Madison Avenue, Toyota Motor Sales USA was particularly burned by the boxing reality show's poor ratings performance after signing a $16 million media and product-integration deal. The deal's price tag was reported to have been the highest fee ever paid by a marketer for such a deal.

The automaker spent a reported $6 million on the rights to be the exclusive car sponsor of the show, and an additional $10 million on airtime.

`THE RIGHT PLACE FOR US'

Because Toyota negotiated its tie-in directly with Mark Burnett Productions and not with NBC, the company had to take a risk on whether the show would live up to its hype. The company couldn't get any ratings guarantees or turn to the network for a make-good when it didn't. "We didn't get the total audience we wanted, but strategically it's been the right place for us," said Mark Simmons, national manager-advertising strategy and media at Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota division, given that such a high concentration of young men watched the show. Indeed the audience skewed younger as the show progressed.

When asked if Toyota had overpaid for what the company received, Mr. Simmons said that "the terms of the deal were positive for us since we had premier sponsorship and ringside signage. ... It was a good brand association for us. Would I have loved it to have been an `American Idol'? Absolutely."

Other marketers sponsoring the show included Home Depot, Foot Locker, PepsiCo's Gatorade and Sierra Mist and Everlast Worldwide.

While a representative for Mark Burnett Productions did not return calls at press time, Mr. Burnett is known to have felt that the tough time slot for "The Contender" did not help its success. For more, see AdAge.com QwikFIND aaq61k

contributing: jean halliday

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