On The Road Again: Nets Hitting The Tour Circuit

In what one marketer likens to politicians pressing the flesh, networks are sending stars to the hinterlands and putting shows on the road. The use of so-called “created events” is on the rise as the nets plan extensive – and expensive – road tours to boost ratings and snare advertisers.

While road promotions with traveling soap stars have been used for years to plug daytime lineups, NBC and ABC are planning major ($1 million-plus) tours to spur interest in primetime and latenight blocks. CBS is considering a repeat of last year’s CBS Sports Dream Season National Tour, a 28-market shopping-mall promo in which patrons shot hoops and putted golf balls for prizes.

NBC is gearing up for this summer’s 30-city comedy tour, designed to take advantage of the web’s strong latenight entries. Unlike the familiar soap star promos, the comedy tour will be booked into 4,000-to 5,000-seat venues. Still-unnamed stars from latenight and primetime will be included on the tour. Alan Cohen, NBC v.p. of marketing, says the show will have a host, two or three opening acts and a headliner and could be taped for eventual broadcast.

Tour is set to run during June and July – in plenty of time for fall season plugs – with a major sponsor to be announced by February, per Cohen. Cost of the tour has been estimated at $1 million plus an undisclosed media buy.

In 1992, NBC will push its Olympic coverage with a three-pronged, spring and summertime blitz.

Meanwhile, ABC is planning a 20-city tour to mark the 30th anniversary of its “Wide World Of Sports.” The show will feature interactive athletic demonstrations and activities, and will be booked into arenas and convention centers for entire weekends.

As with the NBC promos, the tour will be done in conjunction with local affiliates and national sponsors, says Paul Stanley, president of PS Prods. The Chicago-based marketing firm is coordinating ABC’s “Wide World Of Sports” tour, as well as the network’s yearly mall tour, featuring Saturday-morning characters.

The sports tour is similar in concept to the CBS Dream Season promo, although the CBS tour of malls was free of charge. Jim Byrne, CBS marketing consultant, says the net has tentative plans for another sports tour.

Such manufactured events tie consumer contests into the networks’ aggressive new marketing techniques. The tours are particularly attractive to the webs since they involve program pro motions, ad dollars and affiliate participation. The CBS tour not only touted the web’s entire sports lineup but brought in ad revenue from such sponsors as AT&T, Nike, Chevrolet, Pizza Hut, Sears, Sharp and Visa.

Networks, Cohen recently told attendees at a marketing conference, can no longer rely solely on “on-air spots and TV Guide ads.”

“Networks,” says Stanley, “specifically want to take their programming to the people and reinforce their position” among television viewers.

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