30-Second Spots Going for $325,000; 80% of Inventory Sold

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NEW YORK ( -- Singing their version of "Take me out to the ball game," marketers are signing up in record time and at record rates for the 2003 World Series -- the 100th anniversary of baseball's biggest contest.
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The 2003 series gets under way on Oct. 18 and, according to network and media buyers contacted by Advertising Age, is now fetching, on average, $325,000 for a 30-second spot in the first five games. Prices fall off in later games to about $275,000, according to executives with knowledge of the deals. Overall prices are up around 8%. Last year, the average price for a 30-second ad was $300,000, according to media buyers.

Comparable to prime time
"It does great numbers, comparable to prime time," said Andy Donchin, senior vice president and director of national broadcast for Aegis Group's Carat North America. "I'd rather be running ads in the World Series than against it."

Jon Nesvig, president of advertising sales for News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting Co., said the network has already sold close to 80% of the series inventory. "Like everything else in TV now, the series is moving better," Mr. Nesvig said. "We pretty much sold out the divisional playoffs in the prime-time upfront, as well as the [league championship series]."

Fox and Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN split the playoff and league championship series between them. According to executives, the playoffs are essentially sold out with unit prices averaging about $90,000, while league series inventory is just selling off now at an average of $115,000 a unit. About 25% of the World Series' ad time was sold in the upfront and in package deals to Major League Baseball sponsors such as PepsiCo.'s Pepsi and Visa USA. Other advertisers already in for the 2003 games are Radio Shack Corp., John Hancock Financial Services, General Motors Corp., Sprint Corp., Allstate Corp., Subway Restaurants and Bank One Corp.

"We are pacing 10% to 12% ahead of the rate at which orders came in last year," said Mr. Nesvig.

Virtual signage
Fox, which has aired the World Series since 1996, is also selling virtual signage this year, a break from the past when that signage was reserved for baseball's corporate sponsors and for network promos. Virtual signage uses technology that allows advertisers to insert a message that appears to be in the stadium but is only seen on TV.

Last year's regional battle between the Anaheim Angels and the San Francisco Giants did not draw large numbers of viewers from across the country and advertisers did not flock to the games. According to Nielsen Media Research, the World Series games last year averaged an 11.9 household rating whereas previous years the average was a 16 rating.

"Last year, advertisers stopped chasing after buys in the series," said Bob Riordan, senior vice president and managing director of national broadcast for Havas' Media Planning Group, New York. "When they found out it was going to be between San Francisco and Anaheim, people decided to sit on their money and move it elsewhere."

Promising matchups
Although this year the division games -- airing on ESPN and Fox beginning Sept. 30 -- have not yet begun, team matchups are looking more promising, said media buyers.

"This has probably been one of the greatest Septembers in baseball in a lot of years," said John Muszynski, executive vice president and chief broadcast investment officer at Publicis Groupe's Starcom Worldwide in Chicago. "The fact that you have these great races, right down to the wire, helps the playoffs get off to a good start. And there are great stories developing."

Those stories are about the rise of perennial losers, the Chicago Cubs, who haven't been to the World Series since their loss (3 games to 4) to the Detroit Tigers in 1945, and the Boston Red Sox, another beleaguered franchise that was last in the series in 1986, losing 3 games to 4 to the New York Mets. The Red Sox took the crown last in 1918 and the Cubs in 1908. Also, the Minnesota Twins, a franchise that was almost liquidated last year by Major League Baseball, made it to the playoffs.

Big-market teams
"The Cubs are lovable losers," Mr. Muszynski said. "If they make it into the World Series, that will push numbers, plus Chicago is the third biggest market in the country. And if the series was between the Cubs and the Yankees, another huge market, my goodness, what numbers you would see there."

"The Red Sox vs. the Cubs would be the biggest World Series in a century," said Mr. Riordan. "That would allow Fox to raise their rates, that would be a very hot property."

Some buyers, however, do not expect to buy the series. "Our clients are mostly entertainment and they go after audiences that are in the 18-34 age range," said Andrew Lein, vice president for account services at Palisades Media Group, Los Angeles, which represents film studios Fox Searchlight and Artisan Films. "Baseball skews much older. Our clients would rather go after football games or prime-time premieres."

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