Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Advertisers score big-time with MLB All-Star activities

By NAT IVES  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Technically, the winner of last week's Major League Baseball All-Star Game was the American League, with its 9-4 victory over the National League at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

In another light, however, Taco Bell stole the show. The restaurant chain, a unit of Yum Brands, received 9 minutes and 30 seconds of on-air exposure, excluding commercials, through a promotion during the pregame show and ads behind home plate and elsewhere.

The next-closest marketing competitor was the Miller Lite brand sold by SABMiller, which achieved 5 minutes and 23 seconds of screen time outside of traditional commercials.

The scorecard, which tallied appearances by 46 brands that were glimpsed for at least one second during the game, was compiled by Nielsen Sports as part of a new effort to measure sponsored or placed media in any televised sports event.The idea is to help gauge the effect of the fleeting glimpses of ads that have come to permeate sports telecasts. "Today the pricing is really based on what the market pays and best estimates," said Ron Schneier, general manager at Nielsen Ventures, which helped develop the service. Nielsen Sports and Nielsen Ventures are units of the VNU Media Measurement and Information Group, a division of VNU.

"Trying to manage a decision to invest in a medium without knowing what you're getting is pretty hard to do," Schneier said. "We're bringing a currency to this medium."

North American companies will likely spend US$7.69 billion on sports sponsorships this year, up from US$5.92 billion in 2000, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report.

Determining the return on a sports sponsorship or promotion has become increasingly important, in part because of rising pressure to show a return on marketing expenditures.

Part of that pressure comes from the growing ability of Internet publishers to determine how many people saw an ad, clicked on it or even bought something because of it. Moreover, marketing officers have increasingly insisted on finding ways other than 30-second television commercials to engage consumers.

The service from Nielsen Sports measures how many times, and for how long, a brand appears on the screen during televised sports, then combines that information with the television ratings provided by Nielsen Media Research, another VNU company.

Woody Thompson, senior vice president at Octagon, the sports marketing arm of the Interpublic Group of Cos., said the new Nielsen Sports service was welcome, but would not end questions like, "What is that ad behind home plate worth?"

"Nielsen will do a good job of tracking the elements, but the value of the sponsorship is a much more nebulous thing," Thompson said. "There still is no hand of God coming down and saying, `Your investment was worth this much,' because there are too many moving parts."

Among the moving parts: pure luck.

For example, Miller Lite owes much of its exposure time to an ad on the right-field wall, toward which many balls soared during the high-scoring game.

The key for Taco Bell was its place in the rotation of ads behind home plate. Taco Bell, with its logo and the message "Think outside the bun," was scheduled to appear during the first inning, and it benefited mightily when the American League immediately battered Roger Clemens for six runs.

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