Olympics backers say the show must go on as NBC ad sales soar to $1.25 billion
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As we reported last week, the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has left many advertisers wondering if the Summer Olympics will forge ahead as planned. While everyone with a stake in the Tokyo Games keeps obsessively refreshing their pandemic news caches, three high-level insiders today did their best to assure the world that there is presently no plan to cancel or otherwise disrupt the 17-day event.
While there’s uncertainty about the likelihood of the Olympics going off without a hitch, it’s been business as usual for NBCUniversal’s ad sales team. “With just under five months to go until the Opening Ceremony, we have sold nearly 90 percent of our Tokyo Olympic inventory and the vast majority of our tent-pole sponsorships have been sold,” says Dan Lovinger, executive VP, ad sales NBC Sports. “We recently surpassed $1.25 billion in national advertising for Tokyo, which exceeds our sales total for Rio 2016 and is a new Olympic record.”
As we noted last week, NBC had been expected to announce a new sales benchmark sometime this month. In December, NBC Sports said it had secured $1 billion in Olympic ad sales commitments. Lovinger went on to note that advertisers who may have been spooked by news of the outbreak had better move fast if they wish to reserve any of the last remaining spots in the Summer Games. “The momentum for Tokyo 2020 remains strong, but inventory is growing scarce as advertisers continue to value the massive reach of the Games and are eager to align their brands with the biggest media event of the year,” Lovinger said, while adding that the Paralympics are now completely out-of-sale.
The C-suite had a few thoughts to share today as well. Speaking to investors this afternoon at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom conference, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said he was optimistic that the Summer Games would be held in Tokyo. “The Olympics are obviously on everybody’s mind. What I know is it’s full steam ahead,” Roberts said. “We’re ready and excited. … Should there be some disruption, as others have said, we anticipate these kind of things in the big contract language.”
Roberts said Comcast and NBCUniversal are covered in the event of an Olympics cancelation. “We have insurance for any of the expenses we make,” he said. “So there should be no losses should there not be an Olympics. But, again, we’re optimistic the Olympics are going to happen and I’m looking forward to being there.”
NBC’s insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London salvaged what might have been a disaster back in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter’s decision to boycott the Moscow Games effectively scrapped what would have been the networks’s first-ever Summer Olympics package.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there have been 92,808 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with the vast majority (80,151) appearing in mainland China. According to Johns Hopkins University, 2,945 of those in China who’ve been afflicted by COVID-19 have died. Japan has confirmed 293 cases to date, of which six have resulted in death. Forty-three of those patients in Japan have since recovered from the virus.
At about the same time Roberts was speaking at the Morgan Stanley confab, the executive board of the International Olympic Committee released a statement in which it “expressed its full commitment to the success of the Olympic Games.” The IOC went on to note that the World Health Organization, the government of Japan and the organizers in Tokyo “continue to work closely together to address the challenges of the coronavirus.”
While the concerned parties are largely presenting a unified front, not everyone in Japan is on the same page. According to the Associated Press, Japan’s Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, today said circumstances could lead to a decision to push the Games back by a few months. “The IOC has the right to cancel the games only if they are not held during 2020,” Hashimoto said in an address to the upper house of parliament. “This can be interpreted to mean the Games can be postponed as long as they are held during the calendar year.”
That assertion was quickly shot down this afternoon by IOC spokesman Mark Adams. “We are going to have the games on the 24th of July,” the IOC spokesman said at a briefing that coincided with the release of the committee’s new statement.
The Olympics are scheduled to begin on Friday, July 24, or 142 days from now.
In other contagion news, the NBA is looking to minimize the risk of transmission of the virus from the stands to the court (or vice versa) by suggesting that players “should utilize fist-bumps over high-fives” when interacting with their supporters. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe, the league is also encouraging fans to leave their autograph-gathering gear at home, as pens and jerseys could serve as a mechanism through which to transmit COVID-19.
In a memo obtained by ESPN, league officials acknowledged that certain off-season protocols may change in the wake of the coronavirus, as “pre-draft combines, on-site workouts and international scouting events” could either be pared down or canceled altogether.
In a statement released Tuesday, the NBA said the health and safety of its employees, players and fans is a top priority. “We are coordinating with our teams and consulting with the CDC and infectious disease specialists on the coronavirus and continue to monitor the situation closely,” a league rep said.
ESPN noted that some players have already begun exercising precautions. Portland shooting guard CJ McCollum last week tweeted a message to his 369,000 followers, admonishing them to wash their hands with soap and cover their mouths when they cough. McCollum also said he’d be limiting his interactions with the Blazers faithful. “I am officially taking a break from signing autographs until further notice,” he wrote.
To date, three cases have been confirmed in Oregon, with two of those patients residing in Washington County, an area that is part of the Portland-Vancouver DMA.
Meanwhile, in the world of college hoops, the NCAA has said that all options are on the table as the Men’s Div. I Basketball Tournament draws near. In an interview with Bloomberg reporter Ebon-Novy Williams, NCAA Chief Operating Officer Donald Remy said college sports’ governing body is examining every possible scenario as it ramps up for March Madness.
“If you can think of it, it’s something that we’ve gone through an analysis around,” Remy said. “We’ve contingency planned for all circumstances.”
Among the possible scenarios in play would be to hold the three-week tourney in arenas that have been scrubbed of any spectators. This weekend, the head of the National College Players Association advocacy group called for a “serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present.”
Ramogi Huma, the executive director of the NCPA, also urged the NCAA to cancel any event that places players in close contact with the public (meet-and-greets, news conferences, etc.).
If it’s difficult to imagine a March Madness game played in an empty arena, Italian football officials aren’t even considering such a compromise. After initially deciding that Sunday’s Sampdoria vs. Hellas Verona match be played behind closed doors, Series A officials elected to postpone the match until May.
While the NCAA hasn’t made any move to prevent fans from attending the 67 March Madness games, a decision is likely to be made in short order. While the organization recognizes that a “decision on the games might eventually be made by someone else,” the NCAA at this time has not received any instructions “from the CDC or the U.S. government requiring changes to be made.”
As is the case with Comcast’s Olympics coverage, the NCAA has an insurance policy in place that should cover at least a portion of any potential coronavirus-related losses. March Madness tips off Tuesday, March 17 on truTV.
The Manning who knew too much
In non-pathogenic news, having lost out on the chance to woo CBS lead NFL analyst Tony Romo, ESPN is once again courting Peyton Manning. (As the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand characterizes him, Manning is “NFL TV’s white whale, pursued by networks since he retired, but never caught.”)
ESPN is looking to make yet another overhaul of its “Monday Night Football” broadcast booth, one which would leave Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland out in the cold. Even though he’s never called a full game, Manning is widely seen as the best option out there, thanks in large part to his enormous football brain, his affable on-camera manner and a sense of humor that’s hard to match at the pro sports level. Trouble is, the man who is ranked second in career passing yards and touchdown tosses has never seemed terribly interesting in donning the requisite blazer-and-headphones gear.
Manning is seen as such a catch that, according to Marchand, CBS approach him recently in the event Romo managed to slip out of their fingers. Instead, the broadcast phenom re-upped with his home team for what amounts to the largest sports-analyst contract in TV history, a long-term pact worth more than $17 million per year.
If it’s no surprise that CBS went all-in on Romo—he truly is a broadcasting unicorn; most former jocks take years of on-air reps before they’re anywhere near as sharp as the former Dallas signal caller has been in his three seasons behind the mic—the message the network is sending to the NFL and the world at large is just as predictable. In locking in Romo with this megabucks contract, CBS is putting on blast any pretenders to its Sunday afternoon football throne. If you think for a minute that CBS isn’t going to successfully renegotiate its NFL rights package, I have a patch of real estate in Glengarry Highlands to sell you.
As far as the elusive Peyton Manning is concerned, many observers remain skeptical that ESPN will be able to land Moby Hick. (Sorry, sorry, I’m trying to erase that.) Manning turned down the “Monday Night Football” offer last year and there’s little sense that anything may have changed. As Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand observed, Manning is currently involved in shooting a pair of shows for ESPN Plus (“Peyton’s Places” and “Detail”) and since he has “a good relationship with ESPN’s top execs, the chances of Manning saying yes, while still not good, are better than zero.”
Carriage scrap update
After warning subscribers that it was on the verge of dropping the Fox-branded regional sports networks, YouTube TV has come to an agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group that will keep the RSNs on its virtual channel lineup as the two companies continue to work on a longer-term carriage agreement.
Jim Dolan is doing everything he can to alienate Knicks enthusiasts, and the team owner’s hard line my-way-or-the-highway bluster has found a new victim in superfan Spike Lee. A courtside figure at Madison Square Garden for the last 28 seasons, the film director told ESPN that he wouldn’t grace the arena with his presence for the remainder of the season, after MSG security last night harassed him for entering the facility via the wrong door. “I’m being harassed by James Dolan. I don’t know why,” Lee said. (Sell the team, Dolan.)