The NFL ad sales marketplace during the regular season proved to be the tightest in recent memory, according to descriptions from both network ad sales executives and ad buyers.
Most ad campaigns were locked in well before the season even started. Advertisers that wanted to buy one-off ads later in the season — what ad sales executives call the scatter market — found little or no inventory.
As in past years, the automotive sector proved to be the biggest category for in-game NFL advertisements, according to data compiled by the commercial tracking service iSpot.tv. Automakers spent nearly $830 million and auto parts companies spent another $810 million on in-game ads across all the networks during the regular season.
But it was two smaller categories that created the most buzz this season: video streaming and betting.
Streaming companies — where DirecTV Stream, AppleTV+ and Disney+ were the top three buyers — wound up as the fifth-biggest ad sales category for NFL games.
Ten brands accounted for nearly all of the $304 million spent on in-game ads across all the networks, a figure that is up 74% from last year.
DirecTV Stream was the biggest spender. Its $125 million in ad sales is as much as the next five companies in the category. CBS (51%) took the lion’s share of DirecTV Stream’s campaign, with NBC (17%), Fox (16%) and ESPN (16%) sharing the rest.
Interestingly, ESPN did not take any ad sales money from Netflix and only 2% of Amazon Prime Video’s ad buys. ESPN’s parent, Disney, runs Disney+, which competes with Netflix and Prime Video.
ESPN took ads from AppleTV+, Paramount+ and HBO Max.
Disney+, on the other hand, spent more than $32 million for NFL ad sales on Fox (57%), CBS (21%), NBC (16%) and NFL Network (5%).
Gambling also proved to be a hot category, partly because of scarcity (the NFL allowed only six in-game betting ads per game) and partly because of the number of upstart companies trying to build awareness in the market.
This marked the first year the NFL allowed these ads during games, so there isn’t a good comparison to last year.
Caesars Entertainment spent the most ($59.1 million), followed by FanDuel ($48 million), DraftKings ($28.1 million) and BetMGM ($24 million).
ESPN, again, proved to be an interesting outlier in this category, selling ad time to only one betting company. ESPN took just 9% of DraftKings’ $28.1 million in ad buys, which equates to about $2.5 million.
Back in August, before the NFL season started, news leaked that ESPN had been talking with Caesars and DraftKings about a $3 billion sponsorship deal that would have included in-game spots. No such deal has been announced.
CBS paced the betting market, getting 75% of BetMGM’s ad spend and 70% of FanDuel’s spend. NBC also got out early in this market, getting the highest share of DraftKing’s ad buys.
Executives on both sides of the business — ad buyers and sellers — expect both the streaming and gambling sectors to grow even quicker next season, as companies continue to try to drive brand awareness.
The only potential snag would come if consolidation comes in either of these categories in the next 12 months — a time frame that many industry watchers see as way too quick.
Network ad sales executives are sitting in the catbird seat when it comes to the NFL, which is among the only television genres that is seeing ratings growth.
Outside of the NFL, sponsors are finding that there’s nowhere near as many large branding opportunities. As TV viewership for entertainment and many other sports continues to decline, the NFL remains whole.
Sponsors that allocate a portion to their marketing plan toward brand building have no place to go, other than the NFL, according to ad buyers contacted for this story.
Coming off a regular season that saw regular season ratings jump by 10% — combined with the tightest in-game ad sales marketplace in recent memory — TV network ad sales executives already are giddy about the prospects of next season, when several executives expect the new It categories will have shifted from gambling and streaming to CBD and cryptocurrency.
Research compiled by David Broughton.