NBC doesn't want sports to be overshadowed by streaming services
It would seem, given the pent-up demand for live sports amid pandemic lockdowns, NBCUniversal wouldn’t need to convince advertisers just how desperate viewers are for the return of their favorite leagues. But the peacock is going out to the marketplace with new data from a deprivation study it conducted during COVID-19 to show just how irreplaceable live sports are, in case some brands were looking to try to find viewers elsewhere.
“As viewership is migrating to streaming platforms, it is important to show brands there are certain TV experiences that still matter, and matter more than anything to viewers,” says Dan Lovinger, exec VP, advertising sales, NBC Sports Group.
According to a study conducted by NBCU, 82 percent of respondents said it’s hard to live without sports; 72 percent are more positive toward brands that advertise in sports compared with brands that don’t; and 69 percent are more likely to buy from companies that advertise in sports programming.
The study comes as uncertainties linger around the return of several sports leagues, which are only amplified by this week’s news about a COVID-19 outbreak inside the Miami Marlins just days into the Major League Baseball season.
Of course, it’s not shocking that viewers feel a loyalty to their favorite sports and have been pining for their return following COVID-19 lockdowns. MLB's opening day game on ESPN between the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals last week averaged 4 million viewers, making it the most-watched regular season game since 2011. NASCAR’s first race in May averaged 6.3 million viewers on Fox. Viewers were so desperate for sports during the pandemic, that even the first round of ESPN’s virtual draft in April brought in 15.6 million viewers, making it by far the most-watched ever.
While advertisers are certainly looking for these eyeballs and are just as anxious about the return of live sports as viewers, plenty of questions linger regarding the stability of their own businesses and just how successful leagues like the National Basketball Association, college football and the National Football League will be in starting their seasons.
NBCU is currently out in the marketplace selling its highest-profile sport, NFL’s “Sunday Night Football.” Lovinger admits there are a number of advertisers still concerned about their own financial welfare and preserving cash, and it’s a challenge to get them to commit dollars until they get a better picture of their fourth quarter and first quarter 2021.
“We are working through it,” he says. “I’m not too worried about it one way or another. I feel confident the NFL marketplace will be really strong.”
Lovinger says in typical times they would be “a little further along” but “not much.”
It appears Lovinger’s bigger concern is the birth of new streaming video services.
“You have streaming platforms that seem to be getting more attention than they might deserve,” Lovinger says. “We don’t want sports to be overlooked.” Of course, it's worth noting, NBCU debuted its own streaming service, Peacock, last month.
Lovinger also wants to address any concerns in the marketplace over multiple sports seasons moving into the fourth quarter that don’t usually take place at that time, raising questions if there will be too many live sports at once.
“There probably isn’t enough,” says Lovinger, citing a dearth of other places to connect with viewers at scale, not to mention delays in production in entertainment programming due to the pandemic.
Lovinger says the biggest surprise for him of the study was the notion that live sports are an ideal environment for unity and hope, with 84 percent of respondents saying live sports will bring the world back together.
“Given the current climate, that really rung true,” Lovinger says. “Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, geographical location or what sport they are a fan of, the potential for providing unity is interesting and could be a way for us to present sports.”
This is especially surprising given the divisiveness surrounding several leagues over the last few years, including the debate in the NFL over taking a knee during the National Anthem in support of racial inequality and the decision by NASCAR to ban the flying of Confederate flags.