NFL network partners set to reap record ad revenue this season

Shalise Manza Young

The NFL continues to buck television industry trends, gaining viewers – and making money.

Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reports that the NFL’s network partners are charging record amounts for commercial time during games this season. More important, they’re getting companies that are more than willing to pay the increased rates.

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“We had a record-setting year last year, and we’re pacing strongly ahead of it,” Neil Mulcahy, executive vice president of ad sales for Fox Sports, told Ourand.

With the recently completed Summer Olympics as well as the ongoing presidential election, ad executives thought ad prices during NFL games would stay flat or perhaps go down a bit because companies would be spending during those two big events. NBC sold more than $1.2 billion in advertising during the Olympics.

Additionally, daily fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel spent a combined $150 million on advertising last NFL season, but stopped advertising as much amid legal trouble late in 2015, and without those spots, there was extra inventory to sell. Again, however, ad execs had nothing to worry about, much to the chagrin of ad buyers, who were hoping they’d see a soft market because more and more viewers are cutting the cord on cable (ESPN has lost more than 2 million subscribers over the past 12 months).

Super Bowl 50 averaged 111.9 million viewers (AP)
Super Bowl 50 averaged 111.9 million viewers (AP)

“The NFL is still that live appointment television that delivers a mass audience,” said Seth Winter, NBC Sports Group’s executive vice president of sales and marketing. “The advertisers know that predictability and scale are the two most important things when they invest their media dollars.”

NBC is charging a record $700,000 for a 30-second spot on “Sunday Night Football,” though Winter said the network charges different prices depending on the appeal of each week’s game. NBC is getting $560,000 for a 30-second spot on “Thursday Night Football.” Those prices are 10 to 12 percent more than what NBC charged last year.

Other networks are getting 7 to 9 percent more.

“Sunday Night Football” has been the highest-rated prime-time show on television for the past five years, but CBS and Fox executives stressed that the late-afternoon game draws more viewers; thanks to that fact, Fox is charging around $700,000 for a 30-second ad during games that kickoff at 4:25 p.m. ET, with CBS charging $650,000.

Networks get $300,000 to $500,000 for games that start at 1 p.m. ET.

Auto companies are always the biggest ad buyers, but this year, quick-service restaurants, insurance and pharmaceutical companies have been buying more commercial time.