CBC broadcast hits pay dirt


Network close to selling out ad spots

4 million viewers expected for game



Its two bankrupt teams sold to owners with deep pockets and local roots, and its stadiums filled to the brim for playoff games, the Canadian Football League has enjoyed a renaissance this season.

But the league isn’t alone in benefiting from its reversal of fortunes.

After selling an average of about 80 per cent of its available advertising time on regular-season CFL broadcasts, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. is close to selling out its inventory of ads for Sunday’s Grey Cup telecast, which is expected to draw more than 4 million viewers, making it among the year’s highest-rated television shows.

“The popularity of the game is growing thanks to good leadership at the league, and the broadcasters have played a role in it, too,” said Doug Brooks, the CBC’s chief marketing and sales officer. “We revitalized the look of our show this year, added new guys (ex-Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Darren Flutie has joined the network as an analyst) and added a pre-game show. It’s created a buzz for the game.”

Brooks said the network has “virtually sold out” its available ads, selling spots this week alone to several movie studios. “We hold a few back for companies that want to get in it late and obviously they pay more than someone booking at the beginning of the season.”

The Grey Cup is continuing its run as one of Canadian television’s most expensive propositions. The cost for commercial time in Sunday’s match-up between the Montreal Alouettes and Edmonton Eskimos is as much as $57,000 for a single 30-second ad, up 23.9 per cent from last year.

“Any time you sell at least 90 per cent and approach a sellout, it’s a good number,” said one media buyer who purchased time on the CBC telecast. “For us, it’s a great buy because you know you’re going to draw a terrific number of viewers, and it’s still cheaper than the Academy Awards or Super Bowl.”

BCE Inc.’s CTV channel and Canwest Global Communications Corp. each charge about $100,000 for a 30-second ad on telecasts of the Academy Awards and Super Bowl, respectively.

Since networks are allowed to show as many as 12 minutes of commercial time an hour, the CBC on Sunday might generate as much as $4.1 million from in-game ad sales, although it’s unclear whether all advertisers paid the full rate. (Production costs for the Grey Cup are typically less than a million dollars.)

To lure advertisers, the network also sold commercial time during its 90-minute pre-game program, which begins at 4:30 p.m.

A year ago, when Montreal beat Edmonton, CBC drew a record 4.4 million English viewers and charged $46,000 per spot. RDS, the French-language sports cable channel, drew 1.019 million viewers, mostly in Quebec, for its Grey Cup telecast.

The CBC, whose regular-season ad rates rose to an average $3,000 from $2,400 a year ago, convinced marketers to pay double-digit rate increases for the Grey Cup even as the league’s TV ratings on CBC and BCE Inc.’s TSN cable sports channel swooned. Ratings dropped about 9 per cent on CBC and TSN. The networks and league blamed poor performing clubs in the large media markets of Toronto and Hamilton.

“At least half of the (rating) erosion was from Hamilton games; when you have a team that’s 1-17 it’s going to have that effect,” said CFL marketing executive Brent Scrimshaw, noting last week’s playoff game ratings rose as much as 30 per cent from a year ago.

The CBC doesn’t disclose how much it pays TSN for the broadcast rights to the championship game. In February, TSN agreed to pay about $45 million over five years for rights to the regular-season, playoffs and Grey Cup, and then resold some of its games to CBC, which has broadcast every CFL championship since 1952.

Companies that bought sponsorships for Sunday’s telecast — which gets them multiple 30-second spots as well as the right to sponsor half-time shows and other key parts of the telecast — include Rogers Communications Corp., Wendy’s, Chrysler and Subway.

To be sure, the Grey Cup is no Super Bowl.

The National Football League’s championship game earlier this year, for instance, reached an average 88.6 million U.S. homes, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Companies that advertised on ABC’s game telecast paid about $2.2 million (U.S.) on average for the slots, about a 15 per cent hike over last year’s rates, when the TV business was mired in an ad recession.

Networks typically use high-profile sports events like the Grey Cup and hockey’s Stanley Cup to promote their prime-time offerings and put some pizzazz into their image.

In an odd twist, marketers who bought time on CBC’s Grey Cup telecast said the $57,000 rate applied to all ads throughout the game, adding they weren’t given the chance to negotiate when their ads would appear.

U.S. broadcasters typically charge a premium for ads that appear in the first quarter of the Super Bowl, while ads that appear late in the game are sometimes available at a discount. That’s because there’s no assurance the game won’t become a blow-out, which might prompt some viewers to change the channel.

While ABC generated about $6 million (U.S.) by selling a sponsorship to AT&T Wireless for its half-time show, Brooks said the network doesn’t have rights to recruit a half-time sponsor, adding those rights remain with the league.