The Power of Live Sports: Delivering Ads to an Engaged Audience

10.11.2022 Marco Ochoa4 min

In a media landscape dominated by on-demand content and endless streaming options, sports broadcasts have held strong as one of the rare televised events that draw a massive live audience.

For most sports fans, much of the excitement of the viewing experience comes from the unpredictable nature of the competition: fans watching from home, just like fans attending a sporting event live, are united by the suspense of waiting to see what happens next. This engaged live audience, combined with the sheer numbers that a single event can draw, makes live sports a powerful advertising option for almost any type of business.

With all four major U.S. sports seasons in action at the same time, the fall sports calendar is packed with programming across both live TV and streaming platforms. Here’s a look at how the fall sports schedule creates an exciting advertising opportunity for your business.

Football’s Massive Draw—and Steady Sprawl

When it comes to drawing a large audience, football reigns supreme among U.S. sports. In 2021, the average NFL game broadcast drew more than 17.1 million viewers combined across both TV and streaming platforms. Nationally, the NFL regular season accounted for 91 of the top 100 TV telecasts in the 2021 calendar year.

Streaming audiences are also showing up for NFL games en masse. In Amazon Prime’s first-ever exclusive Thursday Night Football broadcast, the live sports stream drew more than 15.3 million viewers.

The NFL’s Thursday Night Football success is notable, as it’s part of a broader expansion of football telecasts throughout the week. While the NFL now lays claim to national broadcasts on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, college football has gradually increased its presence on Friday nights, in addition to its typical Saturday slate of games.

Live college football games can vary widely in viewership this season, with some of the biggest national games drawing more than four or five million viewers across TV and digital formats. In the first week of the season, college football games accounted for four of the week’s top 20 primetime programs. Even less prominent national broadcasts have shown an ability to draw around a million viewers each.

Increased Competition From the MLB Playoffs

Major League Baseball enjoys a long season that stretches from April through the start of October. But the MLB playoffs take center stage for much of October, and the MLB World Series is called the Fall Classic for a reason: Last year’s six World Series games averaged more than 11.75 million TV and digital viewers for its primetime slate.

It’s worth noting that Major League Baseball’s ratings rose in 2021 as compared to the previous season. With a 20 percent rise in viewership, MLB—as well as advertisers buying up MLB playoffs inventory—are hoping that this trend continues for the 2022 season.

Basketball and Hockey Fill Out a Packed Fall Schedule

Amid the intensity of the MLB playoffs and the heart of the NFL and college football’s regular seasons, the NBA, NHL and college basketball all join in the fun, filling primetime TV schedules into wall-to-wall sports programming.

After the NHL opened its regular season on October 7, the NBA’s regular season begins on October 18. College basketball tips off soon after, on November 7. Average viewership for each sport’s regular-season contests last season was as follows:

  • NHL: 383,000 viewers per national broadcast;
  • NBA: 1.6 million viewers for national broadcasts;
  • College basketball: More than 1.1 million viewers for national broadcasts.

In addition to that viewership for nationally televised games, each of those sports drew millions more in viewership from regional and local broadcasts of games within the respective markets of each team.

Finding Value in Live Sports Ad Inventories

With such massive audiences tuning in for these major fall sports events, local businesses might assume that the cost for TV ad exposure is beyond their limited advertising budgets.

In reality, though, the opposite is true. The massive audience following college football, for example, is broken up across dozens of games being broadcast on a single Saturday, with several broadcast and cable channels airing competing events at the same time.

Meanwhile, a number of ad-supported streaming platforms insert their own advertisements into live sports broadcasts. Hulu’s live TV service uses dynamic ad insertion to improve ad relevance to targeted audiences. Even a broadcast network like CBS uses its own dynamic ad insertion solution to optimize ad relevance and performance when streaming its CBS sports broadcasts over its branded app.

In this fragmented ad landscape, even small businesses can identify cost-effective inventory to reach a local, relevant audience. Given the engaged audience that live sports tends to draw, TV and streaming ad channels can play a significant role in building your local brand and growing your customer base.

The best way to identify these valuable ad spots is to team up with a trusted digital advertising partner. Cox Media’s experts can help your business build live sports ad campaigns that fit your budget and align with your business goals.

Contact us today to find out how we can help.

About the Author

Marco Ochoa

Marco Ochoa is a marketing professional with over 10 years of experience across B2B and B2C channels. He is the Manager of Marketing and Client Solutions for Cox Media California and has been with the organization for over 5 years. Marco has a passion for taking complex data and insights and turning them into easy to digest stories for clients and media consultants. Aside from work, Marco spends his time with family, cooking, and tinkering with his ever-growing list of DIY projects.

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