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Networks Reaping Billions In NFL Ads As Sports Remains Bright Spot

  • The Hollywood actors-writers strike is driving more money into sports broadcasts.
  • Networks are reporting more substantial business from the fast food, retail, insurance, sports betting, and tech categories.
NFL Ad story
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s media partners — ESPN, CBS, NBC, Fox, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube — pay over $12 billion annually for live game rights. 

But they get their money’s worth, reaping an estimated $5 billion to $6 billion annually from advertising in and around NFL games, and 2023 is no different. 

The Walt Disney Co. is poised to reap an estimated $585 million advertising windfall from ESPN’s 2023 NFL coverage. The company anticipates a 17% increase in ad sales for “Monday Night Football” and the “ManningCast,” sources told Front Office Sports.

Disney declined to comment on numbers. But MNF ad sales across ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 last season (including a Wild Card Playoff telecast) hit an estimated $500 million, according to research company EDO.

The league was already the favorite of sponsors looking for national marketing reach.  But the writers-actors strike in Hollywood is shifting more ad money into sports that used to flow toward entertainment. Networks are reporting more substantial business from the fast food, retail, insurance, sports betting, and tech categories.

“NFL content is the best reality television going — I know people say I script the season, but I don’t,” Commissioner Roger Goodell told The Hollywood Reporter. “There’s going to be opportunities during this period of time, which is unfortunate, but it exists, and I think our content is going to have more opportunities during this fall season. It’s reliable content, and it’s reliable from an advertising standpoint.” 

Disney has sold between 85% and 90% of its commercial inventory for the regular season, with 30-second spots running between $400,000 and $500,000 a pop. And, according to Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising, commercial time for Aaron Rodgers’ regular-season New York Jets debut on “Monday Night Football” has long been sold out.

ESPN’s more robust game schedule coupled with the addition of Troy Aikman, Joe Buck, Peyton Manning, and Eli Manning to the broadcast booth over the past two years are attracting advertisers, including 17 sponsors to MNF.

“Sports has been a really dynamic and important marketplace for us. Even in the most challenging of times over the last couple of months,” Ferro said. “It’s the one bright spot for many reasons. Live (sports) continues to be incredibly important. Sports is a uniter of audiences — and multiplatform experiences.”

Paramount Global’s CBS, which will televise Super Bowl 58 from Las Vegas, has sold 90% of its in-game spots for the Big Game, according to John Bogusz, executive vice president of sales. 

That could help CBS equal or surpass the $600 million-plus in ad revenue Fox reaped for its coverage of Super Bowl 57 in Phoenix — the most-watched Super Bowl in history, averaging a record 115.1 million viewers.

“It will be the biggest event probably in this country, not just in television, but in this entire country,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus about the network’s record 22nd Super Bowl telecast. “It will be promoted and branded and programmed on almost all of the Paramount platform, whether its linear television, digital, social.”

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CBS has sold roughly 85% of ad inventory for the regular season. As the home of the AFC package, CBS will televise eight regular-season games with Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. It’s also expecting big ratings for the Jets vs. Dallas Cowboys in Week 2. 

Fox Sports is taking the long view: The network sold 85% of its NFL advertising inventory during the upfront sales market in the spring. But it’s holding off on selling the rest. 

If the actors-writers strike continues in Hollywood, the price for all sports programming will only increase in the scatter market. 

“The NFL stands alone above all of TV programming,” Mark Evans, Fox’s executive vice president of ad sales, told TVNewsCheck. “It is what every marketer is looking for.”

ESPN’s MNF coverage reached 120 million viewers last season, an increase of 6 million, according to Ferro. Throughout this season, she estimates 179 million viewers will tune in for ESPN’s coverage of pro and college football. 

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Even TV veterans like McManus can still be surprised by the voracious appetite for the NFL.

Back in 2012, the NFL accounted for 56 of the Top 100 most-watched programs, he said. By 2022, it generated 88 of the Top 100 programs. McManus noted that the NFL only gets “stronger and stronger” with each passing year.

“Live sports, in many ways, is what it’s all about right now in television programming. It’s the best way to attract a large audience,” McManus said.

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