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Sports Marketing (And Advertising), What's Old Might Be New Again

In September 2023, when the Hollywood actor and writers strikes were in full swing, the Walt Disney Company did something very interesting with its ABC Television Network — it made the decision to bring Monday Night Football back to ABC in a big way. A big way! ABC already had the broadcast rights to Monday Night Football for weeks 2, 3, 14 and 16, and they had already planned to simulcast weeks 1, 11 and 17 with ESPN, a sister Disney company. But Disney added 10 additional Monday Night Football games to ABC’s programming lineup.

Disney made the move because, in no small part, the strikes were wearing on TV audiences.  Every September TV viewers expect to be presented with exciting new content and this past September there was nothing. People were watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond (ironically, a comedy about a sportswriter who lives in Queens, N.Y.) for the fourth or fifth time and they were sick of it. So, in one fell swoop, Disney brought 30 hours of action-packed programming to the ABC Television Network.

Now there is no doubt that the motive for adding these 10 games to ABC’s fall lineup was to fill holes created by the actor and writer’s strikes. And, given the fact that live sports broadcasts are among the most-watched TV programs of the year, the move made tremendous sense from both top and bottom line perspectives. But there may have been a secondary motive. At a time when companies including Disney, Youtube, Netflix, Apple and a host of others, are negotiating with sports leagues and actively bidding for the broadcast rights to live sporting events, Disney flexed its corporate muscles.

Disney showed executives working inside the (sports) leagues, and executives across the media and entertainment landscape, how an organization comprised of both a huge streaming platform and a top broadcast network can leverage both solutions in a way that can maximize revenues and drive profits.

The targeting associated with streaming, coupled with the reach associated with broadcasting, is exciting from every vantage point.

As Entertainment and Media companies battle cash-rich tech companies for live sports broadcasting rights, expect Paramount Global — the owner of broadcast network CBS and streamer Paramount Plus — to have a seat at the table. CBS has a storied legacy in sports broadcasting and has relationships with the NFL, NBA, PGA Tour, College Football and Basketball, among others. CBS will be airing the Super Bowl on February 11th.

There are reports that Warner Bros. Discovery is contemplating a buyout of Paramount Global, for the sole purpose of trying to lock down Paramount’s sports licensing deals.

This past weekend, we saw another example of just how powerful sports broadcasts are. This time our main character was Comcast — the owner of the NBC Television Network and the streaming service Peacock. Peacock bought the rights to Saturday’s NFL Wild Card game between the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a first-ever, streaming exclusive for a NFL Playoff Game. Social media was appalled that there was a playoff game that was not being televised on a broadcast network. People were aghast that they had to pay a fee to watch the game (and maybe sneak a peak of Taylor Swift).

But things turned out alright for Peacock and Comcast, with Peacock’s exclusive broadcast of the game being the biggest livestreamed event ever in the US, with the game also driving record internet traffic.

As things heat up in streaming in general — and sports streaming in particular — I do not recommend that you bet against legacy media companies. Especially legacy media companies that have broadcast networks in their portfolio. The combination of streaming and broadcast capabilities where live sporting events are concerned will be formidable.


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