Networks Luck out as bereft Colts are limited to just three national TV windows
Welcome to another edition of Ad Age Sports Media Marketing 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.
Luck has nothing to do with it
While Andrew Luck’s decision to walk away from football will have a profound effect on the NFL for the near term, the 29-year-old quarterback’s departure isn’t likely to shake up the national TV marketplace. The Luckless Colts this season are slated to appear in just three national broadcast windows, a light load that won’t leave the league’s network partners holding the ol’ ratings bag.
After four weeks of regional coverage on CBS affiliates, Indianapolis faces its first national post-Luck test on Oct. 6, when it travels to Kansas City to take on MVP Patrick Mahomes and his high-flying Chiefs. A rematch of the Jan. 12 divisional round playoff that saw the Colts absorb a 31-13 loss, Mahomes’ wildly entertaining offensive attack should help NBC put up big numbers for this, its fifth “Sunday Night Football” broadcast of the fall campaign. (The Chiefs in 2018 ranked 10th among all NFL franchises in national TV windows, averaging 17.3 million viewers and a 10.1 household rating over the course of its six coast-to-coast appearances.)
The only serious competition NBC will face on that autumn night will arrive in the form of the Major League Baseball playoffs. The third game of the National League Division Series is set to air on TBS opposite the Colts-Chiefs showdown. NBC could seek to flex out the game, but the allure of Mahomes’ munitions-grade arm should suffice to keep the Peacock from looking to make a swap with CBS (Ravens-Steelers) or Fox (Bears-Raiders), and obviously the latter network isn’t handing over the Packers-Cowboys duel it has scheduled for its national window. (Per our NFL preview, that game is likely to be among the season’s top 5 draws.)
Next up is an AFC South matchup in Houston—for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the Colts will be in road-trip mode for all three of their nationally televised games—in a “Thursday Night Football” window that was unlikely to make a huge splash even before Luck hung up his cleats. Afforded just two national appearances a year ago, the Colts finished 17th among all NFL teams, while the Texans were 24th in a field of 32.
As it happens, Houston is now tied with Jacksonville as the team most likely to win the AFC South title now that Luck is out of the picture. Before the four-time Pro Bowler called it a day, the Colts were odds-on favorites to win the division for the first time since 2014. Now they’re at the bottom of the prognostication heap, and understandably so.
Barring an unlikely playoff run, the last time fans outside the Indianapolis metroplex may expect to see the Colts in action is Dec. 16, when the team squares off with the New Orleans Saints on “Monday Night Football.” In that same window a year ago, the Saints and Panthers helped ESPN notch its second-biggest NFL rating of the year, behind only the bonkers Chiefs-Rams air war on Nov. 19.
While Luck’s decision to give up his career for the sake of his physical and mental health was the right call—you try regaining your enthusiasm for a job that’s cost you, among scores of other injuries, a lacerated kidney—the crummy hot takes and mindless yapping from sports media’s chattering classes are a reminder that none of these men owe you or your stupid fantasy football team a goddamn thing. As Luck told The Athletic’s Zak Keefer, “[I]f my worth as a human was going to be tied to how I did—the result of my performance in a football game—then I was going to have, pardon my French, a real shitty life.”
Here’s to Andrew Luck enjoying the very best of life in his second act. The NFL will miss him more than he misses it.
The Brady Bunch
Along with the six Super Bowl rings and that matinee-idol mug of his, Tom Brady’s seeming invincibility and never-say-die attitude have gone a long way toward making him one of the most bankable players in the NFL. According to a poll conducted by Sports Business Daily, Brady has edged Patrick Mahomes (him again) as football’s most marketable personality, topping a list that includes two Cleveland Browns stars (Odell Beckham Jr. and Baker Mayfield) and Giants phenom Saquon Barkley.
As Fanatics Founder and Executive Chairman Michael Rubin noted during an appearance on NFL Network earlier this month, the only things predictable in the NFL are “death, taxes and Tom Brady jersey sales.” Beyond his preternatural ability to move league merch, Brady also reps a stable of brands that includes Under Armour, Aston Martin, Tag Heuer, Ugg and Sam Adams.
For his part, the 23-year-old Mahomes boasts the brand portfolio of a wily veteran. Despite playing in one of the smaller NFL media markets, Mahomes has been quite visible in recent activations for Head & Shoulders, Hunt’s Ketchup and Oakley.
With 27 games left in the regular season, the New York Yankees and Los Angles Dodgers are tied for the best record in baseball. Both storied ball clubs are knotted with a current tally of 88 victories against 47 losses, good for a .652 winning percentage. Per FanGraphs projections, the Yanks and Dodgers have a 100 percent chance of earning a berth in the playoffs, with L.A. up 20 games over second-place Arizona in the NL West and New York holding back Tampa in the AL East by an 11.5-game margin.
All of this is music to Fox’s ears, as it begins mapping out its ad sales strategy for the 2019 World Series. A Fall Classic pitting the Yankees against the Dodgers not only would feature the teams from the nation’s two largest media markets—together, New York and L.A. boast 12.4 million TV households, or 11.2 percent of the U.S. homes that watch television—but would mark the return of one of the MLB’s greatest rivalries to baseball’s grandest stage.
The ratings for such an October pairing would be pretty, pretty good, especially if the series went the distance. The last time the World Series required a full seven frames was in 2016, when the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year-old dry spell by beating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in extra innings. That Fox broadcast averaged 40 million viewers, making it the most-watched MLB game in 25 years.
The Yankees and Dodgers have put up even more spectacular numbers, and while no one expects the two powerhouses to generate the same sort of hoopla they delivered back in the pre-cable/pre-Internet 1970s, the Nielsen data is worth a gander. The deciding game of the record-smashing 1978 World Series on NBC delivered 50.6 million viewers on a Tuesday night, making it the fourth most-watched baseball game in history. Game 5, a Sunday afternoon affair, averaged 45.9 million viewers, good for eighth place on the all-time list.
All told, the ’78 Dodgers-Yankees series averaged 44.3 million viewers and a staggering 32.8 household rating. Fifty-six percent of the homes that had their TVs on at the time were tuned to NBC.
While the Yankees likely will have to get past Houston’s fearsome pitching staff if they are to contend for their 28th World Series title, the Bronx Bombers have already proved their worth to the Nielsen boxes. Since the season began, the Yanks have powered Fox to its highest-rated MLB broadcast, as their June 29 slugfest with Boston averaged 2.86 million viewers and a 1.9 rating. That game, which marked the first MLB contest to originate in London, began at 1 p.m. EDT. The Yankees also helped ESPN to its biggest TV turnout of the season; New York’s 9-6 victory over the Sox in Fenway averaged 2.4 million viewers and a 1.5 rating.
“How about a Fresca!”
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint has an update on the surge of interest in the up-for-grabs PGA Tour media rights, in a report that offers details on the most ardent suitors (Fox, AT&T/WarnerMedia, ESPN, Amazon) and the perceived value of a package that currently exacts $400 million per year from legacy partners CBS and NBCUniversal. The PGA Tour events up for bid add up to around 45 annual tournaments, excluding the four major championships (Masters, U.S. Open, PGA Championship, British Open).
While ratings for golf are proportionately small when compared against the sort of numbers generated by the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball—NBC is averaging 2.8 million viewers for its PGA Tour coverage, while CBS is pulling in around 2.1 million per broadcast and NBCU’s Golf Channel about 417,000—the sport has bragging rights to the most upscale viewers. All that disposable income (the median take-home pay of the golf TV audience is just shy of $73,000, well above primetime’s $58,500) makes duffers a much-sought-after target for the financial firms, auto marques and luxury brands that advertise in PGA Tour events.
Ad Age’s E.J. Schultz has the scoop on a groundbreaking beer-marketing push. Per his Wednesday post, Schultz reports that Coors Light has inked a deal as the first-ever beer sponsor for ESPN’s “College Gameday” pregame show. The deal, which includes in-show branding, has been brewed up as beer manufacturers continue to break down many of the barriers that once prevented them from marketing their wares in and around college campuses.
Coors Light, which has sponsorship deals with more than 30 universities, fills the role vacated by former “Gameday” sponsor General Motors.
Speaking of ESPN and college football, the network has released its latest hype video for the coming postseason. As part of the “Who’s In?” campaign that first bowed in 2014, the new Peter Berg-directed creative is designed to capture the “pageantry and the energy the fans will bring to the game.” (Unlike the opening salvo ESPN unleashed in 2016, this year’s clip does not include sponsor cameos.) The new spot and Ann-Christine Diaz’s write-up can be found here.
Gambling is illegal at Bushwood, sir, and I never slice
Wagering on sports is being legalized on a state-by-state basis, but don’t expect NFL rights holders to summon the spirit of Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder just yet. As Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal reports, NBC will continue to keep gambling references to a minimum during its coverage of “Sunday Night Football—although that all could change as more states legalize sports books. “Sunday Night Football” Executive Producer Fred Gaudelli told Fischer that while the network may experiment with an alternative digital feed devoted to the lines and prop bets, such activity will remain rather limited on the national broadcasts.
CBS and Fox execs have offered similar takes on the subject; in the meantime, degenerate gamblers and those sports enthusiasts with a nose for probability may take comfort in Scott Van Pelt’s glorious “Bad Beats” segment on “SportsCenter.”
Of course, as any football fan is well aware, there’s making explicit references to gambling and then there are the sly metatextual musings of NBC anchor Al Michaels, who delights in dropping not-entirely-surreptitious nods to the numbers racket during his play-by-play patter. (If a garbage-time chip-shot field goal nudges the combined score of an otherwise meaningless game north of Vegas’ set line, count on Michaels to slip in a jocular remark about how “overwhelming” the kick was.)
As Newsday’s Neil Best reports, Michaels will continue to play the scamp. “I’ve had a lot of fun through the years coming in through the back door and sliding in in unexpected ways,” Michaels said on a Tuesday afternoon conference call. “I think people enjoyed the fact they thought I was being a bit of a rascal and all that, but it was all in good fun. My feeling is, this year anyway, [we’ll] kind of go the same way we’ve been going. Most people who have bet on the game don’t have to be told what the point spread is.”
Michaels went on to say that while he has no idea how the changing legal landscape would impact TV’s attitude toward gambling, he expects that monitoring the ways in which the networks will adapt to the loosening regulations should prove to be “fascinating.”
Dazed and confused
In the span of three sentences, the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand explains why the suits at DAZN (pronounced “DA-Zone”) saddled the upstart media entity with such a confounding name before lobbing a linguistic hand grenade that will forever change the way you think about the brand. The joke’s too good to spoil; click here for the payoff.
For whom the Turk knocks
Oakland Raiders tight end Luke Willson regales the “Pardon My Take” podcast crew with tales from the set of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” and hints at what his reaction might be were he to be cut from the squad while on-camera.
Eric Cantona’s acceptance speech after claiming the UEFA President’s Award begins with a shout-out to “King Lear” (“As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport”) and only gets weirder from there.