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Disney Says Ads Are Sold Out for NFL Draft on ESPN, ABC

Madison Avenue can’t place ads in NFL TV broadcasts in the off-season – there aren’t any – so it’s doing the next best thing.

Disney says ad slots for its coverage of the NFL Draft, slated to air Thursday, Friday and Saturday on both ABC and ESPN, sold out about a week ago. Football can be “a year-round type of product,” says Jim Minnich, vice president of revenue and yield management for sports at Disney Advertising Sales, in an interview. He cites the recent NFL season, in which ratings moved back up after two years of declines, as a factor in interest in the event.

The NFL Draft isn’t the Super Bowl by any means, but it brings in substantial viewership. The NFL last year said a broadcast of the Draft across ESPN, Fox and the NFL Network over three days nabbed an average of 5.5 million viewers at any given moment and reached 45.4 million people in total. Viewership last year was up 20% over 2017’s broadcasts.

The surge of attention from sponsors comes after Disney worked to claw back some broadcast rights to the Draft in the wake of the NFL giving Fox dibs on the event last year. ESPN has televised the Draft for decades, and the NFL’s move to Fox was seen as evidence of a fraying relationship between Disney and the league.  Now Disney’s combination of ESPN and ABC seems to be one the NFL feels is suitable.

ESPN will still feature nuts-and-bolts coverage of the event for sports die-hards, but ABC’s coverage, featuring Robin Roberts on Thursday night, will tilt more towards the realm of entertainment. Some celebrities will be on hand along with ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew as the coverage highlights interesting storylines about the draft picks and their backgrounds – along with the city of Nashville, which will host the annual sports highlight.

“This is exactly similar to having two different audiences – sports and general entertainment,” says Minnich.

The Draft can serve as a place to experiment with interesting advertising ideas. Last year, ESPN inserted the Bud Knight, the popular Bud Light advertising character, into a cutaway between picks by the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Chargers that was designed to look like a quick-hit player profile. It was really a commercial from Anheuser-BuschInBev. Host Trey Wingo told viewers his team of analysts would return after “a look at one of the most promising talents in this year’s draft class – from Bud Light.” Minnich declined to elaborate on possible placements within the two networks’ broadcast.

The executive says the company has secured about 30 new advertisers for the event, citing the addition of ABC to the package. Advertisers know the broadcast network helps them reach “a different audience. We have talked to the marketplace about that coverage versus ESPN’s. It’s certainly different than what Fox had done last year,” he said.

ABC is getting what executives feel are primetime rates for commercials on Thursday’s Draft broadcast, according to a person familiar with the matter. The average price for a 30-second slot is said to come in somewhere in the mid-$100,000 range, this person said. The average price for a 30-second spot in “Grey’s Anatomy” at the start of this year’s TV season was $185,990, according to a Variety survey of four media buyers.

Advertisers in the Draft broadcasts this year will include Home Depot and Goodyear, with Nissan. Mercedes, Metro PCS and Old Navy among those who will support the ABC broadcast. Marriott Courtyard will be a presenting sponsor on ESPN – the only hotelier to advertiser on the program – and Home Depot will be a presenting sponsor on ABC.

Disney says the Draft has garnered interest from movie studios, automobile marketers, jewelry-and-watch advertisers and technology companies, with manufacturers of non-alcoholic beverages expressing interest in the ABC broadcast.

The NFL’s recent ratings rebound has given all its TV-rights holders new confidence in approaching Madison Avenue. Disney, CBS and NBCUniversal are among the media companies that have suggested they are seeing earlier-than-anticipated demand for ad slots in next season’s NFL games.

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