The TV ratings for the 2022 NBA Finals may have failed to return to pre-pandemic levels, but the postseason ad dollars were as high as they’ve ever been.
According to iSpot.tv data, Disney and Turner Sports’ coverage of the two-month playoffs stretch raked in $842.4 million in sales revenue, as official NBA sponsors such as AT&T Wireless, State Farm, Google Pixel, Kia Motors and Taco Bell chased after the spring’s largest allotment of ad impressions. That marked a 19% lift over the $705.3 million that ESPN, ABC and TNT brought in during last year’s delayed postseason run, and a 54% rise compared to the 2019 haul ($546.2 million).
Including the six-part Finals, which aired on ABC, the 80 games of postseason basketball served up 35.1 billion ad impressions, up 26% from a year ago. (Since iSpot adjusted the methodology by which it measures impressions, comparisons to 2019 are unavailable.) That year-over-year increase is more or less in line with the overall gains in postseason deliveries; according to Nielsen, the average TV turnout for the 74 games leading up to the NBA Finals was up 21% versus the analogous period in 2021, good for a bump of about 800,000 viewers per night.
Among all TV properties, the NBA’s ability to finagle fans into watching the ads is second only to that of the NFL. Per iSpot, the league accounted for 3% of all primetime commercial views over the course of the 2021-22 broadcast season, beating out college football, men’s college basketball and Major League Baseball, while trailing the NFL’s ad-friendly juggernaut (11%). When the entire 24-hour programming day is thrown into the mix, the NBA’s share of ad impressions is the fourth-highest on TV.
When the postseason revenue is folded in with the dollars generated by the league’s steroidal regular-season schedule, total NBA ad sales for Disney and Turner Sports added up to $1.31 billion, up 45% versus last year’s truncated slate ($905.4 million) and up 39% compared to the 2018-19 campaign ($943.1 million).
Higher average unit costs and a slightly bulkier complement of advertising minutes have helped amplify the value of live sports, which continues to thrive as the impact of general-entertainment programming withers. Excluding sports buys, the average upfront rate for a 30-second spot in broadcast prime plummeted 28% versus the 2018-19 bazaar to $55,000 a pop, per Standard Media Index data. In that same three-year window, the total amount of dollars committed in the upfront fell 35%, for a net loss of some $900 million.
As viewers increasingly trade in their cable bundles for the commercial-free comforts of Netflix, ad-supported TV faces an existential crisis. Per Nielsen, the 106 primetime entertainment programs that aired during the 2021-22 broadcast season averaged 3.78 million viewers per episode, of whom only 17% (652,414) were members of the 18-49 demo. Since 2019, commercial impressions in original entertainment fare have dropped 24%; at the same time, live sports deliveries are up 8%.
Among the advertisers that were the biggest investors in the 2021-22 NBA season are State Farm ($40.9 million), AT&T ($39.6 million), Google Pixel ($31.3 million) and Kia Motors ($27.5 million). The iSpot in-game spend figures do not account for presenting sponsorships (halftime shows, postgame, etc.). Each of those four brands are official NBA sponsors.
While economic volatility has already started to have an impact on the ad market—exacerbating an inflation rate that is now at a 40-year high are widespread supply-chain issues and labor shortages—sports isn’t expected to take a hit, at least not in the near term. As Fox CFO Steve Tomsic explained during the June 14 Credit Suisse communications conference, this year’s upfront has been characterized by a “flight to quality,” as advertisers have banked on the recession-proof charms of live sports. On the entertainment side of the upfront ledger, pricing has softened in advance of what looks to be a weak fourth-quarter scatter market.
Junk Ball Drawer
Put It on My Bill: Bally Sports New Orleans has inked an extension with the Big Easy’s NBA franchise, in a deal that will see the RSN carry around 75 regular-season Pelicans games, plus any first-round playoff contests that may arise over the course of the new contract. While financial terms were not disclosed, the duration of the deal, which covers the RSN’s streaming and linear-TV rights, is said to be five years. Including the Pelicans, the Bally Sports networks have secured streaming rights in local markets for 16 NBA teams. The team will also begin streaming its games via the Bally Sports+ service when the 2022-23 NBA season tips off in October.
Hook ’em: The Texas Longhorns have won 20 games in the last three seasons, and yet the underperforming program continues to be splashed all over the TV dial. Steve Sarkisian’s charges last fall appeared in 10 national TV windows, including four ABC broadcasts and another three outings on Fox. Now that Texas has won over top QB recruit Arch Manning, swiping Eli and Peyton’s nephew from the SEC—Alabama and Georgia were in the running until the 18-year-old announced his commitment on Twitter—look for the ’Horns to get slotted into more primetime broadcast windows as of 2023. Last season, Texas’ three night games aired on cable, an arrangement that excluded some 18 million over-the-air households.
Harvard Man: The NFL arms race continues apace, as retired quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has joined the Amazon Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football crew. The 39-year-old will join Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez and ex-cornerback Richard Sherman behind the Amazon desk, where he’ll contribute to the streamer’s pre-game, halftime and post-game coverage. Heralded by four press releases within the span of 15 minutes, Fitzpatrick’s new gig was secured in the wake of the primary Fox NFL crew’s defection to ESPN, Al Michaels’ move from NBC to Amazon and Tom Brady’s megadeal with Fox.
Ice to See You Again: Through the first four games of the Stanley Cup Final, ABC is averaging 4.16 million viewers, a turnout that’s effectively flat versus the comparable stretch during the 2019 St. Louis-Boston series. While comps with the NHL’s last pre-pandemic title tilt are less than ideal—two of the Blues-Celtics outings aired on the now-defunct NBC Sports Network, and the addition of out-of-home ratings to the official Nielsen TV tally has inflated this year’s numbers by as much as 550,000 viewers per game—the ratings data presents an incomplete picture of the impact Disney had registered since picking up its chunk of the NHL rights package last spring. Since that time, the number of ESPN+ subscribers has swelled 62% to 22.3 million users, a boost that ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro, in part, credits to Bristol’s big hockey acquisition.