I was recently on a plane during The U.S. Open, talking with a colleague about the status of the leaderboard when somebody turned to me, rather rudely, and asked me to stop talking. He then explained to me that he was recording each round and didn’t want to know the status. His wife was embarrassed and apologized. It’s likely that a similar situation has happened to some of you. I’ll be transparent and admit that I’ve also tried to be that sports DVR guy, but I’ve found the whole concept of DVR and live sports to be futile. It’s a foolish exertion of energy (and precious DVR space) that sounds good on paper, but never works.
There is consistently strong evidence that live sports drives fan passion – nothing can replace it. That’s why the fans’ TV experience continues to be magnified, because marketers see live sports as a safe haven for commercials and unique content. You can DVR “The Voice,” but can you really DVR the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, or The Stanley Cup?
Case in point, of the 12 highest-rated telecasts in 2012, nine of them were sporting events. Sports are a 24/7, 365-days-a-year machine. No matter the sport, the country, the language, the season or the time of day, sport is omnipresent. While sports fans have a need for immediate consumption of all sports information at all hours of the day (and thanks to app builders from every corner of the globe, you can get it literally for free), fans thrive on sitting through live games. It’s what the TV business calls “appointment television.” NHL and NBA games are two and a half hours, the MLB is three hours, on average the NFL and NCAA Football are over three hours and professional golf is four days! That is a huge amount of time for brands to get their message out, and to get more creative with their broadcast partners.
Look at Samsung, a technology company competing for a larger piece of the coveted, $250-billion smartphone market. Its Galaxy smartphone has been advertised during the last two NFL Super Bowls. Samsung also upped the ante to be like Apple with a very creative, long-form commercial announcing a new partnership with hip-hop icon Jay-Z and his upcoming album (which will be free for the first one million Samsung users with the custom app). When did this spot air? During the crucial game five of the NBA Finals on Sunday, a game through which no one was fast-forwarding in order to skip commercials, and the spot was more than three minutes long. This was in conjunction with a weekend of sports commercials from Microsoft (making fun of the iPad), Apple (about being rooted in our lives) and Samsung (establishing “cool” credibility).
The media conglomerates have sports as a priority growth strategy, too. When sports do well, so do their channels. The worldwide leader keeps getting stronger, and the balance sheets show it. So, Comcast stacks its war chest to better serve fans by building NBC Sports – by buying rights to the NHL and its Stanley Cup Finals and the English Premier League, with programming coverage starting in August. NewsCorp also followed suit with the launch of Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 that will initially cover NASCAR and College Football. All to go up against the current worldwide leader in sports, that is, Disney’s ESPN, which recently saw its media network’s segment rise 6% to $4.96 billion. These companies streamlining their sports media brand umbrellas are taking a page from the ESPN model, and hope to create clarity for fans and build an audience, which, in turn, brings more ad revenue and subscription revenue.
So what’s the point of slamming our beloved DVR? The point is that while you can fast-forward that DVR through every other program’s ad, sports are an immediate, thriving industry for advertisers, thanks to the fans’ passion for live competition. That passion is a core economic driver, and is something that is innate in most of us. Therefore, everything that’s invested for sports is for us, the fans. It’s a safe bet we won’t stop watching the live action anytime soon.