The postponement and cancelation of every major sports league has created an entirely new reality for marketers and broadcasters alike. Sports have emerged as the absent center of the media landscape, one that has come to symbolize the disruption from COVID-19 in our industry.
It makes it easy to forget that, before the sudden pause, the value of live sports was coming under serious scrutiny. The NBA’s TV ratings were down dramatically. The Olympics, March Madness, MLB, and other marquee sports properties are demonstrating similar trends. Super Bowl ratings this year had inched upward - but it was the first time that had happened in five years, and the multi-year downward trend for the landmark game is unlikely to change course.
Across the board, traditionally reported sports TV ratings were down, and it all begs the still-pressing question: should networks and advertisers freak out?
Definitely not. Certainly not now, when it has become clear that there is no true apples-to-apples comparison left for live sports inventory. But the impact of sports’ absence is being felt well beyond the networks – by smaller publishers, platforms, and advertisers themselves. That’s because even in an era of declining ratings, the full, cross-platform value of sports has never been higher.
Linear Is the Tip of the Iceberg
Today’s most sophisticated advertisers have already come to an important conclusion: Traditional TV ratings cannot be viewed in isolation within a cross-platform reality. The simple fact is that linear is only one channel among many others where live sports content is available. Headlines that suggest declining sports ratings signal a waning in fandom or sports consumption are missing the bigger picture. People are consuming more sports and sports-related content than ever. They’re just doing so in different ways than traditional media measurement models were designed to capture.
The frayed edges of the slow but steady transition from a linear world to a cross-platform reality are showing when it comes to the present hand-wringing over TV ratings declines. Engagement with sports has never been higher, and it’s also never been so diffuse. Today’s brands have an opportunity—and an obligation—to coordinate their campaigns and placements accordingly.
Deft orchestration of marketing campaigns across channels can produce stellar outcomes for brands - results much greater than brands could ever achieve in a single channel. Sporting events still provide the tentpole moments around which brands can build their stories. Take the Super Bowl, for instance. Even as ratings for the big game have stopped growing, prices for Super Bowl ad spots have continued to rise.
That’s because brands know that attaching themselves to big moments that draw a lot of shared viewership is still important - but it’s also just a starting point. When you factor in all the various platforms and channels on which Super Bowl content is consumed these days, and build your campaign to reach across them before, after, and during the game, the return on investment on such integrated efforts has never been higher.
Savvy Brands Are Deepening Their Sports Investments
Today’s smartest brands aren’t worried about TV ratings declines. They understand the cross-platform opportunity and are poised to take advantage of it. In some cases, the most interesting moves are being made by brands that haven’t historically been seen as having a vested interest in sports. Take Louis Vuitton, for example. The brand recently announced a multi-year agreement with the NBA through which the luxury fashion brand will release a capsule collection designed by Vuitton's creative director of menswear, Virgil Abloh. Louis Vuitton is also designing the travel case for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, which is given each year to the NBA team that wins the finals. This type of brand partnership transcends ratings and eyeballs.
The rise of creativity around sports partnerships extends to social platforms as well. Today’s brands are expanding their reach with strategic placements in ways that reflect the modern reality of how people consume media. They’re ensuring they have a presence across Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms, where sports fans tend to multitask as they watch live events on the big screens in their living rooms. They’re synchronizing their efforts to ensure their brands are present and pervasive wherever - and whenever - sports fans want to watch and discuss their favorite teams. This omnipresent approach enables a level of surround-sound storytelling that is truly appreciated by audiences across platforms.
Today’s leading brands have already embraced the new cross-platform reality of live sports, and we’re starting to see the industry catch up on the measurement fronts. Within a few years, one can hope that discussions of traditional ratings with regard to sporting events will have taken a backseat to more sophisticated conversations around cross-platform impact. Large broadcasters are leading the transition as exemplified by NBCU offering measurements like CFlight for major live sports events like the Winter Olympics.
As it becomes easier for brands to orchestrate media across TV, OTT, social and other channels, the entire industry is going to settle into a new appreciation for the real, measurable impact of sports among fans and for brands. Increasingly, linear TV will be recognized as only one part of a progressively diversified and fragmented mix of media consumption - a mix that is growing the overall impact of sports within the media landscape.
That’s proven by the fact that the absence of live sports is being felt well beyond the networks themselves – by the publishers and platforms that thrived on monetizing the conversation around sports, and by the brands that are left with no better place to go.
Topics: 4C Insights