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NBA returns with strong advertising support for national, regional telecasts

After a pandemic-induced pause, the National Basketball Association Inc. is resuming play with 22 teams and a strong base of national and regional advertisers in tow.

The NBA begins play on July 30 from the confines of the bubble at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando sans fans, with a doubleheader matching the Utah Jazz against the New Orleans Pelicans, followed by a battle for Los Angeles between the Lakers and Clippers.

Warner Media LLC's TNT (US) has the coverage and Jon Diament, chief revenue officer for Turner Sports, said in an interview that the commercials in the twin-bill are sold-out. Inventory in TNT's 16 other seeding games to determine playoff positioning also are well sold, he said.

Preceded by the 88 seeding games, the traditional playoffs structure — four rounds of best of seven series — are now slated to tip off Aug. 17.

Kantar Media Intelligences Inc. estimated that the 2019 NBA playoffs generated $932 million in ad sales, up 13% from the 2018 postseason.

Macquarie analyst Tim Nollen in a recent note put last year's postseason ad sales at $975 million. He estimates that Walt Disney Company's ESPN (US) and ABC (US), with The Finals, garnered 40% and 20%, respectively, of that total, with the balance going to Turner. The revenues generated for the 2020 postseason, which would have occurred in the period ended June 30, will now fall into the calendar third and fourth quarters.

Diament said advertisers, most of which stayed on board with TNT throughout the pause, had to buy throughout the seeding games, leading to the strong sell-through level.

"They just couldn't cherry-pick the top games," he said.

Restaurants and film studios, categories buffeted by COVID-19, have rebounded, , with clients now airing messages about take-out orders and the enjoyment of streaming titles at home, he said. Beer, along with seltzers, is also back in force, after a stay-at-home slowdown that kept many people from going out. The tech and insurance categories, as well as mainstays like sneakers, will have significant commercial presences during the TNT telecasts too, according to the executive.

Diament believes games will draw strong interest from sports fans, including millennials, as NBA appeals to a young and diverse audience.

Disney Advertising Sales also is experiencing great demand for the NBA, with over 100 total advertisers to date, topped by the automotive, quick-service restaurant, alcoholic beverage, entertainment and insurance categories, according to a spokeswoman.

Beginning with a July 31 doubleheader of the Boston Celtics against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Houston Rockets playing the Dallas Mavericks, ESPN will air 17 seeding contests, while ABC has three on tap.

On the regional side, Home Team Sports, the FOX Sports unit that sells advertising across 44 regional sports networks, had sold about 90% of the ad inventory in the games ahead of the July 23 start of MLB's 60-game regular season. Home Team Sports is in a similar position as the NBA returns to court.

"With the abbreviated schedules leading quickly to our first-round playoff coverage, inventory is scarce and demand remains high," said Craig Sloan, executive vice president of Home Team Sports.

HTS is in a solid position with the quick-service restaurant, streaming, mobile and insurance categories, with pharmaceuticals and spirits gaining strength, as well. Sloan said technology and e-commerce business had picked up substantially prior to the pause of live events, while top sports betting operators in the states that have adopted the practice have "already maximized our available inventory allowable through league guidelines."

SNL ImageRSNs offer predictive telecasts as sports betting takes off.
Source: NBC Sports

The RSNs will sport a number of sponsored in-telecast features from Kia, Taco Bell, Dunkin', and Miller Lite and Coors Lite. State Farm will serve as the presenting sponsor during the first round of the playoffs for the 15 U.S. teams that qualify, Sloan said. Toronto is the other squad.

Meanwhile, Disney Advertising Sales said it has signed deals with 25 NBA playoff newcomers to date.

As is the case with the March Madness college basketball tournament, the NBA has a number of corporate sponsorship deals requiring media spending commitments. Diament said with those pacts and multiyear agreements with other marketers, Turner has a solid base heading into the playoffs, which will culminate with TNT's exclusive coverage of the Western Conference Finals.

Diament said there will also be a secondary market for the playoffs, as some marketers that have taken a wait-and-see approach to the action unfolding amid the pandemic will come off the sidelines.