NFL Games Are the Biggest Promotional Outlet for 'Concussion'

League's In-House Net Won't Carry Movie Spots

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'Concussion.' Credit: Sony Pictures

It may be the film the National Football League doesn't want you to see, but the league's TV partners haven't shied away from airing promotional spots for the upcoming Will Smith drama "Concussion."

Since a 30-second "Concussion" trailer first began airing on Nov. 17, Sony and distributor Columbia Pictures have invested some $14 million in national TV time to support the film, of which nearly a third (31%, or $4.33 million) has been spent on in-game NFL broadcasts on CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN.

Not surprisingly, the league's wholly owned cable outlet, NFL Network, has not run the "Concussion" spot in any of its telecasts.

According to estimates, "Concussion" accounts for the third-biggest NFL movie spend in the last 30 days, behind only Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" ($4.5 million) and Warner Brothers' "Point Break" ($4.45 million).

The trailer first appeared in an NFL game during Fox's early Thanksgiving Day broadcast of the Eagles-Lions skirmish, which was seen by some 25.4 million people. Later that same afternoon, the "Concussion" spot made its second appearance during CBS's coverage of the Panthers-Cowboys game. The season's most-watched NFL broadcast to date, Carolina's 33-14 pasting of a luckless Dallas squad drew an average crowd of 32.5 million viewers.

Since that high-profile Turkey Day offensive, the "Concussion" ad has aired in two "Sunday Night Football" games, the late-national Nov. 29 Steelers-Seahawks contest on CBS, and in various regional games. Last night marked the first time the spot aired during "Monday Night Football," although it had previously made its presence known in numerous installments of the pregame show "Monday Night Countdown."

Network executives said that at no point has the NFL attempted to dissuade its media partners from carrying the "Concussion" spot.

ESPN is by far the studios' favorite target, having aired the "Concussion" spot no fewer than 245 times thus far, per iSpot analysis. (Runner-up Fox has run the ad 10 times since Thanksgiving.) Little wonder Bristol is the chief beneficiary of the "Concussion" marketing effort; after NFL games, the two most frequent hosts for the movie trailer are NBA broadcasts and "SportsCenter." The spot is also a repeat guest of ESPN's afternoon roundtables "Pardon the Interruption" and "Around the Horn."

All told, 65% or $9.09 million, of the overall "Concussion" spend has been funneled to the NFL's four broadcast partners. Thus far, 41 broadcast and cable networks have carried the trailer.

That NFL Network isn't carrying the "Concussion" spot is to be expected. Judging by the script alone, the film appears about as sympathetic to commissioner Roger Goodell as you might imagine. Even the stage directions characterize the NFL honcho (played here by Luke Wilson, no less) as "bumbling" and "flop-sweaty."

NFL Network last year did air a legal call-to-action notice designed to direct retired players and their families to learn more information about how they might apply for possible benefits and compensation under a recent class action settlement. The spot, which aired for two weeks in August 2014, was paid for by the NFL Concussion Settlement Fund, on order of the U.S. District Court judge that presided over the case. One of 10 channels to carry the spot, NFL Network ran it 126 times, accounting for nearly half of the 265 national airings.

Set to hit theaters on Christmas Day, "Concussion" stars Mr. Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Pittsburgh forensic pathologist who discovered the link between concussive brain injuries and the neurodegenerative disease CTE after performing an autopsy on former Steelers center Mike Webster. (To say that the NFL was less than enthralled with Dr. Omalu's conclusions is to traffic in a realm of vast understatement.) A federal judge last April approved the settlement of a class action lawsuit filed by former NFL players that could cost the league as much as $1 billion.

Ironically, or perhaps simply by design, the Steelers have figured in three of the 10 NFL games that have carried the "Concussion" spot. Along with the tragic four-time Super Bowl champ Mr. Webster, whose harrowing decline is reconstructed in the film, the late Steeler offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk is featured in "Concussion." The 36-year-old was killed in a fiery crash in 2004 while trying to evade capture by New York State police; Dr. Omalu discovered the same signs of CTE in Mr. Strzelczyk's brain that he first found in that of Mr. Webster.

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