- Ad revenue for the NFL dropped 19% in the September-October period as the number of 30-second commercial spots fell 6%, according to new findings from Standard Media Index shared with Marketing Dive.
- A fumble for the league came amid flat performance for linear TV broadly. Broadcast revenue dropped 7% — a decline partially attributed to a shoddy showing for NFL games — and cable grew 5% during the period. Broadcast networks performed more positively in news and primetime original entertainment than they did in sports. Networks increased the number of 30-second spots by 5% year-over-year but the percentage of unpaid spots, also known as makegoods, dropped six percentage points.
- The auto industry spent the most on national TV advertising in October but spend was down 9% year-over-year for the category. Similarly, entertainment was down 7% and QSR was down 3%; however, prescription drugs were up 1% and insurance was up 9%. The national advertising marketplace overall grew 7% year-over-year in October, with digital the strongest growing format at 17%. Out-of-home grew 10% and radio 7% over the period, while print decreased 27%.
The NFL appeared to be a on a bit of a recovery for the start of the 2018 season — viewership was up for the first time in three years in October — but the SMI report shows the league still feeling growing pressure in an area where it really counts: ad revenue. And while more eyeballs are tuning in this year over last, ratings were still 16% lower than for the first five weeks of the 2015 season.
As noted by SMI, part of the revenue decline stems from fewer games slotted, with 27 games airing in October this year versus 31 last year. The league aired 51 games in both 2017 and 2018 when combining September and October, however. A poorer showing from the league in some ways mirrors the broader struggles the traditional TV space is experiencing as it grapples with the acceleration of cord-cutting but continues to command high ad rates.
"The linear television season has started sluggishly as expectations of robust demand haven't yet materialized in the market," James Fennessy, CEO of Standard Media Index, said in a statement. "Demand from marketers continues to outpace audience erosion even if that is due to more limited digital video advertising options due to ad-free delivery."
This season, the NFL has expanded access to games on digital platforms to accommodate the shift in how fans watch sports. Advertisers are starting to move more of their ad buys to digital to account for this change, but it's in many ways a different beast than TV.
Through week four of the current season, viewership of NFL games on digital platforms climbed 65% from 2017, with the average minute audience at 326,000 per game window across different platforms, according to a recent report from the league. However, the growing variety of platforms that stream games, which include the NFL's own properties, Amazon's Prime Video and Twitch services, Fox Sports' digital offerings and Yahoo Sports, make for a fractured landscape.