While the Super Bowl is the country’s most lusted-after media property, it accounts for only a fraction of Fox’s NFL business. The regular-season outlook is just as luminous, with Mark Evans, executive VP of ad sales for Fox Sports, confirming that his team has sold a little more than 90% of the available in-game inventory across the network’s slate of regional and national broadcasts. Coming aboard in 2022 are 28 new advertisers that had never before bought time in the Fox NFL games, a surge of new blood that amounts to some $100 million in business.
In addition to the surge in fresh in-game brands, Fox also has lined up a new automotive sponsor for Fox NFL Sunday, the league’s top-rated pregame show for 28 years running.
As much as the usual handful of endemic categories determined the depth and breadth of the fall NFL market, the Fox games haven’t been swallowed up entirely by pitches for telecommunications companies and the national insurance chains. The players that have increased their in-game spend by as much as 20% versus the year-ago period include brands repping the travel, pharmaceutical, alcohol, fast-food/casual dining and theatrical studios and their streaming counterparts.
While gambling spots were hard to miss last season, messages from the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel aren’t expected to eat up even more of the NFL sales clock in 2022, as the league hasn’t lifted its cap on six in-game units per broadcast. A seemingly inevitable wave of consolidation in the space and the laggy process of legalizing sports-wagering on a state-by-state basis may also have a chilling effect on category spend.
For the most part, Fox’s upfront sales are “sticking,” which is to say that the vast majority of advertisers are honoring the verbal commitments they made during the spring bazaar. That said, the ongoing threat of a full-blown recession and the seemingly unending hiccups in the global supply chain have prompted a few marketers to scale back their plans for the fall. “There has been a little bleed as holds go to order, but nothing out of the ordinary run of things,” Evans said, echoing a refrain that’s been heard across the sports-TV market over the last few weeks of summer.
Other than the absence of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, perhaps the biggest change in store for Fox viewers this fall will become apparent during the network’s noon pregame show. While Ford had served as the title sponsor of Fox NFL Sunday for the better part of two decades, the company’s recent move to split itself into an electric division and a traditional gas-powered unit has completely altered its marketing strategy. As such, the manufacturer of F-150 pickups—close your eyes and you can still hear Denis Leary snarling at you about aluminum-alloy bodies and government five-star ratings—punted away its sponsorship.
General Motors’ GMC division was quick to claim the pregame spot vacated by Ford. According to Kantar Media estimates, GM’s truck/SUV marque spent $247 million on measured media in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
Last season, Fox booked a grand total of $1.55 billion in NFL ad sales revenue, according to Standard Media Index data, a haul that included cash generated by the network’s final run of 11 Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The network laid claim to three of the league’s top five most-watched games in 2021, and six of the top 10. Among the upcoming games expected to draw the largest crowds include a Nov. 13 meeting between two of the NFL’s most storied (and most-watched) franchises in Dallas and Green Bay, and the Cowboys’ traditional Thanksgiving Day showcase. This year, the home team will play host to the New York Giants, in a grudge match that is likely to scare up some 40 million viewers.
While the NFL’s TV partners in recent years have sold between 80% and 85% of their in-game spots during the upfront, the uncertainty about the macroeconomic outlook and ongoing supply-chain snarls encouraged each of the network sales chiefs to accelerate their spring transactions. As the units at Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN began flying off the shelf, the possibility of being shut out of fall football lit a fire under more than a few laggards. After all, if you’re a CMO at a deep-pocketed brand and you find yourself paying a $165,000 scatter premium on an NFL unit that fetched $825,000 in the upfront, not only are you forking over what amounts to a 20% price hike, but you’re also waiving the right to secure a ratings guarantee.
Keep that up and you’ll be haunting LinkedIn before you know it; as it is, the average tenure of a CMO is 40 months.