As NFL Ratings Drop, Advertisers Need To Call An Audible On Their Digital Campaigns

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 29, 2017

We're in the thick of it, people: Coolers are filled, grills are hot, Sundays are reserved for all things football … but NFL ratings are down 15% since 2015, according to the Daily Wire. This comes as no surprise, though, with the rise of connected devices — everything from smart phones to smart TVs — consumption of football, overall, is evolving. Fans no longer have to be on their couch, with their TVs on, as soon as the whistle blows in fear of missing the game. They can plug in at a moment’s notice, on any device, and even multitask without missing a play.

Personally, I love football. But, how did I watch the Alabama vs. Auburn game over Thanksgiving weekend? On my CBS All-Access app on AppleTV. How did I watch the fight erupt in the Raiders vs. Broncos game on Sunday? My HD Digital Antenna on the local Fox network. All of this while following fantasy stats on my phone. Spoiler alert: My fantasy team won last week.



So, while many “Football Sunday” traditions remain the same year after year, a key shift is taking place for both the devoted NFL fans who tune in every week and for the advertisers who hope to reach them. Of course, traditional TV advertising remains a key piece of every marketing mix, but it should no longer be the sole strategy. Rather, advertisers should incorporate digital tactics alongside their traditional strategy to reach football-focused audiences more effectively no matter their viewing habits. So, as we find ourselves in the height of football season, here are three ways you should use digital to increase the impact of your campaign.

1. Reunite with cord-cutters and discover cord-nevers via connected TV 

Cord-cutters. They’re the people described above, the ones trading in their traditional TV subscriptions for internet-connected packages. Then there are the cord-nevers, or the younger generation of Americans who never had traditional TV in the first place. This growing portion of digital TV viewers is livestreaming football games through their NBC app on Sling TV, for example, as opposed to flipping to the NBC channel at game time. And the rate at which they’re making this transition is accelerating fast, so fast that eMarketer reduced its original estimate for US traditional TV ad spend for 2017, predicting that TV’s share of total media spend will drop by 5% this year and by a whopping 20% come 2021. Meanwhile, digital video consumption is expected to grow 9% from last year.

So, while the availability of connected TV inventory for live sporting events is still growing, the audience exists. And it’s multiplying quickly, bringing with it opportunities to tailor precise messaging for this highly engaged, target group of viewers.  

2. Reap the reward of addressability through digital

The decision to incorporate digital strategies into a campaign mix, particularly when targeting an audience as diverse as football fandom, is critical for more reasons than simply following cord-cutter eyeballs. Think addressability. Because connected devices reach audiences at the individual level, whether that’s specific households in the case of over-the-top platforms or specific people on their mobile devices, advertisers can drive higher returns for brands by delivering relevant commercials with greater control than ever before.  

Take a company that sells hot dogs, for instance. A digital strategy would allow this vendor to exclude vegetarian football viewers from their addressable audience, helping them reach a higher-quality customer-base far more efficiently. 

3. Reach viewers wherever their attention takes them with an omnichannel strategy

Alongside the changes in device types and targeting capabilities comes a shift in viewer behavior. According to Deloitte’s annual “Digital Democracy Survey,” multitasking has become a large part of the media consumption experience, particularly among Gen Zers and Millennials who admit to simultaneously using other devices to text, browse the web, use social media, read email, or shop online. In other words, while a television ad for hotdogs may be onscreen inside a target household, it’s possible the ad goes unnoticed by the viewer who happens to be checking the score of another game on his mobile browser in that same moment. 

Advertisers can call an audible on their multitasking audiences by incorporating additional touch points into their digital campaign strategy, particularly with the likes of connected TV retargeting. Now, for those viewers who have watched a commercial on their connected television, advertisers can retarget fans as they browse across different devices and other channels during the game, including the likes of in-app, mobile and native advertising. With an omnichannel play, a consumer’s brand experience becomes seamless, running up the advertiser’s score regardless of how that individual chooses to engage. 

Ultimately, there’s no denying the importance of broadcast television advertising when it comes to targeting football fans this season, just look at the numbers. Roughly one-third of the country, or 111.3 million people, watched Super Bowl LI on Fox’s broadcast TV channel earlier this year, which is low compared to Super Bowl viewership in recent years. And as fans continue to become increasingly connected, with more devices and options for tuning into games, it’s likely those traditional broadcast viewership numbers will continue to drop. 

That doesn’t signal the end of heart-warming Budweiser or Audi commercials. In fact, it means just the opposite. With a digital play, football advertising can finally step up its own game. Combining the impact of television advertising with the precision of digital campaigns will impact advertisers everywhere, earning more ROI for brands while creating hyper-relevant and seamless ad experiences for viewers.

5 comments about "As NFL Ratings Drop, Advertisers Need To Call An Audible On Their Digital Campaigns".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 29, 2017 at 1:51 p.m.

    Tim, advertisers buy into TV sports not because of their ratings or demos or product usage stats but because of the image and promotional opportunities, including tie-ins with player endorsements, taking their clients to the big games and many other not easily quantifiable perks. The average minute ratings can decline and still make this a very much sought after time buying---or "sponsorship---" opportunity. It's not a "data" thing, though there may come a time---somewhere off in the future---where the price for the whole bundle of merchandisable sports opportunities becomes too great. Until then, switching to other venues, based on audience targeting, lower CPMs, etc.,is not going to be even an option for most TV sports advertisers.

  2. Travis Horn from S3Media, November 29, 2017 at 1:53 p.m.

    The elephant in the room and the key question not asked or answered in the article is how have the NFL anthem protests impacted viewership ratings?

  3. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, November 29, 2017 at 1:57 p.m.

    You're putting a lot of focus on the media issues related to the NFL, when a lot rests with their brand. The issues related to player demonstrations, divisiveness, etc. have been rehashed several times. We don't need to get into that again. What holds true for the NFL also affects other major-league brands. I thought about this when I went to a Mets game this year and looked into the players parking lot.

    We're paying to watch a lot of very rich people play a game, and then complain about it. Or they don't give us their best effort. We're also seeing a lot of disconnected owners who mismanage their toys (franchises are toys to these men for the most part). An effective digital media strategy isn't going to change this equation.

    The NFL may need to scale back their brand ambitions. Being all things to all people never lasts, and being America's most popular sport is cyclical. They've tried to maintain this through paid sponsorships from the U.S. military establishment, supported by the Budweisers (great Belgian company that it is) of the world. Cementing loyalty with a core audience may be more important to the NFL's long-term existence rather than the broadest possible appeal. Let's face it though, small to the NFL is still a scale most other mass brands would love to reach. 

  4. Travis Horn from S3Media, November 29, 2017 at 3:59 p.m.

    Andm What Jonathan Hunter said very well too.

  5. Travis Horn from S3Media replied, November 29, 2017 at 4 p.m.

    And, what Jonathan Hunter said very well above too.

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