What’s Your Game? Sports Media Consumption in Fall 2019
Today, reaching sports consumers is all about meeting them on their turf, and this fall many fans are going to be found watching their favorite teams. Starting in September is college football, NFL and NHL, then October ushers in the new NBA season along with the World Series. Finally, the run of sports events and content through the holiday season has consumers gathered around enjoying commiserations and celebrations as these not-to-be-missed, fan-fueled moments represent quantifiable upticks in viewership, content and revenue as advertisers this fall ask consumers, “What’s your game?”
Early this year, the first game of the NFL Season captured 22 million viewers, increasing the ratings by a significant 14% after losing nearly 10% just a couple of years ago. This climb in viewership is expected to stay consistent across sports media generally this upcoming quarter with the networks projecting ratings boosts across the board, reporting high media demand in Q4. Moving into the last 8 weeks until Christmas, indications are that advertising inventory is likely to be very competitive.
There are many factors influencing the demand hike, starting simply with typical fan behavior and attitudes in fall. Football fans can’t help but love September with its promise of new beginnings. It’s also the month where baseball fans will their favorite team to win their division and hope they make it to the playoffs. By October, not only are the baseball playoffs geared up in a fight for the World Series, but the NHL and NBA also officially get underway along with college basketball. By November NBA fans can see draft picks and coaches in action, and December means football crowns its division champions and also marks those fan-centered moments in fantasy football finals. Fall is the time of year when fans plan around watching live sports until the year wraps up. In this window where there are a lot of eyeballs on live sports there are advertising opportunities. Making the most of these mesmerizing moments is priority number one in sports media.
Linear Television, Social Media and OTT
The rise in over-the-top (OTT) platforms are redrawing the lines around sports-fan engagement. NBC Sports for example has estimated their OTT platforms will bring in the majority of their millennial audience. The streaming trend is accelerating rapidly, according to the research firm eMarketer who reports that 50 million Americans will be using their internet connection to stream TV by 2021. Sports broadcast rights will start expiring as soon as next year, and likely will set off serious bidding wars among traditional networks and digital newcomers such as Amazon, Twitter and Facebook. As streaming networks gain interest in the live sports market, the reality of new rights packages being negotiated over the most valuable content on television will inevitably lead to further fragmentation of the industry. Millennials are a recognized force behind “cord-cutting” or disengaging from linear television. Even so, when it comes to sports media consumption, this generation doesn’t appear to be totally ready to pull the plug. Their behaviors suggest that in this particular context, traditional programming and live broadcasts still make up a big part of their viewing habits. The caveat is that more than previous generations, millennials tend to consume linear broadcasts in social environments, enjoying the ability to react and share with friends in real-time. Meeting up at bars and restaurants mean watching their favorite teams in a highly energized, engaging environment. In one survey, this way of watching sports actually lead to an increase in discussion, researching, buying and social shares of ads. One way or another, there are more ways than ever for sports programming to meet a wider range of generational preferences and behaviors, spelling virtually unlimited opportunities to engage sports fans. Social media is a natural forum for real-time sharing and deliberations as well as a chance to opine or even outright disagree. It’s a completely revolutionary tool for teams and players to connect with fans in unprecedented ways. Twitter feeds offer immediate access to information and entertainment, connecting well beyond fan bases into international communities. The ability to follow an athlete on social media has humanized them, making them relatable and real as they share everything from personal insights to politics, religion and their stance on social issues. When they do, there can be dynamic shifts in the ways consumers touch base with advertisers.
Fantasy Sports and Gambling Increase
In addition to OTT and the impact of social media on sports consumption, the legalization in 13 states of sports gambling has been credited as a factor driving increased viewership this season. The Seton Hall Sports Poll created a survey that at least loosely concluded that gambling legislation will likely have a positive impact on viewership. In fact, 70% of the respondents reported that they would be more likely to watch a game that they had bet on. Within that group, another 88% aged 18-29 also lined up with this reasoning. This is of great interest to advertisers as this age range represents a highly sought-after market segment. With more states primed to legalize sports betting and league agreements with casinos and gaming platforms, gambling looks to be a solid bet for expanding sports viewership.
Potentially driving even higher ratings is the rise in daily fantasy sports content. Fans who live and breathe sports can now access daily contests online or from their smartphones. Known by the acronym DFS, this subset of fantasy sports allows players to build their dream teams and earn points based on how closely their choices and predictions match up with real-life game statistics. One part of the appeal is the shorter duration of the games, some lasting a single day or as long as a week as opposed to the seasons-long commitment required with traditional fantasy sports. The participation is a paid contest with the buy-in split between a player’s pot and provider’s fees. In the US, this space is dominated by two competing companies. FanDuel of New York and Boston-based DraftKings. Both are venture-capital funded and both are known for aggressive marketing. The legality of DFS has been determined on a state-by-state basis in accordance with local gambling laws and other rulings, but there is little doubt in its value in bringing increased viewership of live sports. The more people watching, the higher the ratings, and that’s the name of the game in sports media.