New Season of 'Contender' Is a Hit So Far With Marketers

Ratings Are Down After Switch From NBC to ESPN, but Male Demo Is Up

By Published on .

A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

LOS ANGELES -- The second season of "The Contender" only just stepped into the ring, but the boxing reality show is already showing signs of being a knockout with its marketing partners.
While some first-season sponsors dropped out of 'The Contender,' returning marketers Everlast and Toyota are pleased with the boxing show's current run on ESPN.

After only two airings, brands that are integrated into the show, including sporting goods manufacturer Everlast and Toyota, are much happier with the series' second season performance on its new network, ESPN.

'Very pleased'

"We are all very pleased with the viewer ratings for this new season of 'The Contender,'" Seth Horowitz, chairman and president-CEO of Everlast Worldwide, said in a statement. "The show gives Everlast a tremendous branding platform to reinforce our strength and authenticity and displays a wide variety of our products to the core ESPN consumer. ... We are very proud to be the exclusive supplier for the show."

"We have to second the motion from Everlast that 'Contender' has delivered the demographic that we absolutely wanted," said Cindy Knight, a spokeswoman at Toyota. "The show's got a loyal fan base, which is great. The show does a nice job at integrating our products. And the boxers' personal stories are totally in line with our brand message, which is 'Moving Forward.'"

Toyota is using the show to target 18- to 34-year-old males with its lineup of trucks. "We're trying to grow our truck segment in the U.S., and the show made perfect sense for us," Ms. Knight said.

Far cry from last year

That compares to last spring, when "The Contender" failed to generate much traction on NBC, attracting just nearly 8 million viewers at its high point and 5 million at its lowest, causing marketers, which spent close to $10 million per episode in integration and sponsorship fees, to grumble.

Marketers such as Toyota reportedly brokered a deal to spend from $14 million to $16 million to be the show's sole automotive sponsor and promote its line of trucks to younger male viewers. But after ratings didn't meet expectations, that number was said to have been cut in half, executives at Toyota said.

Still, Everlast and Toyota returned as partners for the show's second outing on ESPN, noting that the series was able to reach the male 18-to-34 demographic -- an increasingly elusive target for broadcast networks.

Home Depot also returned for the second season but in a smaller capacity, as a media buyer and sponsor. Gatorade and Sierra Mist did not return, however.

The show, produced by ESPN, Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks Television under the ESPN Original Entertainment banner, chronicles the lives, fears and hopes of 16 professional boxers as they compete for the chance to become the contender champion.

In a release, Everlast touted the 20 million viewers that the show has attracted across all airings on ESPN and ESPN2, after bowing 10 days ago.

Ratings drop from season one

What it didn't say, however, is that the show actually lost 5.5 million viewers from its debut on NBC last year. "The Contender 2" launched with 1.03 million viewers, compared with 6.7 million for its first episode on NBC. It's averaged a 1.2 rating over two airings.

Cable has long been able to argue that its broadcasts typically appeal to fewer viewers than broadcast, but that's no longer the case. The second season premiere of "The Closer" on TNT was viewed by 8.28 million people in June. Meanwhile, singing reality show "The One" on ABC was canceled after snagging only a 1.1 rating among 18- to 49-year-olds.

Either way, the numbers are still strong for ESPN, and the cable channel couldn't be happier. The network's ratings for the Tuesday 10-11 p.m. timeslot, during which new episodes of the show airs, have increased 31% over last year. "The Contender 2" has also helped boost the network's demo numbers -- up 106% among males aged 12-to-17, up 71% among males 18-to-49, and up 265% among females 18-to-34.

Executive producer Mark Burnett also isn't complaining. "I have always believed there was a solid core audience for this series and am glad to see so many viewers flocking to see this season's 'The Contender,'" he said.

Finding its audience

That "The Contender 2" has found an audience on ESPN isn't surprising. Given that the show revolves around boxing, critics argued that the sports cabler was always going to be a better home for the show than a major broadcast network.

Everlast is supplying the series with boxing equipment, active wear, T-shirts and shoes. Its logo appears on the set, and the company sells "Contender"-branded apparel at sporting goods stores. Everlast said it saw an uptick in sales of its athletic gear as a result of the series' first season.

~ ~ ~

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Home Depot did not return for the show's second season. Home Depot remains a sponsor, but in a smaller capacity.
Most Popular
In this article: