TBS looks to score with postseason baseball

90% of schedule sold; big-city teams likely to make playoffs

NEW YORK -- It's perhaps a bit premature for any Major League Baseball franchise to hang out the stadium bunting just yet, but with three weeks to go before the postseason, several major-market teams can smell a whiff of October in the late-summer air.

The number crunchers at Baseball Prospectus have projected that franchises representing four of the top 10 designated marketing areas have at least an 80% chance of claiming playoff spots, and a fifth (San Francisco) has a 50-50 shot. As of Friday, the club with the best odds of playing October baseball is the 2009 World Series champion New York Yankees; according to Baseball Prospectus' calculations, the chance of the Bronx Bombers and Derek Jeter storming into the postseason are 98.7%.

Another appearance by Forbes magazine's No. 1 sports brand has baseball broadcast partner Turner Sports putting the champagne on ice. Heading into its fourth postseason, TBS again boasts exclusive rights to carry the American League and National League Division Series, and per terms of its alternating schedule, the cable network also will cover the American League Championship Series. (Fox has the National League Championship Series and World Series this season.)

TBS has sold 85%-90% of its guaranteed game schedule. According to media buyers, the network is asking $80,000-$90,000 for a 30-second spot in the ALDS and NLDS, and $125,000-$150,000 for time in the ALCS.

Entitlements again play a major role in Turner's sales strategy, and among those buying premium sponsorships are returning clients BlackBerry, Captain Morgan and Hass Avocado. Also suiting up for Turner's postseason lineup are Chrysler-Jeep, Capital One and AT&T. Heading into what is shaping up to be the waning weeks of its tenure as an official MLB sponsor, Anheuser-Busch InBev will hold down the fort in the beer category.

With the first two playoff games set for Oct. 6, Turner's sellout levels are well ahead of where they were a year ago. Some momentum can be chalked up to multiyear commitments with premium sponsors, but that doesn't tell the entire story. According to Jon Diament, Turner Sports executive vp ad sales and marketing, 27 new advertisers have signed on for the 2010 playoffs, and the endemics have been particularly robust this time around.

Financial services account for the greatest percentage of TBS' playoff bookings, and revenue is up 67% compared with a year ago. Auto continues to come on strong, as foreign and domestic dollars have improved 140%.

Although regular-season ratings are slumping nationally, Turner believes it's in for a blockbuster playoff stretch, with teams from New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas and San Francisco likely to be in the mix. Last season, TBS was snakebit, as three of its four division series were sweeps, robbing it of as many as six games. The Phillies-Dodgers NLCS also was truncated; the five-night series was marred by two blowouts and delivered an average 5.9 million viewers, down 20% versus the seven-game 2008 ALCS, which drew 7.5 million.

"When football moved the chains on the upfront, we knew that fall sports in general were going to be a hot commodity," one national TV buyer said. "Baseball's like basketball, as far as not being able to control how many games you'll get. Knowing this, you load up on the first three or four. The rest is gravy."
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