NBA Finals spots a hot commodity

NBA Finals spots a hot commodity

By John Lombardo & John Ourand


When ESPN/ABC Sports sales president Ed Erhardt was asked last week if he was rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics to advance to the NBA Finals, he responded, “My favorite team is Nielsen.”

Erhardt’s remark was telling. While a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals almost certainly would rate higher than any other matchup, ESPN/ABC already was enjoying a virtual sellout of ad inventory with a full week to go before the Finals were scheduled to start.

According to an industry source, ESPN was charging as much as $400,000 for a 30-second spot in the scatter market leading up to the Finals.

ESPN/ABC is so bullish about the Finals — no matter which teams are playing — that it boosted its ratings guarantee to advertisers to a 9.5, up from last year’s 8.5. The Finals are scheduled to start on Thursday, airing on ABC.

The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (left) and the Celtics’
Kevin Garnett would be likely to draw more
viewers than last year’s Spurs-Cavs matchup.

“A Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics would be huge, but there are not a lot of bad options right now,” said Larry Novenstern, executive vice president and director of electronic media for Optimedia.

The lead-up to this year’s NBA championship is a far different sales climate from last year’s Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs, a series that delivered a record-low Finals rating.

While most of the advertisers that have committed to the games bought across the entire season, Erhardt said some inventory will be available for last-minute advertisers.

“We are pacing well ahead of last year’s demand, and while a lot of the business is already presold, there will be late scatter,” Erhardt said.

Much of the new advertising interest is coming from movie studios looking to promote their summer blockbusters. Erhardt, however, would not disclose which studios are buying into the Finals.

“This is definitely one of our better years,” Erhardt said. “The amount of advertising is more than last year.”

The ratings and ad sales for this year’s playoffs are continuing a seasonlong trend that has seen significant increases in both categories. Regular-season ratings increased 10 percent on ABC to a 2.2 average, while regular-season cable ratings on ESPN rose 18 percent. Ratings on TNT increased 8 percent.

Postseason ratings also have soared on all three networks. Through May 24, playoff games on ABC were up 28 percent to a 3.7 average, while on ESPN, ratings were up 30 percent to a 3.0 cable rating. On TNT, ratings were up 14 percent to a 3.0 cable rating, as well.

Based on the overall increased viewership, ESPN/ABC believes ratings during this year’s Finals will increase over last year regardless of which teams appear in the Finals. The record-low 6.2 rating brought by Cleveland and San Antonio last year was down from an 8.5 rating for the 2006 Finals between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks.

“The Finals are a premier event in prime time, and we expect to see some additional money come our way based on the ratings points,” Erhardt said. “We will have a great Finals.”

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