Big Brands Get Behind Major Leagues

Three of the four major sports in North America have been able to breathe a collective sigh of relief after retaining the support of most of their advertisers.

The return of the NBA, NHL and MLB was a step into the unknown after an enforced absence, leaving each organisation wary of what the future may hold.

However, according to a new study by MediaRadar, since sports have returned to national television, 527 companies spent nearly $100 million on advertisements during games.

Out of the top 100 advertisers across all three competitions before play was suspended, 83 percent advertised again during the return to action.

Only five of those were in the top 50 prior to the break, with Microsoft, Marriott and Expedia amongst the big brands who did not return.

The NBA and MLB lost just two of their top 25 advertisers, while the NHL managed to retain all but one of their top 25.

Financial firms and alcohol brands made up a larger share of the spend following the resumption, while travel companies saw a significant drop-off in activity.

Previous research by MediaRadar had forecast a bleaker picture, suggesting that the three leagues would lose out on a combined $1 billion in advertising revenue as a result of the suspension of play.

The prediction was based on the net spend of 900 companies who advertised during coverage of those competitions between March and May last year.

Although the initial signs are promising from an advertising perspective, inconsistent viewing figures are certainly a cause for concern moving forward.

Things got off to an excellent start, with the MLB clash between the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals on July 23 attracting more than four million viewers on ESPN.

However, both ESPN and Fox subsequently suffered massive dips in the number of people watching live baseball on television.

ESPN also reported a seven percent fall in viewership for the NBA games played between July 30 and August 16, while the first day of the play-offs also got off to a disappointing start.

Sports Media Watch boss, Jon Lewis, says that oversaturation has severely impacted viewing figures in the NBA.

“You have tons of these games every day, double-headers, triple-headers, games on at all hours of the day,” he said. “It’s hard to build an audience when you have a ton of games that are not particularly meaningful.”

While the MLB and NBA suffered a decline in viewership after the restart, that was not the case where the NHL was concerned, with NBC Sports reporting massive increases for its coverage of the league’s first-ever qualifying round.

Staged in two locations in Canada, the play-in competition was organised to resolve outstanding qualification issues for the play-offs.

The Montreal Canadiens’ overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on the opening weekend averaged 1.5 million total viewers, while the Chicago Blackhawks’ win over the Edmonton Oilers averaged one million.

NBC Sports included streaming numbers in its viewership totals, highlighting how content consumption has changed amongst fans during the 21st century.

“The competition over the weekend was absolutely sensational,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told CNBC. “The games were intense, emotional, hard-hitting and you’re seeing the extraordinarily competitive balance that you’re seeing in the NHL. So, it makes for a great tournament.”

Subsequent viewing figures for the play-offs continued to trend upwards, and hopes are high that the Stanley Cup series will also produce substantial numbers.

The MLB and NBA will undoubtedly hope that they can match the NHL’s upward surge over the next few weeks, in order to ensure that advertisers continue to get value for money.