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Average of 17.5 million viewers for each game during the regular season, including broadcast networks, ESPN and the NFL Network *
The NFL may have the shortest season of the major professional sports leagues in North America, but it's increasingly finding ways to attract audiences and marketers at other times of the year.
Barely a few weeks after the Super Bowl, the NFL holds its scouting combine. That's followed in late April by the NFL Draft, which is telecast on ESPN and the NFL Network. In August there are 12 nationally televised preseason games (11 in prime time), before the regular season kicks off in early September with a nationally televised game on NBC.
The schedule feeds a voracious appetite for NFL programming, which appeals to a diverse audience of business decision-makers.
NFL telecasts, which run on CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and the NFL Network, drew 200 million unique viewers during the regular season in 2011, according to Nielsen Co. NFL games were watched by an average of 17.5 million viewers.
Fox and the NFL Network each had the highest average viewerships in their history while “NBC Sunday Night Football” was the most-watched show in prime time for the second consecutive season.
“Our NFL partners know that with ad buying they get the wide reach and are getting a spectrum of C-level executives,” said Dave Pattillo, VP-media sales for the NFL. “It's certainly an audience that's going to be there, regardless of whether it's a Thursday night game on the NFL Network or a Monday night game on ESPN.”
B-to-b marketers such as FedEx, Verizon and Visa are major advertisers on NFL programming. Overall, marketers spent $3.2 billion on spots during the past season's telecasts, according to Kantar Media.
The upcoming season will a feature a new Thanksgiving night game on NBC, which is reportedly seeking almost seven figures for a 30-second spot during the broadcast. The NFL Network, which is distributed in 60 million U.S. homes, will telecast 13 games in the upcoming season, up from eight games during the 2011-12 season.
The NFL also offers an array of sponsorships that extend beyond in-game advertising.
“If you're an official sponsor of the NFL, it's not just [ad] inventory on a network, anymore,” said Marc Morse, senior VP-national broadcast at media agency RJ Palmer. “It's an opportunity to use the NFL logo and to market your products all year round.”
Darren Marshall, exec VP-consulting and research at rEvolution, a sports marketing and media agency, said: “With 20-odd sponsors across the league, it's harder to stand out. They [the NFL] work really hard to add value to the sponsors.” —Matthew Schwartz