How Fox Sports is keeping advertisers calm in the absence of live sports
Fox Sports, like any sports programmer amid COVID-19, is in a state of triage as it grapples with the absence of live sports. In an effort to quell advertiser concerns and help them formulate contingency plans, the group has been hosting fireside chats with top brass.
Eric Shanks, CEO and executive producer of Fox Sports, along with other key execs, have been meeting virtually with media agencies to discuss advertising solutions during this sports blackout and plan for what happens once leagues resume.
Agency execs are applauding these meetings, saying they have been informative at a time when there have been few details available.
“It definitely feels like there is a lot of good cooperation between networks and leagues (both network to leagues but also network to network) to sort out how to handle something like NFL, World Series and the Masters landing on the same weekend, which is possible,” says David Campanelli, exec VP, chief investment officer, Horizon Media.
Currently, many ad dollars that were committed to live sports that aren’t happening are being held back, says Seth Winter, exec VP, sports sales, Fox Sports.
Of course, it’s unclear when, or if, the NBA, NHL and MLB will return. In these meetings, Shanks has made it clear he is not speaking on behalf of the leagues, but has presented various scenarios for if, and how, the seasons might progress.
Winter says they are not anticipating any live sports resuming before the third quarter, and even then it is uncertain if games will be played in front of fans or in empty stadiums.
At least right now, Fox is operating under the assumption that the NFL and college football will start on time, Winter says.
Like much of the industry and the world, Fox Sports is operating under a lot of hypotheticals.
There is currently no clarity, for example, when Major League Baseball may be able to start. The league has said it is committed to running an entire schedule, but if games don’t start until Aug. 1 they will need to consider more double headers and reconfiguring playoffs, among other things.
The marketplace is anticipating there will be a surplus of sports gross ratings points in the fourth quarter, most likely in November and December, says Kevin Collins, senior VP, sports investment, Magna Global.
Winter expects an enormous amount of sports compressed into a compact time, which he says will be a positive for viewers. “I think people will flee to sports once this is all over. I don’t claim to know what the market will look like, but I think sports and news will be the most attractive media genre for investment when things return to normal.”
Until that happens, Fox Sports has been airing WWE’s “Friday Night SmackDown,” NASCAR iRacing series, Fox Football Now and horse racing from the New York Race Track, along with nine hours of daily shows that are shot remotely. It is also leaning on a library of classic games and documentaries.
“We are taking a long-term view on what is in the best interest for our business,” Winter says. “We just want to help the industry recover. Sports can be the catalyst to help restart planning and some sort of upfront. I believe it’s where much of the investment is going to be through the better part of the year.”
While media agencies are certainly speaking daily to the sales teams at other networks, Magna’s Collins says he has not had a similar a chat with a CEO or executive producer from another sports network.