If you’re a sports fan, you’ve likely noticed a recent trend that started on ESPN and has since been utilized and tweaked by multiple sports networks. During a typical sports broadcast, every few minutes a small rectangle featuring an advertiser’s logo will first appear on the left of ESPN’s bottom line and will subsequently make its way over to the right corner, where it stays anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or two.
This is yet another sign that sports media has become, and will continue to be, the most dominant force in television.
Last year ESPN won the rights to college football’s new playoff system. The price tag for the semifinals and finals, along with six additional bowls, was $7.3 billion over 12 years. CBS and Turner recently signed a similar deal for the NCAA Tournament-$771 million a year for 14 years.
These are astronomical numbers. Yet, channels can justify the expenditures because they’re making even more money than the value of the deals. The reason is simple-sports programming offers immense advantages that other television entities do not.
The most obvious reason is that sports are one of the last programs that fans are essentially forced to watch live and, thus, be subjected to commercials. Other television mediums used to be the same-I remember a few years back knowing that each Wednesday at 9 p.m. I’d settle on the couch with my family to watch Lost. We willingly sat through the 20 minutes of commercials per episode because we didn’t have a choice-that’s how it always was.
But that’s all changed. With the popularity of the DVR, it’s now possible to watch any show on TV without commercials by merely fast forwarding through them once they’re recorded. The days of appointment television are gone.
Sports are different. The way we consume sports requires us to watch games as they’re happening. Through Twitter, 24/7 score update apps, and instantaneous highlights, the sports world revolves around each person knowing what’s happened at hyperspeed. Sure, you could try to DVR a game and pretend you’re watching it live, but that would require staying off the grid-Twitter, Facebook, friends’ texts-until the game is completed. In a world of increasing smartphone dependency, we all know that rarely happens.
Those same smartphones, however, create a potential dilemma for all kinds of television. Recall the last time you rode the Comm. Ave. bus or one of Boston College’s elevators. Nearly everyone who doesn’t know each other-and plenty who do-looks down at his or her phone for the duration of the ride. We’ve grown so accustomed to our smartphones and tablets as a substitute for boredom that we can’t even stand in an elevator without checking them. The same thing happens with TV. When a commercial hits, many times our eyes are not focused on the big screen, but instead on the small one.
And that’s where the future of sports television revenue lies-advertising to viewers when they’re solely focused on that big screen.
Nearly everything in sports media is sponsored these days. Whether it’s a Coors Light six-pack of questions on SportsCenter, the Sprint Halftime Report on Inside the NBA, or the Subway Fresh-take Hotline for ESPN podcasts, if something doesn’t have a company attached to it, it will soon. My favorite example was CBS’s coverage of college football last fall. One afternoon I counted six different insurance companies that were represented during a single game-one each that sponsored the pregame, halftime, and postgame shows, in addition to Geico supporting the Heisman Trophy, Allstate having its logo on the field goal net, and New York Life’s logo superimposed on the field during game play.
That I remember each of these brands is a testament to how effective the advertising is. I’ll admit, though, that I was against these types of ads when they first came on. My initial experience came on Red Sox broadcasts a few years ago, when all of the sudden Corona Light ads started popping out from the top left scoreboard in between pitches. I realized that in addition to those, there was one graphic or statistic that was sponsored by a company seemingly every inning.
Did that stop me from watching the games? Of course not. That’s the beauty of sports advertising. No matter how many ads there are, or whatever the name of the bowl is (recall that this season BC played in the Advocare V100 Bowl), we’ll still watch our alma maters and the cities we root for play. And this certainly extends to national games as well-despite college football’s title game being called the Vizio BCS National Championship, it still pulled in more viewers than last year at over 15 million.
On Tuesday, I attended an event at BC that featured one of the top executives at ESPN, and I asked him about the new bottom line ads they’re running. He explained that, far before the company actually implemented them, they had labs in which different options were shown to different people, and they analyzed the results.
To no surprise, the ads passed. Evidently, some other testing must have passed as well. I recently looked at an ESPN box score, and a Mercedes Benz ad was present before the stats got started. It was the first time I had seen that. Was I initially annoyed? Perhaps. But I continued on to the other scores. Our society has such an immense craving for sports that it doesn’t matter. And while we profit on increased production quality, leagues and TV profit on us. It’s a win-win.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.