Sportsbook NFL Ad Buys Down as Legacy Brands Hoard Scatter Units

·6 min read

If it seemed as if something were a bit off during Week 5 of the NFL season, as if some small aspect of the Sunday TV ritual had suddenly been made conspicuous by its absence, that’s because the league’s newest, noisiest addition suddenly got a whole lot quieter. After launching their fall marketing campaigns with a roar and a clatter, the NFL’s official sportsbook partners have effectively clammed up.

According to data, spendthrift brands FanDuel and DraftKings have, for the moment, largely dispensed with the televised ballyhoo, slashing their combined in-game investments from 30 units in Week 4 to just 14 in Week 5. That 53% drop in frequency wasn’t hard to spot from the comfort of your BarcaLounger; FanDuel was a particularly jarring no-show, as the 10 units it aired last week were practically a rounding error when compared to the 163 spots it ran during the previous four weeks of NFL action.

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Since going on a $9.81 million spree in Week 1, FanDuel has slowly begun to wind down its NFL spend, halving that initial outlay in the third week of the season ($4.63 million) before bringing its in-game investments down last week to a smattering of CBS units worth $1.53 million. That’s a far cry from the frenzied activity of the opening week, when FanDuel snapped up the equivalent of 31 of CBS’ regional spots, a binge that included 21 standard-issue 30-second ads and five additional 60-second messages. And while CBS was the primary beneficiary of FanDuel’s largesse, the sportsbook also bought 12 units in Fox’s regional games and another four primetime spots on NBC.

Season-to-date, FanDuel’s NFL spend has tallied up to a hair over $28 million, a figure that accounts for about 45% of all the dollars generated by the newly sanctioned category. DraftKings, which went from spending $7.29 million on in-game ad inventory in Week 1 to coughing up less than $460,000 in Week 5, has thus far dumped some $15.33 million into TV’s priciest promotional apparatus.

That the two most established sportsbook brands now appear to be cutting back on their media spend isn’t a cause for concern among the NFL TV partners, who’ve known that a slowdown was in the cards well before the season began. For example, while FanDuel has taken its foot off the gas as far as its national campaign is concerned, the company’s highly targeted local blitz shows no sign of abating. The company airs a series of NFL-branded spots in the 10 U.S. states in which it brokers live, mobile betting options.

More to the point, the NFL TV bazaar is more or less tapped out at the moment. A 13% year-over-year ratings spike has caused a run on what was already an air-tight scatter market, and the few available spots up for sale are getting sold off to clients that are among the most steadfast of the big-time NFL boosters—many of which have relationships with the network ad sales teams that span decades.

Longtime partners that were shut out of the market during the worst stages of the pandemic are in many cases being prioritized. For example, the theatrical studios sidelined in 2020 are getting their fill of in-game inventory; per iSpot, moviemakers have scarfed up 143 units since the season began, paying some $44.3 million for the privilege. At this time a year ago, the studios had next to nothing to promote and almost nowhere to show all that nothing; as such, their in-game allocation was limited to 41 units at a cost of $8.75 million.

Even those that thrived during the 2020 shutdown can’t get enough NFL inventory, as is evident by the monolithic insurance category. Geico, Progressive, State Farm and the rest of the indemnity pack have bought 98 more spots than they did during the year-ago period, and the sheer volume of insurance ads is such that it’s become increasingly more difficult to ensure pod exclusivity. (Given that the category is responsible for more than $350 million in NFL ad spend, it is particularly important to keep Flo, Jake, the CGI lizard and that old guy from Whiplash at arm’s length. That said, all sponsors are protected by the exclusivity standard, regardless of the size of their marketing budgets.)

Other categories that have been picking up the available in-game scatter units include streaming services, which have more than doubled their year-ago spend with 389 units at $89.1 million, and the credit card companies, which have snatched up 44 more spots in NFL broadcasts than the analogous period in 2020.

None of which is to say that the sportsbooks will vanish from the airwaves—far from it. As FanDuel and DraftKings tally up all the new customers they’ve won over by way of their respective NFL ad blitzes, Caesars Entertainment and its new sports-betting app are on track to outspend the latter brand as early as this week. The Reno-based firm has invested upwards of $13.1 million on the branding campaign, which features the comedians JB Smoove and Patton Oswalt.

As far as the remaining NFL-sanctioned sportsbooks are concerned, only one has made a concerted run at a significant number of in-game units. BetMGM has spent $6.7 million thus far, with the lion’s share of the money going to CBS, while PointsBet and WynnBet have limited themselves to a spot or two in NFL Network’s telecasts. WynnBet, which over the summer spent a small fortune on a commercial starring Ben Affleck and Shaq, has aired the creative in just one live NFL game. The “Betting Is a Team Sport” ad ran during the first quarter of NFL Network’s coverage of Sunday’s 9:30 a.m. ET Jets-Falcons game in London, and was seen by approximately 3.28 million people.

As soon as conditions are ripe for another national sportsbook marketing offensive—scatter avails may begin to open up a bit in November, or just in time for the virtual casinos to take advantage of the NFL playoff hunt—look for the bulk of those promotional dollars to return to CBS, Fox and NBC. While the NBA will likely siphon off a chunk of the ad budgets, the NFL’s media partners thus far have already booked $63 million worth of in-game sportsbook spend, a figure that accounts for 95% of the category’s national TV expenditures.

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