The barrage of ads urging viewers to vote for or against the gambling referendum could drive political ad spending at local television stations to well over $10 million this year, according to some estimates.
Still, the Baltimore TV market's share of the political spending will fall short of 2010, a year that featured a governor's race as well as heavy casino-related issue advertising.
"This will be an exceptionally healthy year for political issue dollars, although it will not be as big as 2010," said Bill Fanshawe, general manger of WBFF
Question 7 on the ballot asks voters to decide whether to allow a sixth casino in the state, in
The 2010 election drew record spending, about $22 million for the market's television broadcasters, Fanshawe estimated. That compared to $5.7 million in 2008 and about $17 million in 2006, another gubernatorial year, according to his estimates.
This year, he said, he believes the Baltimore TV market could see election spending in the range of $12 million to $15 million.
Dan Joerres, general manager of
"We started seeing it right around the special session [of the General Assembly in August], and it ramped up and has been consistent throughout September," Joerres said. "There is increased demand on the inventory when an issue like this hits the airways. We foresee spending to continue at the same level throughout October."
Despite record spending on political advertising nationally, candidate advertising in the Baltimore market has been "weak," said Bill Hooper, general manager of WMAR, the
"It's a very Democratic state," Hooper said. "Incumbents win pretty easily and they don't have big battles. The gambling money hasn't always been there. It's icing on the cake."
Several political committees have sprung up around Question 7. For Maryland Jobs and Schools, backed by
Each group advertised heavily in August and September on Baltimore's network affiliate stations.
For instance, on WBAL alone, in a period from Aug. 27 to Sept. 27, the For Maryland Jobs and Schools ballot issue committee spent $782,800 on TV ads, while the Get the Facts group spent $985,200, according to television ad contracts filed online with the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC began requiring network affiliates in major markets to post political ad spending online this year, including amounts spent by time slot, program and committee. The database went live Aug. 2, but broadcasters in Baltimore have interpreted the policy differently. WJZ, WMAR and WBFF have chosen to disclose less information, in some cases because the committees argue their ads are not "political matters of national importance" that are subject to requirements.
"This is the first time I can recall this kind of ballot issue being this big a deal and generating this kind of advertising," said Trevor Parry-Giles, a professor of political communication at the
"But my inclination is this is an aberration rather than a trend," he said.
In the high-profile gambling fight, the Baltimore TV market represents just one slice of the spending pie.
A filing posted Oct. 9 with the State Board of Elections showed the Penn National-financed ballot committee had collected $21.6 million in contributions — $18 million of which has been spent, The Baltimore Sun reported. The pro-expansion committee had spent $17.7 million, including $14.4 million contributed by MGM.
A month before the election, the combined $35.7 million in spending so far by the two committees surpasses gubernatorial campaign spending in 2006, when
Nationally this year, unprecedented levels of political advertising are swamping the airwaves, with ads running not only in traditional news program slots but during entertainment programming, too.
Much of the national advertising is fueled by cash from so-called super PACS, the independent political groups that emerged as a result of court rulings lifting restrictions on the amount of political spending by corporations and unions. Media analysts project that campaigns, super PACS and other special-interest groups will spend more than $3.3 billion before the general election, according to a September report by Freepress citing projections by Wells Fargo and the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
But just a few states and a few companies, the conglomerates that own TV stations in battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Virginia, are likely to reap the rewards, experts say.
Sinclair, which owns Fox 45 in Baltimore, took in $11.4 million in political advertising spending in the second quarter — triple the company's expectations. For the third quarter, the company said it expects about $18.5 million to $23.5 million worth of political advertising spending. That would be between 61 percent and 85 percent more for the first nine months of the year than during the 2008 presidential election.
"Political ad spending is at unprecedented levels," said David Amy, Sinclair's executive vice president and chief financial officer, in an Aug. 1 earnings release.
In Maryland this year, the gambling issue has far outpaced spending on other ballot questions, such as the same-sex marriage proposal and the
Relatively little, meanwhile, has been spent by political candidates.
In the general election race for the Senate seat held by Sen.
WMAR's Hooper said he expects advertising to pick up on the same-sex marriage issue in the weeks before the election, but most of the money will continue to be spent on the gambling question.
"We won't," he added, "see anything from the presidential race."