Smooth Sailing: Outdoor Gets Creative With Ad Buys

Outdoor Channel's Ultimate Match FishingWith cut budgets, many outdoor-sports marketers are at risk of being left out in the cold. The Outdoor Channel is trying to spur their interest with what amounts to an offer of two ad buys for the price of one.

The network is offering advertisers that spend $50,000 or more additional inventory valued at the same amount for free--a 100% match. The opportunity--which is good for 2009--is on the table for recreational-boating marketers that are members of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) trade group.

A "marine industry economic stimulus" plan is how Outdoor's head of ad sales Greg Harrigan described it.

The deal, covering on-air and online space, arose from recent discussions the channel held with the NMMA. Harrigan said the talks were initially intended to develop brand-building opportunities for the network. Looking to establish itself as a pacesetter in the fishing-genre arena, with shows like "Ultimate Match Fishing"--where competitors include the Sportsman Channel, ESPN and Versus--the network believed that some sort of partnership with the NMMA might help.



But in the process, it found the NMMA's budget for its "Discover Boating" outreach program hit near bottom. Outdoor Channel offered NMMA a grant of on-air and online inventory valued at $250,000 for the campaign.

Harrigan, a senior vice president, said the NMMA then raised the possibility of helping its members--some 1,400 companies--that had marketing budgets under pressure. The network devised the matching-spend program, where it saw a chance to boost its prospects in the current ad climate.

Perhaps a further enticement for NMMA members to take the two-for-one deal comes with the channel agreeing to return 10% of an advertiser's outlaid spending to the NMMA for "Discover Boating."

Advertisers that could sign on include Bombardier Recreational Products, which sells outboard engines under the Evinrude and Johnson monikers, and Brunswick Corp., which markets the Bayliner and Boston Whaler lines of boats. Brunswick saw sales drop 42% in the recent fourth quarter. Bombardier is privately held.

"These are companies that are hunkering down to get through this downturn and trying to make it to the other side," said Harrigan. "Cash conservation is very important."

Through the bulk of last year, the Outdoor Channel posted strong growth in ad dollars. In the July-September period, sales were up 32% to $10.5 million. The publicly traded company, however, has not released fourth-quarter results that could be vastly different. "There's been a change in the marketplace," Harrigan said--although he declined further comment, citing the need to wait until fourth-quarter results are made public.

Outdoor is in 30 million homes and is Nielsen-rated. Programming focuses on fishing and hunting, but also encompasses off-road motorsports and shooting.

Advertising opportunities include extensive brand integrations. The channel, headed by former ESPN and Outdoor Life Network executive Roger Werner, has been investing in original programming, with 10 new series to be launched by April.

It also struck a recent deal with venerable magazine Field & Stream to jointly develop a series in 2010 that will provide the publication with brand integration. The arrangement included the network garnering the rights to Field & Stream's Total Outdoorsman Challenge for the next two years.

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