Airwave Wars: Getting Votes vs. Selling Tickets

15 Jun

As television spot prices skyrocket during election season, arenas have taken a creative stance in promoting events.

“Every year, whether it’s election season, television sweeps or the Oscars, we are trying to be creative in working around certain events,” said Jamie Loeb, vice president of marketing for Los Angeles-based Nederlander Concerts.

When 30-second television spots are sold out, the company will consider 15-second spots. With radio advertising, Nederlander will substitute a 10-second sponsorship for a 60-second spot.

If network television is not available, cable is utilized. “For a recent Scorpions concert in Sacramento, network television was sold out. We looked at the audience for this show and found advertising opportunities at ESPN and Spike TV,” Loeb said. “Finding alternative promotional outlets takes time, but it’s a matter of doing your homework.”

Unlike election ads, which are geared toward massive and broad audiences, marketing specific events or shows is more targeted and niche oriented.

“Part of the skill or art of marketing concerts and performances is about determining who the potential audience is,” Loeb said. “We can correlate various events, like fans of the Scorpions and NASCAR, [where there may be a lot of overlap].”

Supply and demand determine advertising cost, and if a medium is sold out, then bump rates apply.

“It’s hard to estimate the price increases during an election period,” Loeb said. “It varies from network to cable, station to station, media to media.” He estimated a network spot can be 10 times more costly during the election season, but a cable spot may cost the same regardless of the time period.

The BOK Center, Tulsa, Okla., has benefited from strong relationships with station representatives, who keep the venue’s marketing department apprised when inventory may be tight.

“Placing orders early is a challenge, because we find out about a show and place media a week before the performance,” said Paige Laughlin, the BOK Center’s director of marketing. “We depend on representatives and promotional departments to get extra mentions and value whenever possible.”

In Tulsa, television spot inventory is highly dependent on what political office is up for a vote and how many candidates are in each race.

“It would be difficult to estimate the percentage increase of television spots during political races,” Laughlin said. “Fortunately, the price hasn’t been so high that we’ve had to find an alternative medium to promote our shows.”

For Dallas’ American Airlines Center, it is the governor’s race that has presented the biggest issues with television time.

“Our governor’s race was heated this year, and we were bumped for political candidate ads,” said Melissa Mezger, American Airlines Center’s director of marketing. “It is usually not this bad. We know it’s coming, but there’s not a lot we can do about it except plan ahead.”

Predicting the upcoming shortage of television spots, the center’s staff planned many of its promotions early this year, securing prices and times before rates jumped.

“When we were priced out of the television market for our other shows, we cut those ads and focused on radio and online promotions,” Mezger said. “This only happened with a couple of our shows. Since we didn’t have a runoff, the political season was cut short.”

Mezger estimated television spot prices jump between 25 and 50 percent during political races.

Because promotions are considered a trade-out in terms of pricing, arenas can lose these freebies, in addition to air time, during the political season.

“Typically, if we do a buy on stations, we require them to do a giveaway, which shows up as a free promotion,” Mezger said. “During political races, we lose our promotions because stations can’t offer the same package to political candidates. So we lose airtime along with the promotions that go with it.”

Mezger estimates television stations provide between 15 and 20 free spots as part of a promotional campaign.

“If we can get placement before rates jump, we’re good,” Mezger said. “Our reps are great about reminding us early that the season is coming.” — Lisa White

Interviewed for this article: Paige Laughlin, (918) 894-4200; Jamie Loeb, (323) 468-1700; Melissa Mezger, (214) 665-4218


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