Green machine: Celtics' success fuels surge in audience and advertisers
Bartending at the Four's restaurant near Boston Garden during college, Sean Barror experienced firsthand the ''circus atmosphere'' that swirled around Celtics home games in the 1980s. But by last season, a two-decade championship drought had reduced the Celtics to an afterthought in the Boston sports scene. Now, after trading for perennial All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to help out captain Paul Pierce, the Celtics are back atop the league standings - and once again an attractive investment for marketers and fans.
''The volume's been turned up a little bit,'' said Barror, now the Celtics' senior vice president of corporate partnerships and business development. ''We expected our business would grow with the addition of the guys we signed over the summer, but I think it's exceeded our expectations.''
The Green Team's renewed popularity is immediately paying off in stronger ticket and merchandise sales, higher TV ratings, new advertising buys and rising corporate sponsorships.
Through the end of November, ratings on Celtics broadcasts rose 90 percent over last season. Two Celtics home games - against New Jersey on Nov. 14 and against Miami on Nov. 16 - achieved 5.4 ratings in the Boston metro area, which translates to about 130,000 households. It was the highest ratings number for a Celtics broadcast since 1997.
The Celtics' flagship station, Comcast SportsNet New England, reaches 3.7 million households in six states. To promote its signature attraction, the network built new sets at its Woburn studios for pre-game and post-game shows, and launched a half-hour Celtics magazine show, ''Celtics Now,'' which airs on Tuesday nights.
The Celtics' league-topping record has boosted ratings, particularly in the demographics that are attractive to media buyers.
''The 25- to 54-year-old male who might have given up on basketball a little bit - they're back with a vengeance,'' said Nancy Larkin, Comcast SportsNet New England's director of marketing.
Companies like Honey Dew Donuts, AAA of New England and DCU signed up as advertisers after former NBA MVP Garnett joined the team. Larkin, however, says Comcast initially was as uncertain as many fans about whether the revamped roster would jell so quickly.
''We didn't know they were going to play (well) together,'' Larkin said. ''We didn't know they were going to like each other.''
Greg Angland, director of broadcast services for ad buyer Blitz Media in Needham, said the team's rapid turnaround appeals to advertisers trying to reach the 18- to 54-year-old male demographic.
''In terms of sports advertising, you want to be in and around what's topical and exciting,'' Angland said. ''The Celtics have gone from one extreme to the other. You want to be associated with that.''
TD Banknorth Garden has been filled to its capacity of roughly 18,600 seats for each of the team's first 11 home games. Last season, in which the Celtics won a second-worst-in-the-league 24 games, game crowds averaged about 16,800.
Barror, the Celtics' executive, expects corporate sponsorship business to increase 25 percent this year from last year, well above the 10 percent increase that the team had originally projected. The team now has about 80 sponsors, up from 61 last year. New sponsors like the Modell's sporting goods chain are using the team as a vehicle to get the word out about their expansion into Greater Boston.
Name on display
Modell's has plastered its logo on the players' bench seats and bought permanent displays on the ends of the rotating digital signboard at courtside. The New York-based sporting goods retailer also sponsors a series of appearances by Celtics players at area stores.
Quincy-based Arbella Insurance signed on to become the first-ever sponsor of the Celtics' ''Stay in School'' program in Boston middle schools.
Longtime sponsors are also ramping up their visibility on Celtics broadcasts.
Dunkin' Donuts has renewed its relationship as the team's official coffee and breakfast sandwich purveyor for the next two years, said Tom Manchester, director of sports marketing at the Canton-based chain. Along with commercials, Dunkin' has its logo emblazoned behind the podium at post-game press conferences.
''We're trying to take advantage of increased viewership of home games and away games,'' Manchester said. ''It gets a lot of additional coverage not only after the game, but days and weeks after in print and online.''
Still under way is the Celtics' search for a first-ever ''season-presenting sponsor'' whose brand would be displayed prominently throughout the Garden and in all team-related public appearances. The Celtics have had talks with various companies, giving first shot to existing sponsors, about the arrangement, Barror said.
''There's such a level of integration, we want to make sure that it's the right sponsor,'' he said.
The team's success has opened up new endorsement opportunities for Garnett, who sometimes was overlooked playing in the smaller Minneapolis-St. Paul market. Verizon FIOS chose Garnett to star in an upcoming national TV campaign filmed recently in Boston.
''The saga of what he's been doing leading this team is very inspirational and we think it resonates with people across a broad spectrum of demographics,'' Verizon spokeswoman Bobbi Henson said. ''When you look at 'KG' himself he's big, he's powerful, he's a game changer. He's a winner.''
Growing demand for Celtics fan gear is boosting NBA merchandise sales. Since Garnett was traded from Minnesota to Boston in July, sales of Garnett's jersey have risen from fourth in the league to second, said Christopher Arena, the NBA's vice president of apparel and sporting goods.
The NBA sells four versions of the jersey, with the most popular version the $75 ''swingman'' model. Garnett trails only the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant in jersey sales.
Changes of scenery for superstars generally result in a boost in jersey sales, similar to Allen Iverson's trade from Philadelphia to Denver and Shaquille O'Neal's move from Los Angeles to Miami, Arena said.
The Celtics are ranked second among all teams in apparel sales this year. League-wide revenues are up over last season, Arena said, declining to give a number. Sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving were the highest ever and online sales during the subsequent ''Cyber Monday'' rose 32 percent over last year, Arena said.
''That's going to be indicative of the Celtics being strong, certainly,'' he said.
The NBA also is capitalizing on the past success of the Celtics and nine other franchises with a hot-selling new item, a warmup jacket with all of each respective team's championship banners on the back.
The $99 item is sold out on the NBA's Web site but available at retail sites like Champs Sports in Boston and the pro shop at the Garden.
Because of their history and 16 championship banners, the Celtics have a built-in appeal to NBA fans that emerges whenever the team is successful, Arena said.
''History has a lot to do with it,'' he said. ''There's displaced fans across the country and around the world, and they've come back out to support them.''
Steve Adams may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Patriot Ledger