In decades past, the networks’ sports departments were usually given just a sliver of the overall time in any upfront presentation. In 2021, Fox Sports is stepping out on its own.
The Fox Corp. unit on Friday put on a separate presentation to advertisers, rather than just having Joe Buck take up a few seconds of the proceedings during the usual Monday-afternoon pitch devoted to the Fox broadcast network. During upfronts, U.S. networks work to sell the bulk of their advertising for the next programming cycle.
There’s new reason to put a solo spotlight on sports. Live programming — read: sports and news — is largely driving the economics of linear TV. So there’s little reason to relegate the sports team to lobbing a few footballs into the crowd at the end of the yearly spiel, as has often been the case. In a sign of the new emphasis being placed on live programming, Fox Corp. earlier this week put on an upfront presentation by Fox News Media.
“The cadence of business has been intense,” Seth Winter, executive vice president of sports sales at Fox Sports, said in an interview. “We have been in conversations for two months” and are “well along in conversations with most of the holding companies.”
Fox Sports put heavy emphasis on its Sunday football lineup, which focuses on NFC games. This year, the network is counting on teams like the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to prod advertiser to loosen the purse strings. Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports’ executive vice president and head of strategy and analytics, made the case that consumers in markets served by NFC teams outspend their AFC counterparts in significant fashion.
Fox Sports also focused on its Friday night WWE “Friday Night Smackdown” show on Fox Broadcasting, as well as the network’s rights to Major League Baseball in the regular season and post-season. And it touted its college-football coverage and a documentary on famed sportscaster John Madden that is slated to include narration from Tom Rinaldi.
According to Winter, demand is high for sports inventory, with several of the big consumer-packaged goods companies making their way into the sports market as viewers of primetime dramas and sitcoms migrate to streaming venues for their fix. TV fans dislike commercial interruptions during a scripted favorite, said Winter, but they may be more accustomed to seeing them in sports broadcasts, which have time-outs, game delays, player substitutions and other natural interruptions. Ads “aren’t as organic to the flow” in other parts of TV, said Winter.
The executive indicated that advertisers who continued to spend during the coronavirus pandemic — insurance companies and pharmaceutical marketers — are holding their ground, while marketers whose operations were curtailed, like travel companies and movie studios, are starting to return.
(Pictured: Fox Sports’ Joe Buck)