Turner revs up ad sales on NASCAR events

Sells nearly 85% of racing inventory; boosts intake by 15%

NEW YORK -- The overall upfront market might be sputtering as it gets in gear, but one niche player already is going full-throttle on ad sales.

Turner Sports is revving up the sponsorship dollars with its six-week slate of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events, closing out nearly 85% of its available racing inventory while boosting dollar volume by as much as 15% compared with the 2009 season.

The second half of NASCAR’s 2010 schedule roars to life Sunday at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania as TNT drops the green flag on the co-branded Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 Presented by Target. 

Last year, TNT averaged 5.4 million viewers during the course of its six Nascar telecasts, with the June 21 race in Sonoma, Calif., drawing the largest crowd (5.8 million). Turner’s four June races were the month’s most-watched sports telecasts on cable.

“There just aren’t a lot of ways to reach significant ratings or a big audience in the summer, and since the season is an important time for so many marketers, our NASCAR lineup is particularly valuable,” said Jon Diament, executive vp sales and marketing at Turner Sports.

In July, TNT’s racing coverage was topped only by ESPN’s coverage of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game Home Run Derby (8.3 million viewers) and its July 26 presentation of the Allstate 400 (6.5 million).

Diament said TNT’s NASCAR business has been lifted by the automotive category, which has rebounded significantly since the year began. According to Kantar Media, auto dollars soared 18.6% during first-quarter 2010 as manufacturers and dealers spent about $3.02 billion on measured media, ending a streak of 18 consecutive quarterly declines.

Also on the upshift are NASCAR-friendly categories including beer, telco and movies.

This summer marks Turner’s 27th consecutive year as a NASCAR broadcast partner.

After TNT’s opening telecast, the network will carry two additional afternoon races, from Michigan International Speedway (June 13) and New Hampshire Motor Speedway (June 27); an early-fringe race from Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway (June 20); and two primetime Saturday contests, in Daytona, Fla. (July 3) and Chicago (July 10).

Of particular interest to clients is the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, which marks the return of TNT’s “Wide Open Coverage” of the event. Presented in letterbox widescreen format, the construct cedes the lower third of the screen to advertisers, allowing TNT to limit the number of ad interruptions during the race. The stretched-out aspect ratio also provides a more unobstructed view of the action.

In place of the standard spot load, TNT’s Daytona 400 showcase places animated sponsor messages in the lower third, rotating them throughout the race. Clients also receive long-form branded content, 60- and 90-second vignettes that are, in many cases, developed in-house by Turner’s Creative Sports Services Unit.

Avails for the Daytona are limited to a roster of eight to 10 sponsors. So far, TNT has lined up commitments from title sponsor Coca-Cola as well as Dimension Films’ “Piranha 3D,” Sprint, Nationwide, Home Depot and Toyota.

In a sense, the “Wide Open” premiums are bait for luring clients to seasonlong commitments across Turner and NASCAR’s digital platforms. For example, Home Depot is building off its Daytona entitlement with a series of on-air billboards to run during TNT’s race coverage and a corresponding media schedule across NASCAR.com. (Turner Sports manages inventory for the site.)

Moreover, should driver Joey “Sliced Bread” Logano win one of the six TNT races, Home Depot will be the beneficiary of a custom homepage “win” ad on NASCAR.com. The branded message will offer congratulations to the 20-year-old phenom on his victory. (Logano won his first and only Sprint Cup race last year at Loudon, NH, in an outing that was seen by 5.6 million viewers June 28.)

Nationwide also has lined up for several enhancements. For example, during each prerace show, the insurance company will sponsor the NASCAR Nationwide recap segment. Nationwide also will be featured in a custom branded area at NASCAR.com, appearing alongside a weekly online preview show.

Also stepping up its entitlements is Gillette, which will continue reaching out to racing fans after the Sunday race that bears its name via a sponsorship of NASCAR.com’s “Racebuddy,” an app that offers fans the opportunity to customize their viewing experience via in-car cameras and alternate trackside vantage points. TNT’s on-air crew will tease the online elements throughout each broadcast.
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