Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Sports Television, Commercials, and Why There’s Profit to be Made (Even When It’s Not the Super Bowl)

Feb 03 2013 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

It doesn’t take an industry maverick to tell you that it’s harder and harder to sell ad slots on television. Between the rise of the internet as an advertising platform, and the invent of TiVo, fewer and fewer ad agencies are successfully connecting with their viewers thru television commercials.

Super Bowl XLVII logoAnd yet, every year at this time, we have that one event where we can’t wait to sit down and watch a lot of commercials.

It doesn’t matter which teams are playing, because we’re mostly seeking entertainment during the timeouts and possession changes.

Parties are thrown. The world watches and wonders why work isn’t canceled the next day.

It’s the Super Bowl.

Sports Sell More Ad Revenue

As in a ridiculous amount of $.

Advertisers put lots of thought, effort, and money into these ads because they know we’re all watching. If you don’t believe me, check out this piece from SportsTVJobs (selected quote below):

Everything else I watch comes directly from my DVR menu, with my fast-forward finger cocked and ready. I’m a Mad Men junkie, but I’ve never watched a single commercial during any of their 65 episodes. Advertisers know this. […] The difference: Sports can’t wait. […] And in a nutshell, I have just explained the future for those seeking careers in sports television. Sports is the last bastion for advertisers to get in your head

– Brian Clapp, SportsTVJobs.com

In a stumbling economy where TV ads are becoming less relevant, sportscasts still turn as great a profit as ever. By contrast, news organizations in many places are financially forced to lay off their personnel or pay them less – many times sadly leading to a decline in perceived quality.

It’s strange because the reason we watch more sports ads is the same reason we don’t watch the ads during other shows. Just as technology has allowed us to skip ads online or by recording a show to watch later, Twitter, Facebook, and other websites have forced us to watch sporting events as they unfold.

To prove my point, I'm here included a spoiler of the London 2012 Olympic gymnastic competitions. I hope you've already seen seen it.

To prove my point, I’m here included a photo spoiler of the London 2012 Olympic gymnastic competitions. I hope you’ve already seen seen it.

London 2012 Olympic Coverage

This past summer’s London 2012 Olympic coverage on NBC was all the proof you really need of this. NBC decided to delay much of their coverage for primetime in the USA, which meant most events were aired several hours after the actually took place.

This 4-8 hours delay killed the ratings for the Olympics (not that airing events at 5am, local time, would have been any better).

It only takes a few seconds for the results of any Olympic event to be posted on Twitter – and even if you’re not on Twitter, you’re on facebook, or you’re overhearing the conversation of someone next to you, or getting an alert from your ESPN app, etc.

A New Trend Has Risen

It’s a cultural phenomenon. Spoilers used to come out with the 11pm news or the next day’s morning paper – easy to avoid if you tried. Today, so many of us are watching sports with a second screen device – and spouting our thoughts live on our favorite social platform with zero regard for spoiler-free content.

That’s an awesome enhancement if you’re watching live too – but if you planed on watching later and the ending is already spoiled, it takes away all the fun of watching it, which means you won’t do that.

FACT: If you watch it live, the commercials are unskip-able. If you don’t see them, you’ll at least hear them.

Same with the Super Bowl. If you watch it this year, you watch it live. It’s so strongly assumed that on Monday morning your coworkers don’t care in the least if they spoil it for you – so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy and a live cultural event…all at the same time.

It Doesn’t Matter if It’s the Super Bowl

Fox Sports has a reported $6 billion dollar deal on the table for the next 25 years of broadcast rights for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yes, the very same Dodgers that didn’t win the NL West, the Wildcard or the World Series since 1988. […] Because they know advertisers will pay top dollar to air commercials that people will actually sit through

– Brian Clapp, SportsTVJobs.com

I refer to Brian Clapp’s article once again because he makes a good point: the popularity of the team or event doesn’t really matter when you think about it. It does to a certain extent of course. You won’t find ad slots for a Dodgers game that cost as much as the ones in tonight’s match-up – but either presentation still has a captive audience.

Furthermore, there is probably a greater percentage of people in the Los Angeles market that care about the Dodgers than about the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens combined. So the truth boils down to the fact that you’ll always find a local audience for the professional local teams – even if they’re consistently below .500 (half of them are). Ad agencies can work with that (and love doing so!).

Profit to Be Made: A Never-Ending Cycle

Entire networks have grown up out of this truism. There are the big ones like the ESPN family, Big Ten Network, MLB Network, NFL Network, Golf Channel, etc. but there are also the more regional stations. Fox Sports (FSN), ROOT Sports, MASN, NESN – just to name a few.

Despite their proliferation, these are also some of the more profitable networks – and tend to be one of the big reasons people continue to pay so much for cable TV packages in an age where most of the episodic TV programs are free on Hulu the very next day.

To keep people tuning in, the quality of the broadcast has to be high. Thus, sports programing was one of the earlier adopters of full HD broadcasting because its popularity and profit margins justified the investments. You’ll also tend to find better and higher paid crews in live sports than in live news. It’s generally accepted that one of the best slots on your resume is the one with the letters ‘ESPN’ in it.

Even the commercials are better produced, due not only to solid crews, but also more work put in during the conceptual stages. You’re more likely to be entertained by sports ads because they are designed with entertainment in mind. Relating the brand to the sport is also popular, but only because the advertiser can afford to dedicate the production of the entire commercial to that one targeted audience (“fans of [insert team or sport name]”).

Hiring the best crews and showing better content leads to better broadcasts, which keeps more people tuning in, which leads to more ad revenue, … and of course this cycle repeats itself over and over.

London 2012 Olympic Park

Whether the Super Bowl, Dodgers game, Olympic gymnastics or speed skating. It’s all the same basic trends, principles, and economics at work.


Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.


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