Commentary

NFL Is Back, Ad Pricing Remains High

What’s the economic -- and advertising future -- for the NFL? Some say it starts and ends with “Monday Night Football.”

According to analysis from MoffettNathanson Research, ESPN’s cost for “Monday Night Football” is much higher than other parts of the NFL package.

ESPN paid what amounted to $55 per 1,000 average viewers for the 2017 season. That is much higher than NBC’s $21 for “Sunday Night Football.” For Sunday afternoon games, CBS was at $14, and Fox, $13. “Thursday Night Football (last year on CBS and NBC) was at $13.

Now, we know Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Google have a strong hankering for premium live video -- especially sports. Amazon already has a piece of “TNF” when it comes to digital airings of games.

Many might look at the NFL as just another part of traditional linear TV with slipping viewership. NFL was down around 10% last year to a Nielsen 14.9 million viewers for regular season games, versus the same period the previous year.

So let’s just factor in another 10% for the upcoming year. That brings those viewership down to around 13.4 million -- still much higher than the average 4 million or so for non-sports prime-time network programming.

Traditional TV networks continue to devote a large percentage of their overall TV gross ratings points to the NFL -- reckoned to be 55% for Fox this year (now adding “Thursday Night Football”) and around 24% to 26% for other networks.

The bottom line is cost for national TV advertisers; it is still at a premium, and deservedly so, say veteran TV buyers.

But down the line, can new digital media platforms do better? They claim to deliver live TV viewing with better return on media investment metrics and customers back to marketers. Right now, their overall viewership would still be tiny compared to big traditional TV networks.

Protests? Will we see more burning of Nike NFL team headbands and socks in response to player-backed advertising? There will be issues that remain, such as critical medical risks for football players.

No matter. The NFL still looks OK. But some cracks might be coming. Where then do TV networks go for new “premium” content --  sports, non-sports and everything in between?

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