Welcome to a special Thanksgiving edition of Ad Age Sports Media Brief, a weekly roundup of news from every zone of the sports media spray chart, including the latest on broadcast/cable/streaming, sponsorships, endorsements, gambling and tech.
It's the economy, stupid: Sports Media Brief
Like snow cones in Hell
As we told you earlier this week, Fox’s ad sales team finished selling out the in-game inventory for Super Bowl LIV at a near-breakneck pace, closing out a deal for the very last of its 77 available spots on Friday. As Fox Sports sales boss Seth Winter told us on Sunday afternoon, the broadcaster is not holding any straggler :30s back for any dawdlers or dilly-dalliers; the pari-mutuel window has been slammed shut. You snooze, etc.
This marked the earliest clearing of the Super Bowl decks in nearly a decade; fueled by the post-Great Recession recovery and the fact that the NFL’s TV ratings were cruising along at a record high, Fox in 2010 booked its last available unit in Super Bowl XLV three days before Halloween. (In more recent years, booking the final spot just hours before kickoff had become the new normal.)
One detail that didn’t make its way into Monday’s news story had to do with Winter’s strategy for amplifying his clients’ Super Bowl investments. Once demand for the NFL’s title tilt reached a fever pitch, Winter could have elected to squeeze advertisers for more cash per unit for the available in-game spots. Instead, he offered marketers an opportunity to enhance their Super Sunday buys with “additional units across our portfolio.”
In other words, rather than command an even more of an epistaxis-inducing rate than the established $5.6 million ceiling, Winter coaxed advertisers into picking up spots in Fox Sports’ coverage of an array of events, including college football, NASCAR and golf’s U.S. Open tournament.
While the networks carrying the Super Bowl defer to the clients’ wishes re: disclosure—Winter wasn’t about to reveal the identity of any advertiser who hadn’t already gone public with the news that they had bought an in-game unit—a few big spenders already have made their intentions known. While Anheuser-Busch is all-in, having advertised in 29 previous Super Bowls, and Kia is back for its 11th consecutive appearance, Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts makes its big game debut on Feb. 2 and Volkswagen’s Porsche returns for the first time since 1997.
On the other side of the ledger, Ad Age’s Jeanine Poggi tells us that Bumble will not be returning to the field for its second turn in the spotlight. Boosted by the presence of spokesperson Serena Williams, the dating app made a respectable showing in its inaugural turn in the spotlight, ranking 23rd on USA Today’s Ad Meter.
Bookmark our Super Bowl ad roster for the latest updates on who’s suiting up for the brand showdown in Miami.
As we predicted back in August, the rare battle between the NFL’s two most polarizing franchises put up monster ratings, with Fox’s presentation of Sunday’s Dallas Cowboys-New England Patriots game averaging 29.5 million viewers and a 16.5 household rating. The Pats’ 13-9 win in harrowing wintry conditions now ranks as the year’s 10th most-watched broadcast, tucking in just behind ABC’s coverage of the 91st Academy Awards.
Excluding Thanksgiving Day Cowboys games, this was the most-watched regular-season NFL contest since the Pats and Green Bay scuffled on CBS in November 2014 in front of 30.9 million TV viewers. It is also the highest-rated NFL game since the Seahawks and Cowboys butted heads in Fox’s national window in November 2015. In eking out a 13-12 road win, Seattle helped draw a 17.0 rating.
As with Sunday’s ’Boys-Pats slog, the 2014 and 2015 broadcasts ran virtually unopposed. Both were the only national NFL option in the 4:20 p.m. ET window on their respective networks, airing against regional action (Arizona-Atlanta on Fox in 2014; Jets-Raiders on CBS in 2015).
Season-to-date, Fox accounts for six of the 10 most-watched NFL broadcasts, while NBC and CBS can lay claim to two a piece. Fox is now all but assured of marking its 10th year as the home network of TV’s top-rated broadcast, a distinction that in large part has been made possible by its NFC-heavy schedule. All three of Fox’s top five broadcasts featured the perennial ratings draw that is Dallas, and the network has also delivered big numbers by way of the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.
NBC’s top “Sunday Night Football” deliveries also were facilitated by the Cowboys, while CBS’s diminished reliance upon the smaller-market AFC clubs has led to some must-see matchups. As with Fox, CBS’s highest rating was served up courtesy of an inter-conference battle; a week ago, the Patriots (sort of) avenged their Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles as 24.9 million viewers looked on.
Ahead of tomorrow’s Turkey Day broadcasts, the NFL’s most reliable draws are: Dallas, which is averaging 22.8 million viewers and a 12.9 rating in eight national windows; New Orleans (21.2 million/12.2); New England (20.9 million/11.9); Philadelphia (20.4 million/11.8) and Green Bay (20.3 million/11.7). The Patriots are the only AFC team among the league’s top 10 biggest TV performers.
Through Week 12 of the 2019 season, NFL ratings are up 5 percent year-over-year, with an average turnout of 16.1 million viewers per game. Household ratings are up 4 percent to a 9.4. Along demo lines, the breakout of the national TV audience is 65 percent male to 35 percent female and approximately 40 percent of all viewers are members of the adults 18-49 demo.
Barstool bowl dreams scuttled
ESPN appears to have yanked the stool out from under Erika Nardini and Co., as the network reportedly nixed a deal that would have seen the digital disruptor landing a college football bowl game sponsorship.
As first reported by Sports Business Journal’s Mark J. Burns, Barstool Sports had been engaged in talks to snap up the title sponsorship of the annual bowl game in Mobile, Ala. formerly known as the Dollar General Bowl. According to Burns’ sources, the discussions “fell apart because of pressure the bowl felt from both the NCAA and ESPN,” which televises the game.
While Burns was told that Barstool’s “emphasis on gambling content was a concern” for the NCAA, which does not have veto power over the bowl title sponsorships, the longstanding animosity between the Chernin Group-owned company and ESPN is hardly the stuff of myth.
Following from Burns’ lead, Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina interviewed Barstool CEO Nardini, who said that the NCAA “was on board and it was ESPN alone” who put the kibosh on the deal. “Our understanding was that the NCAA was fine with it, that this was good to go,” Nardini said. “To be fair, we flagged this during the process with them. ‘Are you sure ESPN is gonna want to broadcast this? You should check on that.’ This is not something we were surprised by.”
Terms of ESPN’s contract with the Mobile game stipulate that a rival media company cannot serve as a title sponsor of the event. Nardini told Traina that Barstool remains interested in pursuing a high-impact bowl deal, although that ambition likely would be complicated by the fact that ESPN airs nearly 40 bowl games—or pretty much all of them this side of the Sun Bowl (CBS), the Redbox Bowl (Fox) and the Holiday Bowl (FS1).
In a follow-up to Traina’s follow-up, the president of the bowl game denied Nardini’s claim that the deal fell apart after ESPN applied pressure to the NCAA. LendingTree ultimately won the bid for the rights, Jerry Silverstein told the Birmingham News’ Mark Heim. “We had a third-party contact with several companies. Barstool was one of them,” Silverstein said. “The Bowl decided to go with LendingTree.”
Silverstein said that the bowl ultimately made the decision not to choose Barstool. “It never got to the NCAA or ESPN for denial,” he said.
Serial ESPN antagonist and Barstool founder Dave Portnoy unsurprisingly backed Nardini’s assessment of the situation, alerting his 1.1 million Twitter followers that ESPN killed the deal because “they are scared of us.” Portnoy also said it’s merely a matter of time before Barstool lands a bowl sponsorship.
Yams are also garbage
Speaking of Traina and ESPN, he sat down with the Worldwide Leader’s Katie Nolan for a podcast that touched down on everything from how Bristol personalities gamely hyped up the launch of Disney Plus, why the RedZone Channel is “porn,” how many reporters who cover sports media seem to have a “fundamental misunderstanding of how the business works” and why the Detroit Lions are a less-than-ideal solution to the problem of avoiding your family during Thanksgiving. But Nolan really comes out swinging at the end of the show when she dumps on turkey stuffing (“shoving bread and vegetables inside the carcass of a dead bird”) and why America needs a holiday based on the consumption of steaks.
Hallmark manufactures no greeting cards for such an occasion
It’s the 10th anniversary of the Thanksgiving blowup heard around the world. In 2009, the rumors of extramarital affairs with pancake-house waitresses and lingerie models that had dogged Tiger Woods for some time were effectively authenticated before the pies came off the cooling rack, when his then-wife Elin chased him out of the house with a golf club. In his haste to escape her wrath, the fleeing golfer crashed his Escalade into a fire hydrant before the SUV’s progress was finally halted by a tree. Among the marketers that put a whole bunch of distance between themselves and Woods were AT&T, General Motors, TAG Heuer and Gatorade, although Nike stood by the beleaguered duffer.
Turkey Bowl status update
After a 30-year run, we’ve called it quits on our annual Black Friday Turkey Bowl after age, infirmity and certain legal and/or existential complications made it impossible to field a full game-day roster. One guy is on the IR after having had a hip replaced, another is questionable with a trick knee, one guy’s out because the field lies well beyond the court-mandated limits of his monitoring device and two guys are no longer eligible to participate (deceased).
Enjoy your tryptophan stupor. If you’re one of those people who can’t muster up the requisite enthusiasm to stay awake through the Bears-Lions game, take a drink whenever one of your relatives says something that makes you want to hit them with a pillowcase filled with doorknobs. Wake up naked in some shrubbery, in a town so unfamiliar you have to buy a newspaper to figure out where you are.
The lysergic genius of ESPN hoops analyst Bill Walton has been on full dissociative display during this week’s Maui Invitational.