In what now stands as the most disruptive turn of events in a season that was never going to be without its occasional upheavals, the NFL on Wednesday announced it has postponed the Thanksgiving Ravens-Steelers game until Sunday afternoon. The decision, which was prompted by a coronavirus outbreak in the Baltimore camp, is perhaps the worst possible outcome for NBC, which faces the loss of tens of millions of dollars in ad sales revenue.
According to Standard Media Index data, NBC last year booked a staggering $70.9 million dollars on its in-game Thanksgiving inventory, a total derived from an average unit cost of $1.05 million per 30-second spot. The previous season saw the network rake in $69.5 million in sales, on an average rate of nearly $925,000 a pop.
Both games featured the Saints and Falcons. Last year’s contest averaged 20.8 million live TV viewers, of whom 7.85 million were members of the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demo, a turnout that was slightly higher than the network’s regular-season Sunday Night Football deliveries (20 million viewers, 7.8 million adults 18-49). The 2018 contest averaged 21.7 million viewers and 8.46 million members of the dollar demo, marking NBC’s third-highest deliveries since it began carrying the primetime Thanksgiving game back in 2012.
The NFL announced later Wednesday afternoon that NBC would air the postponed Ravens-Steelers broadcast on Sunday at 1:15 p.m. ET.
While NBC has retained its rights to the stalled NFC North contest, it likely will have to renegotiate its in-game ad rates. Per SMI intel, the going rate for units sold in the early Sunday regional window on CBS and Fox runs anywhere between $100,000 to $300,000 per half-minute increment, depending on the number of markets in which a particular game airs. NBC is expected to air the rescheduled game in nearly 100% of its markets, but pricing will also reflect the fact that the Ravens-Steelers bruiser will go head-to head with seven other games. (For what it’s worth, this gives NBC its first-ever virtual NFL doubleheader; on Sunday night, the Bears and Packers are slated to butt heads at Lambeau.)
However things shake out with NBC, the NFL’s move has further destabilized an already compromised holiday. NBC last year booked another $60 million to $65 million on its presentation of the 93rd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the lead-out program, the National Dog Show. When the primetime NFL game is factored in, NBC booked as much as $135 million in ad sales for its three Turkey Day events.
Because NBC does not host multiple regional games a la CBS and Fox, it doesn’t have several NFL broadcast crews at its disposal. That said, if NBC does air the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game this Sunday, it is likely to tap its Notre Dame football unit, which includes play-by-play mouthpiece Mike Tirico, analyst Tony Dungy and sideline reporter Kathryn Tappen.
This marks the 13th game the NFL has postponed as a result of coronavirus-related issues, and the second time the Steelers have been impacted by an outbreak in another team’s organization. For fans at home, this will be the first year since 2005 in which a primetime game won’t be played on Thanksgiving night. Instead of capping the night with the 10-0 Steelers taking on the 6-4 Ravens, America will have to make do with the 3-7 Texans visiting the 4-6 Lions, followed by the 3-7 Football Team looking to get a leg up on the 3-7 Cowboys.
(This story has been updated with information that NBC will carry the postponed Ravens-Steelers game on Sunday.)