Marketers weren’t enamored with the National Football League’s 2017 ratings—but are gearing up for the Big Game.
A recent report by Standard Media Index showed a 1.2 percent decline in advertising revenue—mainly due to its lower viewership.
Professional football is routinely the most-watched TV programming in the U.S., making the sport a top draw for marketers seeking to reach large audiences. But NFL ratings were down 9.7 percent this past season, averaging 14.9 million viewers per game. That was a sharper decline than the 8 percent drop the season before.
The NFL hasn’t seen advertising revenue decrease since 2014—and the dip only occurred in the later part of 2017.
The ad revenue decline ends several years of overall NFL ad revenue growth. 2016 saw a 3 percent jump in ad revenue to $2.45 billion, while 2015’s $2.38 billion in ad revenue was a 9.6 percent increase from 2014’s $2.17 billion figure.
During most of the NFL season, ad revenue had once again been up year over year, even as ratings fell. In the season’s first three months , ad revenue had increased 2 percent among all networks, while makegoods had fallen slightly, from 22 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in 2017.
Though two of NFL’s biggest advertising industries—consumer electronics and automotive—spent less on ads last year, not all marketers held back on their budget dollars. Insurance organizations spent 30 percent more on NFL advertising this year, followed by alcoholic beverages (16 percent) and fast-food (6.4 percent).
Plenty of marketers are spending money on Super Bowl advertising, too.
While regular season revenue was down slightly, NBC Sports expects to generate around $500 million in Super Bowl LII-related advertising on Feb. 4, which would be a single-day record for one media company. That includes $350 million worth of in-game advertising, where 30-second spots are averaging north of $5 million.
Super Bowl marketing warnings
If your organization or client is up for spending millions on a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl, you’re not alone: Many marketers and social media teams will be watching the matchup and will tweet in hopes of attracting consumers’ attention.
If you’re one of these communicators, be sure you don’t use the term “Super Bowl” or reference it with puns—you don’t want to receive a cease and desist letter or get slapped with a lawsuit from the NFL.
Private citizens are fine to use the phrase without consequence, as long as there’s no financial consideration involved. For others, there are ways around it. You’ll hear advertisers call the Super Bowl “the Big Game,” or some people might go the Stephen Colbert route and call it the “Superb Owl.” Steering clear of Super Bowl is a wise move, though, unless they want the NFL to come after them.
John Pickerill, a trademark and advertising attorney for Minneapolis law firm Fredrikson & Byron, said the NFL, similar to the NCAA with its “March Madness” brand, can be aggressive, so he recommends businesses play it safe.
Businesses might use the phrase “Big Game” instead of “Super Bowl,” for example.
Take care when marketing during the Olympics
Being careful in your marketing messages also extends to other sporting events, such as the 2018 Olympic Games.
The NFL isn’t the only group that gets excessively protective of its trademarks. The U.S. Olympic Committee issued a cease and desist letter to a knitting group that was hosting a “Ravelympics,” before apologizing. The NCAA is also very picky about the use of its trademarked terms like “March Madness,” “Elite Eight” and “Final Four.”
Fara Sunderji, international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, says brand managers should avoid creating content that suggests official sponsorship, including hashtags, logos or the iconic Olympic rings.
“Unauthorized brands can’t use #TeamUSA, #Olympics, #GoForTheGold, #PYEONGCHANG 2018 or any other USOC branded hashtags,” says Sunderji.
The strict guidelines also extend to athletes competing in the Olympics.
Athletes themselves can share still photos and their experiences in words (such as a 280-character Twitter post), but cannot share videos in the “Field of Play,” so don’t [accept] any cute Instagram Stories from Vincent Zhou or Mikaela Shiffrin on the sidelines.
You might want to think twice before celebrating a particular athlete’s victory, as well.
[D]on’t congratulate your favorite athletes in social media posts from your brand’s account or in advertising. Two years ago, a jury awarded Michael Jordan $8.9 million after a grocery store took out an ad congratulating him for his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Prior to the jury verdict, the case went up to the Seventh Circuit and the court held that the ad qualifies as commercial speech, defeating the defendant’s First Amendment defense.
How will you be talking about 2018’s biggest sporting events, PR Daily readers?