In case you missed it, there was a brutal smackdown recently. The winner was the National League Football.
A regular-season NFL Sunday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks on NBC trounced the Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox with 23 million people versus 11.9 million tuning in, respectively. Even with Andy Samberg and amazing nominees, the ratings were the lowest in the Emmy broadcast’s history and reversed a positive trend of increasing viewership over the past few years.
If all you did was read media reporting, then this might be a surprise. After all, the NFL is plagued by scandals and awards shows like the Emmys are experiencing a renaissance thanks to social media, boosting participation and offering the average viewer the opportunity to chime in. Right?
That’s not happening. It’s becoming increasingly clear that sports are the only future-proof type of advertiser-friendly media content. Here’s why:
1. Huge audiences continue to tune in live.
In an age of media fragmentation, Fox managed to break a record for the most-watched TV show in U.S. history this year. That, of course, was the Super Bowl, which drew 115 million viewers. That should be no surprise since the big game routinely draws 110 million-plus every year and shows no signs of losing steam. NFL games also accounted for 45 of the top 50 most-watched shows last fall with the average regular season game bringing in 17.6 million viewers.
For advertisers, this means that sports are the surest, biggest, non-UGC thing around. Since audiences are tuning in live, there is ample opportunity for advertising messages. This is especially notable if you look at the rise of Netflix, which has 42 million subscribers and is expected to be bigger than any of the four major TV networks next year. Netflix, like HBO (28.5 million U.S. subscribers), of course doesn’t carry any advertising.
2. It’s cross-generational.
There are still hit scripted series. But fare like “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” are not kid-friendly. In fact, it’s difficult to find scripted programming that will capture the attention of the whole family, which is why reality TV has done so well over the past few years. Like other media, though, reality TV has gone from mainstream to niche just because of the sheer volume of shows on various cable networks. That’s not true of what’s been called the original reality TV show, sports.
Despite some fall-off in attendance among the younger generations, viewership for NFL games has risen in the 18-34 demo in recent years. Best of all for advertisers, there is little concern about objectionable content being shown during sports programming. It’s a genre that manages to still be exciting and real without being crude or salacious.
3. New "sports" are gaining a foothold.
The U.S. is not known for its love of soccer, but a Scarborough Research report recently noted that 70 million adult Americans consider themselves soccer fans. An ESPN poll in 2014 also found that soccer is the No. 2 sport among 12-24 year olds. In addition, Millennials are open-minded about the question of “What constitutes a sport?” Fantasy sports and e-gaming are close to sports and both are exploding. Some 56.8 million people in North America engage in fantasy sports, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, up from 32 million in 2010. In addition more than 70 million people around the world watch e-gaming over the Internet or on TV, according to estimates by SuperData Research.
The Bottom Line
What make sports uniquely future-proof are their time-sensitive nature, the passionate communities built around them and the scale they bring. No one wants to watch a game after the fact (and sometimes avoiding the news about who won can be nearly impossible) and a love of sports seems to be hard-wired into most of us. Increasingly, that’s making sports less than just a subset of programming and more like the only game in town.