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ESPN Strikes Political Ad Deal

ESPN Logo - H 2012
ESPN

The sports network will run more political spots on "SportsCenter" and NFL and college football games ahead of the U.S. elections this fall.

Walt Disney sports TV powerhouse ESPN has struck an upfront advertising deal that will boost its political ad revenue this fall, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The deal with NCC Media LLC, an ad sales venture of several big cable operators, including Comcast, will see ESPN make some of its local ad time available for NCC to sell. Given the expected demand at the time, it is expected that much of the inventory will be used for political ads and will mean more political spots on such shows as SportsCenter, as well as NFL and college football games in October and November, the home stretch of the U.S. election campaign.

Financial details of the political ad deal weren't disclosed, although NCC described  it as a "multi-million dollar" deal.

Analysts said the more cautious upfront ad market this year might have allowed the deal to come together.

There is "great demand" for ad time from "political parties and the super-PACs," Ed Erhardt, ESPN's president of global customer marketing and sales, told the Journal. The agreement was about "bringing in a new advertiser," and not about upfront softness, he said. "We had a very good upfront."

While cable TV has grown its viewership and advertising revenue over the years, political ads have largely remained a big deal for broadcast TV networks and stations. However, cable channels have increasingly touted their ability to target geographically.

Overall, cable networks are expected to attract about 14 percent of political TV ad spending this year, the Journal said, citing forecasts from Borrell Associates, which projects total spending of $6.6 billion. In 2008, cable had reached only about 10 percent of the $4.8 billion political TV ad pie.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai