ESPN, Local Cable Finding Political Cash Together

Ann Romney guest-hosted “Good Morning America” Wednesday. President Obama and his wife hit “The View” not long ago. Just a thought: neither gig was an attempt to reach men.

Analysts will say that along with Hispanics, suburban women – probably ones in Columbus, Orlando and Richmond – will decide who gets sworn in Jan. 20. But, why not try to get young men to stop playing video games long enough to go to the polls to offset any shortfall with soccer moms (is that term still in vogue?).

Earlier this year, national cable rep firm NCC Media cut an estimated $3 million deal with ESPN giving it more inventory to offer campaigns that chance. NCC re-sells the space to politicians in college football and other popular programming.

“If we had two minutes an hour, maybe now we have three,” said Andrew Capone, an NCC senior vice president.

In a single slot, NCC can deliver geo-targeted ads to about 20 swing-state markets. Presidential candidates or super PACs don't have to buy all of them. NCC might fill the rest by selling to senate or gubernatorial candidates in individual states.



Outside the 20 markets, ESPN keeps the inventory that it can use for promos. It could offer an advertiser the chance to buy the still-large portion of the country or use it for make goods.

While the deal reported by the Wall Street Journal in July gives NCC more space to sell to politicians, ESPN found a way to tap into this fall’s flush campaign coffers. Campaigns largely avoid the inefficiency of a national buy.

Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker noted the “incremental” dollars for ESPN in a report Wednesday. Indirectly, she touted NCC’s opportunity with a schedule of 12 ESPN college football games featuring teams in swing states coming soon. (Her analysis found multiple games with Virginia Tech and Miami.)

Reaching young men for all advertisers is a well-documented challenge. For the first two weeks of the new season, women make up 53% of the prime-time audience in the 18-to-34 demo. (Among those 18-plus, which would encompass all potential voters, the skew is 54% female.)

Young men don’t just watch TV in lower numbers, but also don’t bother to vote as much. Census Bureau data shows that in the last presidential election, 52% of females 18 to 24 voted, compared to 45% of men.

NCC sells inventory on behalf of cable operators that run on dozens of networks, but has put together a system allowing an advertiser to also reach homes served by DirecTV, AT&T and Verizon. NCC is jointly owned by Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable.

Is it possible that the ESPN deal offers a template for a national cable network to get more involved in the political game, while NCC can get more real estate as campaign spending is as certain to rise as the national debt? (Wells Fargo reports local cable is up 65% this year over 2008 in political ad dollars.)

NCC’s Capone said there will be an analysis after Election Day. Beyond acquiring inventory for political ads, there’s no reason a network couldn’t approach NCC about selling space between elections and vice versa.

Two networks NCC is unlikely to buy from during political seasons, however, are Fox News and MSNBC. The theory is voters probably aren’t tuning in looking for a reason to switch their preferences.

Capone said that “when you use the news networks, you’re basically speaking to the converted.”

Of course, lots of fans watching ESPN aren't swing voters either when it comes to their teams. But there are a lot more teams than the elephants and donkeys.

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