As Major League Baseball embarks on its 2009 season, the league will be the first to feel the full effect of the recession. With that, questions have raised as to how television advertisers would approach baseball in this chilly economic environment. It appears, at least at the national level, that MLB may be more recession-proof than other leagues, according to TV Week.
â€śRegular-season baseball sales are holding up very nicely,â€ť said Fox Sports President Ed Goren. â€śIn this environment, thereâ€™s not a lot of good news, but that would fall in the category of good news.â€ť
Â â€śI think Major League Baseball will be a little insulated from the wholesale discounting thatâ€™s been going on because it is more affordable and itâ€™s a broader appeal game,â€ť [Miraj Parikh, media director at Spark Communications, part of the Starcom MediaVest Group], said.
A key to being able to weather the recession â€“ on all fronts â€“ has been the ability to be flexible, and MLB broadcasters appear to be heeding that call.
â€śItâ€™s not all our business that weâ€™re driving that way, but weâ€™re being willing to be flexible because we need to be,â€ť said Eric Johnson, executive VP of multimedia sales at ESPN. â€śWe have a lot of business working now. Some is traditional and theyâ€™re buying it for the full quarter, and then we have others who are buying in four-week chunks. We want to take what we have and sell it accordingly.â€ť
A wild card in the mix is the new MLB Network. With the cable channel launching to approx. 50 million subscribers, Nielsen Media Research will be unable to track ratings for the new network until the fourth quarter of this year, well after the end of the season. Still, MLBN, launching well before the season starts, appears primed for pulling in advertisers.
â€śWe want to make the advertisers part of our business,â€ť [Bill Morningstar, MLB Networkâ€™s executive VP for ad sales] said. Heâ€™s even willing to sell signage in the networkâ€™s Studio 42, a half-sized baseball stadium built inside its Secaucus, N.J., headquarters.
This isnâ€™t to say that the economy hasnâ€™t caused broadcasters to tighten their belts. FOX dropped their pre-game show for Saturday MLB games, dropping Jeanne Zelasko and Kevin Kennedy. In its place, a mini-pre-game show hosted by Chris Rose will air live from one of the game locations.
Thanks to Ken Fang of Fang's Bites
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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