Sellout: Disney’s ABC/ESPN Out Of Ad Time for Christmas Day

    • Christmas Day is the unofficial start of the NBA regular season. Disney's ABC/ESPN have sold out all ad time for five Christmas Day game telecasts at record prices.
    • Exclusive Christmas Day schedule is "huge driver to the front half of our year," says Disney ad sales exec Jacqueline Dobies.

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Merry Christmas to the Mouse House: Disney's ABC/ESPN have sold out all commercial time for their five Christmas Day NBA game telecasts at record rates.
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Disney’s ABC and ESPN have sold out of advertising time for all Christmas Day NBA game telecasts. This year’s five-game slate of Christmas Day games is drawing record ad rates, according to Disney.

The NBA’s annual Christmas Day hoops celebration is viewed internally at ABC/ESPN as the unofficial start of the regular season. Advertisers and agencies that may have been holding back from early game action are jumping in with both feet.

All commercial time for Christmas Day games has sold out, according to Jacqueline Dobies, executive director of revenue and yield management for Disney Advertising Sales. There are still open slots in some shoulder programming surrounding the games, such as “NBA Countdown” and “The Jump.”

“The NBA has always been a marquee event for us at ESPN,” said Dobies. “Aside from the playoffs, Christmas Day is one of our most sought-after properties within the NBA. It is a huge driver to the front half of our year.”

What advertisers will we see on Christmas Day? Movie studios have come in heavy, according to Dobies. But she said Disney also saw lots of ad buys from automotive companies and vitamin marketers this year.

When it comes to prominent properties like NBA Christmas, Disney would prefer to sell commercial time in packages, spreading ad buys across various games and studio shows. But Disney’s seeing “unprecedented interest” from what is called the last-minute “scatter market” for this year’s game windows.

“We’re seeing increases that we usually see in the postseason,” Dobies said. “So, without quoting exact unit rates, I will say the pricing we’re seeing on Christmas Day is unlike anything we’ve seen historically.”

Naturally, advertisers are most interested in placing their commercials in the day’s marquee games. The biggest is the prime time “Battle of LA” between LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers and Kawhi Leonard’s Los Angeles Clippers at 8 p.m. ET. Disney has sold individual spots to advertisers that want one particular game, but they pay a premium as a result.

ESPN’s top announce team of Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Lisa Salters will call Lakers vs. Clippers from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Rachel Nichols’ “The Jump” will debut its on-site pregame show on ABC from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Similarly, Cassidy Hubbarth’s digital pregame show, “Hoop Streams,” will debut at the same time on the ESPN App, ESPN YouTube and ESPN Twitter.

Christmas Day “has become a sports holiday in addition to a traditional holiday,” noted Ashley O’Connor, ESPN’s director of programming and acquisitions. So ABC/ESPN looks to schedule the “Must-See” games that fans want to watch most.

“That’s what it is. What do we want to see when we’re opening our Christmas presents and ready to sit down and watch some good games?” she asked.

ESPN’s 15-hour programming block starts with “First Take,” with Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, and Molly Qerim from 10 a.m. to noon ET.

But Mike Greenberg’s fast-growing “Get Up!” will also be NBA-focused from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The two shows will set the table for tipoff of Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors at noon.

“You could say it does start at 8 a.m. – and goes all the way through 1 a.m. with NBA-centric programming,” said O’Connor.

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This will be the 72nd straight year the NBA has played games on Christmas Day. The tradition dates back to the league’s second season in 1947.

This will be ESPN’s 18th straight year of Christmas coverage. To maximize the audience, both ABC and ESPN will televise Lakers vs. Clippers.