After making a dash for football, advertisers are taking a trip to the golf course.
WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports has sold out all its commercial inventory for its Sunday, May 24 broadcast of “The Match: Champions for Charity,” a tee-off simulcast at 3 p.m. that day across TNT, TBS, truTV and HLN between two top-athlete teams. Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning will square off against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady. As part of the event, WarnerMedia and the golfers will collectively make a charitable donation of $10 million to benefit COVID-19 relief. Madison Avenue’s intense interest follows similar demand for the recent broadcast of the NFL Draft on Walt Disney’s ESPN.
Deciding to mount such a match amid the economic pullback that has accompanied the virus was “quite a risk,” acknowledges Jon Diament, executive vice president and chief revenue officer for Turner Sports, in an interview, but “we had demand for double the amount of inventory that we had.” Executives continue to get calls from advertisers, he says, and are trying to work on ties to the event via digital media and addressable advertising. “We are looking to get creative to extend the power of the match in the marketplace, but our TNT coverage is 100% sold out.”
At a time when advertisers are pulling back millions of dollars in TV commercials, they continue to gravitate to anything associated with sports – even when there isn’t a true game on the field. “Capital One knows our customers are passionate about sports, which is why we are excited to support this event and to help bring awareness to these amazing charities,” says Marc Mentry, chief brand officer of Capital One, which will serve as title sponsor of the event.
ESPN, which has been scrambling to fill its schedule in the wake of live games being scuttled by the contagion, snared big-spending clients such as Facebook, Hershey’s and State Farm for its much-anticipated documentary series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls – and all the basketball footage in that program took place years ago.
WarnerMedia can use the attention. The AT&T unit lost out on millions of dollars in advertising in March when the NCAA decided to cancel the “March Madness” men’s basketball tournament Turner broadcasts with CBS – one of the most popular annual events in U.S. sports. Turner’s Diament says “a very small number” of “Madness” sponsors “shifted” the money they expected to use to advertise in the tourney to the new golf event.
Turner has taken to these links before. In 2018, the company mounted a match between Woods and Mickelson, distributed by pay-per-view. The technology proved creaky and spurred grumbling, but the AT&T unit wants to continue doing similar events, says Will Funk, executive vice president of sports partnerships and branded content at Turner Sports, in an interview. “We see this as an opportunity to own and operate events, and own the intellectual property and deal directly with players and their agents,” he says. “These players have large social followings already built in. We can piggyback on that. You will hopefully see more of this type of event.”
Before you can, Turner must make sure “The Match” goes off without a hitch. It won’t be easy. The players have to maintain an appropriate distance from one another while holding forth at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida. Tournament organizers are working with state and local government and public health officials on proper logistics.
One advertiser will help. Each player gets to drive his own tricked-out E-Z-Go golf cart, which will be outfitted with cameras and microphones (and painted to reflect the sports celeb inside), courtesy of a sponsorship deal.
Approximately 50% of the ads are part of broader sponsorship packages tied to the event. Capital One will be featured in a number of appearances during the broadcast of the event, as well as via digital and social extensions. Audi of America, Anheuser-Busch’s Michelob Ultra and Progressive will serve as presenting partners, while Cisco and DraftKings will be woven into the telecast. AT&T, and the new WarnerMedia streaming service, HBO Max, are also sponsors, along with golf-equipment manufacturer Callaway, private jet charter service Wheels Up and E-Z-Go.
Turner sought a price in what one person familiar with the matter described as being in the “mid-seven-figures” for sponsorship packages. The company declined to comment.
Turner Sports executives originally planned for the match to take place in June, hoping to catch sports fans’ interest after the NFL Draft and toward the end of the NBA season. But with the coronavirus pandemic spreading, the team had to pivot, and decided to launch the square-off in May prior to Memorial Day, betting advertisers would have interest in getting a message out to a big audience before the start of summer. The company also believes the presence of the two football players and the top golfers will bring in a wider crowd than just sports aficionados.
Much of the effort hinged on whether sponsors, the athletes and production and event staff could figure out how to proceed. “It’s a unique sales challenge. We have been having parallel conversations on the talent end even as we were talking to our advertising partners,” says Funk. “This has been like trying to sell the Super Bowl – only you don’t know if it’s going to happen, or if it does, when it’s going to happen.” Now all that remains is getting people to watch.