Sports programming now accounts for more than one-third of all broadcast ad revenue, but for Fox last Sunday, contributions from the NFL and Major League Baseball made up more than three-quarters of the overall sales pie.
Three NFL windows and the fifth and deciding frame of the 2015 World Series helped Fox generate more than $100 million in ad sales in a 16-hour span, making it the network's most lucrative non-NFC Championship/Super Bowl broadcasting day. The sales figure was confirmed Wednesday by 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch, who mentioned it in passing during the media conglomerate's first quarter earnings call.
"The other day, I think it was just last Sunday, we had a really tremendous day of sports," Mr. Murdoch said. "And all-in, it was a $100 million day. So that felt … that's pretty good."
Sunday's most visible advertisers were World Series sponsor Chevrolet, Samsung Mobile, Ford, Geico and Southwest Airlines. FanDuel and DraftKings maintained a much lower profile than in recent weeks, investing in just seven spots a piece over the course of Fox's broadcast day.
Fox's busy day started with a special amuse-bouche edition of "Fox NFL Sunday," which led into the season's final broadcast from London's Wembley Stadium. The Chiefs' 45-10 rout of Detroit drew 8.42 million viewers. At 1 p.m., regional action kicked off, with the 13-touchdown-pass air war between the Giants and Saints offering the most diverting action. All told, the early afternoon window averaged 16.6 million viewers.
In the late-national game at 4:20 p.m., two of the NFL's most popular franchises, the Seahawks and the Cowboys, beat each other up in front of a national TV audience of 29.4 million viewers. The game delivered a 17.0 household rating, making it the highest-rated broadcast of the 2015-16 TV season.
Fox wrapped up its broadcasting day with Game 5 of the Mets-Royals series, which was decided in 12 innings and delivered 17.2 million viewers and a 10.0 household rating. While Fox was hoping the MLB season would be extended for at least one more night, a five-run Royals barrage put an end to that.
"As a New Yorker and a broadcaster, I'm disappointed of course with the World Series finishing in five games," Mr. Murdoch told FOXA investors. "But unfortunately, there's no changing that now." He went on to note that despite the quick hook for the Mets, this year's World Series still out-delivered the seven-game 2014 edition.
Fox Networks Group Exec VP-Ad Sales Bruce Lefkowitz took a similarly philosophic view of the Mets' collapse; lifelong fandom aside, the big sales day went a long way toward taking the sting out of the Amazins' loss. And forget about "wait 'til next year" -- Fox's Sunday performance only serves as further evidence that TV's not anywhere near as dead as the hecklers in the bleachers might want you to think.
"Everyone's talking about the demise of TV, but it's so overstated," Mr. Lefkowitz said. "Bleacher Report takes in $50 million [in sales] a year, we doubled that in a day! And I think that really speaks to the fact that if you can package your audience, you can still generate boat loads of money on TV."
Of course, you're going to need plenty of sports content if you're going to load up your skipjacks with simoleons. "Live sports is almost bulletproof in terms of its ability to deliver consistent ratings points when you want them and when you need them," Mr. Lefkowitz said. "If you're an advertiser, the one place you know you can get your ratings in the hard six weeks before Christmas is NFL football. And as the viewing landscape becomes more and more fragmented, that certainty becomes more and more valuable."
And Fox's deliveries are proportionate to its strong stable of content. Mr. Murdoch said during the quarterly earnings call that the Fox broadcast and cable channels plus the company's 22 regional sports networks account for "more than 25% of all sports viewing in the U.S., national and local combined." That reach translates to big dollars; looking separately at the broadcast side of the ledger, ads in Fox's sports programming last season generated $2.64 billion, or 62% of the network's overall sales revenue.
Looking ahead in the weeks and months to come, Fox's biggest upcoming events include a late national game between two of football's biggest draws (Cowboys-Packers, Dec. 13) and the Jan. 24 NFC Championship Game. Despite airing outside the prime-time window, last season's Packers-Seahawks showdown was the most-watched, highest-rated football game outside NBC's Super Bowl XLIX broadcast, drawing 49.8 million viewers and a 27.4 household rating.
Fox gets the late window on Championship Sunday, as the two NFC teams vying for a chance to play in Super Bowl 50 will kick off at 6:40 p.m. EST.