Sports help ads edge ahead of competition

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Sports TV advertising—both broadcast and cable—has emerged as the fail-safe for b-to-b media buyers. In an era when many print campaigns are being slashed and interactive budgets are being held up to new measures of return on investment, buying time on a regional or national sporting event delivers tried-and-true value, experts say.

Yet a poorly planned buy can deliver disappointing results, as every out-of-business $1 million-per-spot b-to-b Super Bowl advertiser can attest.

John Klein, executive media director at McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C., said b-to-b broadcast advertising is down, but not as far down as other media. And the softening has occurred at lower tiers—small-market sports broadcasts and other local events—rather than at the upper crust of sport, Klein said. When it comes to the 2002 Olympics, where IBM Corp. is gold; hockey, where Southwest Airlines takes the cup; or in the growing sports of golf, tennis and NASCAR, there’s still a lot of strength, he said.

"In the b-to-b advertising [universe], there’s [only] a handful of places to go,’’ Klein said. "There’s technology or news, but all of your competitors are already there. TV sports is an attractive alternative and relevant place to be for b-to-b.’’

Others are also bullish on TV sports.

"It is appropriate for large companies and brands that have the resources and wherewithal to take advantage of it," said Tom Stein, president-CEO of ad agency Stein Rogan+Partners, New York. "But businesses must have the scope to justify the expenditure.’’

B-to-b sports ad deals can help build brand in unique ways, said HSR Business to Business Inc. Chairman-CEO Rick Segal. The agency’s client AK Steel Co., Middletown, Ohio, donates to charity every time the Cincinnati Reds steal a base. The community relations broadcast effort "helps maintain good corporate citizenship in an industry where they are otherwise dealing with ugly labor and environmental issues,’’ Segal said.

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