CBS, which broadcasts American Football Conference games, sent a sales piece to media buyers headlined "The AFC destroys the myth of Monday night dominance." CBS is telling advertisers that lower ratings and higher unit costs have eroded the value of "NFL Monday Night Football" in recent years.
COVETED MALE DEMOGRAPHIC
"Monday Night Football" has long been held up as valuable event programming because it reaches a difficult-to-capture male audience in prime time. Advertisers apparently are not yet convinced the franchise is losing value; ABC is said to have already cut some upfront deals for "Monday Night Football" at an average cost of $350,000 to $370,000 per 30-second unit. That's significantly higher than last year's average $330,0000 unit cost.
Broadcasters of Sunday afternoon football games such as CBS and Fox, which airs National Football Conference contests, usually sell against each other but not against ABC. But with rights fees rising, CBS and the other networks are looking to tap new sources of revenue.
SUNDAY NETS GET AGGRESSIVE
"Sunday networks haven't gone after 'MNF,' " said Roy Currlin, senior VP-group director of national broadcast, Western Initiative Media Worldwide. "They haven't been aggressive. That money is a sitting duck."
"Monday Night Football" brought in an estimated $310 million in ad revenue to ABC last year. This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the series.
'MONDAY' NEARS SUNDAY
The CBS marketing pitch notes that "Monday Night Football" ratings are now closer to those of Sunday football games. "MNF" dropped from an average 17 rating in 1995 to a 13.9 last year. CBS got an average 11.6 rating for Sunday AFC broadcasts last year.
"There used to be a much bigger ratings gap" between Sunday and Monday broadcasts," said Jerry Solomon, president of national broadcast for SFM Media, New York. "What CBS is saying is that the AFC younger-audience ratings have remained steady while 'MNF' has deteriorated."
While the ratings gap has narrowed, the cost gap has widened. One media buyer said "Monday Night Football" has a cost per thousand viewers of $25, compared to $13 for CBS' football games.
ABC "says it's prime time. I say it's still football," Mr. Solomon said.
ABC would not comment on the CBS attack. But a recent Nielsen Media Research study done for ABC shows that the Monday night games retain a unique appeal. Twelve percent of men and 30% of women surveyed said "Monday Night Football" is the only sports telecast they watch, for example. And the broadcast still ranks at the top of the charts for men 18 to 49.
START TIME PUSHED BACK
To boost ratings, ABC is moving the start time for Monday night games back to 9 p.m. this fall after moving it an hour earlier last season.
ABC is also scheduling more major-market teams; the New York Jets, for example, will make three appearances.
All three networks with football broadcasts should benefit this year from a strong upfront market, with increases in the high single digits and low double digits expected.
Media buyers estimate Sunday football pricing on CBS ranged from $120,000 to $150,000 for a regular season 30-second spot last year. On Fox, the range was