Friday
Jul092010

Fox Tales: How Fox Sports Is Fighting To Keep Its All-Star Lineup In Demand

The cable network based out of Bristol, Conn., may call itself the "Worldwide Leader in Sports," but the Fox Sports Television Group has been making its own global impact on sports for many years. Fox is the exclusive home of the World Series, the MLB All-Star Game, the Daytona 500 and, every third year, the Super Bowl. But as Eric Markgraf, CMO for Fox Sports Television Group, explains, the challenge is not just getting the games to the public, but getting an ever-diverse and segmented public to watch the games.

By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted July 8, 2010)



Fox Sports, a division of the Fox Broadcasting Co. and part of the News Corp., has worked hard to become a destination for jewel sports events. Major League Baseball has been on the Fox network since 1996, and its current deal, which runs through 2013, includes regular and post-season games (the National League Championship Series in 2010 and 2012, the American League Championship Series in 2011 and 2013, alternating with TBS) and the exclusive airing of the MLB All-Star Game and World Series. Fox will broadcast the 2010 All-Star Game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim on July 13, and has sold all ad inventory for $38 million, per TV analyst John Consoli. Fox also has broadcast rights for the 2011 All-Star Game at Chase Field in Phoenix, the 2012 ASG at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas CIty, Mo. and the 2013 game (Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, and Target Stadium, home of the Minnesota Twins are considered front-runners).

Fox also is the exclusive home of the Daytona 500, and Nascar has been on the network since 2001. This year, Fox added  the UEFA Champions League final, the title game played each May that is the culmination of almost a year of competition among the top soccer clubs in Europe. As its crown jewel, Fox has been broadcasting the NFL since 1994 and is part of the triumvirate of networks with CBS and NBC that rotates coverage of the Super Bowl. Although every Super Bowl is big, Fox will carry two of the most anticipated Super Bowls ever: the upcoming Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium and Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, which will be played at the New Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ, just across the river from New York.

Fox Sports Television Group consists of Fox Sports, Fox Sports Net (with more than 20 divisions nationwide, including Arizona, Detroit, Florida, Houston, Fox Sports Midwest, North, Northwest, South, West, each carrying pro and collegiate games in their respective region), Speed TV, Fox Soccer Channel (which the USA Bid Committee has named as an official partner in support of the efforts to bring the FIFA World Cup to the U.S. in 2018 or 2022.), Fuel TV, Fox Sports En Español (FSE), Big Ten Network (BTN) and FoxSports.com.

Eric Markgraf joined Fox Sports/Fox Sports Net as svp-marketing in September 2000, was promoted to evp for Fox Sports Marketing Group in March 2004 and was named CMO for Fox Sports Television Group in May. He spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com about marketing TV sports in the age of new media and reaching an audience that is more savvy and diverse than ever.

NYSportsJournalism.com: This has been a busy year for covering sports, but has that also added to the challenge and excitement?
Eric Markgraf: It has been a great year for marketing sports. At Fox, we started with the NFL playoffs and the [college football] Bowl Championship Series and then went right into the Daytona 500 and Nascar coverage and then Major League Baseball. And we just had hundreds of hours of coverage of the World Cup on Fox Soccer Channel. Now we are looking at the MLB All-Star Game, which is the most fun we have in marketing each year.

NYSJ: When you have a year in which marketers, consumers and TV viewers are getting messages about the Olympics, the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the MLB All-Star Game, what are the challenges in keeping Fox' marketing differentiated from all the others?
EM: It is a challenge. But at Fox we feel we have a different way to look at marketing and to promote the events we have. There is a boldness and an irreverence about how what we do and how we present events. We have always been home to the biggest events. I believe that people look to Fox for the biggest events: the World Series, Daytona 500, MLB All-Star Game and this year with the UEFA Champions League final [in May]. I think that people realize that Fox brings championship events to TV and advertisers realize that. Neil Mulcahy [Fox Sports evp-sales], Lou D'Ermilio [Fox Sports svp-media relations] and all the people who work here do a great job of getting our messages out in a crowded marketplace.

NYSJ: What makes the All-Star Game so unique from a sports marketing perspective?
EM: It doesn't have anything to do with who is in the World Series or if the teams are not in large markets. It is really about a summer event. When I was a kid it was the greatest thing in the world. We couldn't wait to see the greatest players in one game. One of the biggest marketing pushes we do across the Fox network is with the All-Star Game. It is summer. You don't have prime time shows going on. Everybody gets together, whether it is Fox prime time, Fox Sports, FSN, Fox Movie Channel. It's the most comprehensive marketing effort we do. It's also baseball's most comprehensive. The great thing about baseball is that we work together on a huge plan to promote the All-Star Game.

A sandstorm hits Boston's Fenway Park in a scene from Fox's 2010 MLB All-Star Game TV spot.NYSJ: How much of the All-Star Game marketing ties into the location and how much is based on the stars who will be in the game?
EM: Location has a lot to do with it. The 2008 All-Star Game in [the old] Yankee Stadium obviously was a big part of the marketing. This year, with the game in Angel Stadium in Anaheim, we looked at the West Coast and what would make it inviting to viewers across the country. So we started to brainstorm and looked at the beach and sand, and what would happen if a sandstorm began. So we went from there and created the TV spot showing Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard, Alex Rodriguez and others as sand covers Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Citizens Bank Park. The players all end up at Angel Stadium being watched by people having fun on the beach. We had fun with it. And that's what the All-Star Game is all about: fun, excitement, celebration. It is an extension of summer when people watch this event.

NYSJ: What has been the marketing collaboration with MLB for the 2010 All-Star Game?
EM: They take the commercials we create and they run them in all of the institutional spots they have across all of their networks. We work really well together promoting this as much as possible. So instead of them creating their own campaign, we create the campaign with them and then they use all of their outlets to extend it. So the campaign has been running on all of our channels, on all MLB outlets and on all the [scoreboards] in every Major League stadium.

NYSJ: And it was nice of FIFA to have the 2010 World Cup final on July 11 so it would not conflict with the All-Star Game on July 13.
EM: [Laughs.] Can you imagine having a World Cup final on the same day as the All-Star Game, especially if the U.S. was in it! But actually, the way it plays out, people get to take a breath from 30 days of the World Cup, watch the [State Farm] Home Run Derby on July 12 [on ESPN] and then watch the All-Star Game. I look at the World Cup as helping. It was keeping sports alive during summertime when there is a lull after the NBA championship.

Pitcher Tim Lincecum gets face time in All-Star Game commercial.NYSJ: What is the cycle of marketing regarding the All-Star Game?
EM: We already are looking ahead to the 2011 All-Star Game [at Chase Field in Phoenix] in Arizona, and thinking about what our marketing and creative would be for that. What are the big attractions there? What are the big celebrations. So we don't have specifics yet, but we know we have a lot of material to work with. Then we have the game in Kansas City the year after that. So we will continue to try to tie into the city. But mostly we are trying to create a great summertime event that is a TV destination for loyal baseball fans and also for people who may be casual fans or even people who are not baseball fans but want to see great stars in a great location.

NYSJ: Fox this year has the National League championship series and then the World Series. When do you begin marketing those events?
EM: Later in the season with our Game of the Week in September. We will start putting out teasers that "The post-season is coming!" Then as it gets closer we can narrow it down as the teams that will actually be in the post-season become more apparent. After the Division Series [which will be shown on TBS] we can hit hard with the team-versus-team creative.

NYSJ: Given the state of the economy, is the fact that Fox sold out its ads for the All-Star Game a positive sign, or do marketers want to be part of a big sports event regardless of the state of their own ad budgets?
EM: People are starting to come back in sports and spend more. Sports is the one place where it is live, they know they will get a great audience and there is a lot of excitement. Advertisers look at events like the Olympics and the World Cup: They come back to big sporting events first, and they really do deliver. There is a lot of excitement in baseball this year with Stephen Strasburg coming in [as a rookie pitcher with the Washington Nationals], with the race [in the American League East] among the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, there's a great race in the [American League] Central, a lot of teams in contention elsewhere. Even in San Diego my Padres are playing well. So there is a lot of interest and excitement around the country.

"Sports is becoming more popular with all of the networks out there, so I believe we are in a great space to keep marketing and to keep getting out message out."

NYSJ: Home runs usually make the most headlines, but what role have the great pitching performances this year — including two perfect games, two other no-hitters, the almost perfect game by Armando Galarraga and, as you mentioned, the arrival of Strasburg — played in marketing?
EM: Pitchers are dominating, no doubt. Strasburg has brought with him a lot of excitement and he could be one of the great stories of the year. We will see how this progresses and see how his story and the "Year of the Pitcher" story progresses.

NYSJ: A lot of people and marketers are thinking about the NFL and Super Bowl XLV in February. What marketing plans are already in place and what might be coming?
EM: There are a lot of plans in place and more coming that we will begin to unveil as the season begins and progresses. Obviously, the Super Bowl is about the biggest sports event of any year. But it looks to be even bigger [in 2011] with the special anniversary, with the game being in Cowboys Stadium and [in a year] with no Olympics or World Cup. The great thing about our NFL on Fox broadcasts and pre-game show is that we have some of the best announcers and broadcasters, guys who played or coached in the NFL, guys who played or coached in the Super Bowl: Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long,  Michael Strahan, Jimmy Johnson. We can play off of that. We feel that we are the home of the Super Bowl, and we feel honored that we will get to broadcast the first Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium. That will be a big part of our theme and our NFL coverage, that this is our year for the Super Bowl. I don't know yet exactly how we will integrate that, but you can be sure that it will be a major theme of our NFL marketing this season.

NYSJ: Have you coordinated marketing efforts yet with the NFL?
EM: We are in constant communication with the NFL. They do a great job in terms of marketing the league. I'm sure people will soon be seeing marketing from the NFL about the 45th anniversary, maybe looking at players who were part of the first Super Bowl, other themes along those lines. We certainly are looking to work closely with them. But at this point I'd say we haven't finalized marketing regarding Super Bowl XLV.

The New Meadowlands will host Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, with exclusive coverage on Fox.NYSJ: In the Super Bowl cycle with CBS and NBC, Fox gets coverage of Super Bowl XLVIII at the New Meadowlands in New Jersey. What do you foresee as far as marketing?
EM: We are very excited about that. It is in our NFL backyard in New York. I'm sure it will provide a great canvas for marketers, being in New York for the first time, outdoors in the winter, all the anticipation that is building even now, and it's not until 2014. So you can imagine how Madison Avenue will get behind it, all the events and celebrations and marketing that will be going on. We feel very fortunate to have two great locations and two great stories for our next two Super Bowls.

NYSJ: With the NFL talking about expanding from 16 games to 17 or 18 regular season games, has Fox been given a date for Super Bowl XLVIII?
EM: If the NFL does not change [it's regular season format] and stays with its plan to have the Super Bowl on the first Sunday of February, I believe it would be February 2. If they add a game or two, obviously that could push it back. So when the NFL makes a decision, we will know and everyone will know. But people are already locking in hotel rooms, restaurants and places to party to take advantage of the New York location.

NYSJ: Fox also does a lot of marketing behind the Daytona 500 and its Nascar coverage. Have you seen any pullback from marketers and TV audiences regarding watching Nascar on TV?
EM: The governing body at Nascar did a lot of great things this year, and we still see Nascar as a hot property. They have made the racing more exciting, and we have seen that in a lot of the statistics on the track and in the ratings. We still very much believe in the sport. We love the sport. There has been a lot of competition this year and some bad luck such as going head-to-head with the Olympics and the pothole on the track at the Daytona 500 [which halted the race twice and caused several hours of delays]. But we are up in a lot of demographics.

NYSJ: Will this continue next year?
EM: In 2011, we are looking at a clean year in that we won't have to go up against the Olympics, there won't be problems at Daytona with a pothole and that we will have the Super Bowl to promote the Daytona 500 [scheduled for Feb. 20]. That is always a great thing for us to go from the NFC championship game to the Pro Bowl [scheduled for Jan. 30] to the Super Bowl to the Daytona 500. That is great marketing momentum for Fox.

NYSJ: Fox Sports is known for its coverage of NFL, MLB and Nascar, but can you talk about the coverage and marketing provided by the nearly two dozen FSN regional cable stations nationwide.
EM: A lot of people are confused by the "big Fox" as we call the network Fox Sports and the FSNs around the country. People know that the network Fox Sports covers MLB, NFL. Nascar and this year the UEFA Champions League final for the first time. And we reiterate that every time we open a network broadcast: Home of Major League Baseball, home of the All-Star Game, home of the World Series, home of the Super Bowl. It's a big point and we talk about it a lot to emphasize that we bring the big events to consumers. FSN West, for example, covers a lot of the Los Angeles Lakers, Dodgers, Kings games. Fox Sports Florida shows the Tampa Bay Rays, Orlando Magic, Florida Panthers and Marlins. So each of our regional sports networks really provide extensive coverage in their area and really contribute an enormous amount of support to "big Fox" in terms of audience reach and marketing.

The NHL has been able to build its fan base following coverage of the hockey tournament at the 2010 Winter Olympics.NYSJ: Fox broadcast NHL games from 1994-1999. What do you think of the way the league has come back from its lockout season in 2004-05, has created a jewel event in the Winter Classic and has tried to build off the 2010 Winter Olympics?
EM: The Winter Olympics this year certainly helped to attract casual and non-hockey fans, especially after the gold medal game between Canada and the U.S. showcased Sidney Crosby and other NHL players. The Stanley Cup finals also helped this year with two big-market teams in the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks. Their ratings are up. Hockey is doing well. It is an amazingly exciting sport to watch. And when you get good match-ups and exciting seven-game series, people who don't generally watch hockey feel they need to watch hockey so that they can be part of the water cooler talk. Sometimes that is what sports is really all about. When it breaks through into popular culture and includes more than the die-hard fans, that's when you see the jump in ratings. When hockey has a game like the Winter Classic and the Stanley Cup finals that we saw this season, more people start to talk about it.

NYSJ: Is the NHL again part of the Big Four sports in the U.S.: MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL?
EM: And Nascar! It's the Big Five, okay! [Laughs.]

NYSJ: What do you see this year as far as marketing for college football?
EM: We will have the Cotton Bowl on the network, but we also do a huge amount of college football on the FSN networks around the country. We have a Big 12 package, we work with the Big Ten network, we have a Pac-10 schedule. One of the things we are trying to do with our marketing is to let people know that the Fox Network and Fox Sports Media Group really encompasses all of these networks under [Fox Sports Media Group chairman and CEO] David Hill's leadership. We really want people to understand that we have all of these things going on. We own Speed Channel. We own Fuel Channel. We own Fox Soccer Channel. We are part owners of the Big Ten Network. All the FSNs. So if you really look at all that we have to offer around the country, I believe that we are one of the greatest collections of sports networks in the world.

NYSJ: What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in sports marketing?
EM: A lot more use of social media. Looking at the best ways to reach people through the Internet. It's a lot of being as topical as you can. One of the things we really embrace and that I am a big believer in is digital outdoor. We've done some campaigns over the last couple of years with our NFL on Fox Sunday Pre-Game Show. When you are looking at the point of differentiation we feel our [on-air] guys are the most talented guys but you also want to have the best stories that week. So when you are competing with CBS and ESPN, you have to let people know in a wide way what's coming up on Sunday. And the great thing about digital outdoor boards is that you can literally program them from your computer and say, "We have an exclusive" on Wednesday. Beforehand, you couldn't do that. You couldn't change [the old] outdoor boards nearly that quickly.

NYSJ: So it's not just getting the message out but getting it out so that it resonates with fans and consumers?
EM: The new media options in general allow you to get a timely, more topical message out there. You are able to let people know on the Internet, able to let people know through social media the stories you have brewing, things that are going to happen on Sunday that they have to see. If you know you are doing a story on a certain team, you can actually target people in that market to tune into NFL on Fox on Sunday to see a story on their team or favorite player. Target marketing is a big thing we've been able to do much more so than before. Being smart with the off-channel dollars that we spend. It's a good thing. Sports is becoming more and more popular with all of the networks out there, so I believe that we are in a great space to keep marketing and to keep getting out message out.

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