A big question with the current suspension of most North American sports thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has been what happens with the ad dollars that were set aside for broadcasts of those sports events. That’s far from settled at this point, especially with an uncertain timetable on when sports broadcasts may resume and what that might look like, but pieces from Jeanine Poggi of Ad Age and John Ourand of Sports Business Journal help to show some of the discussions currently going on between networks and advertisers. Those pieces specifically focus on Fox Sports (which has had executives speaking virtually with six ad buying agencies this week), and Ourand’s piece has one particularly notable line from Fox Sports executive vice president/sports sales Seth Winter about ad commitments:
Fox has allowed some of its advertisers to get out of their ad commitments during the pandemic. Winter would not list specific advertisers, but he said they involved the QSR (quick-service restaurants), casual dining, automotive and motion picture categories. Fox’s hope is that those advertisers push their schedules into the summer. “We’re not making them stay on the air,” Winter said. “We’re hearing that they want to be back on the air and they want their businesses to be restored, but we have to work with them and that’s what we’re doing.
This is only some of the advertisers, of course, but it’s certainly interesting to hear Fox talk about letting some advertisers out of ad commitments. But the sectors listed make a lot of sense, especially with motion pictures (where most theatrical releases for the next several months have already been heavily postponed) and restaurants (which are only open for takeout and delivery in many states). And gestures of goodwill like this may help with getting advertising back when this is done, and if sports television does return to anything like normal, it could again be a highly-desirable spot.
Another question there is what the sports landscape will look like, though, and one of the scenarios Fox executives are reportedly discussing with these ad buyers is about what things might be like if a lot of events are compressed into the fall and winter. Here’s more on that from Poggi’s piece:
Winter says they are not anticipating any live sports resuming before the third quarter, and even then it is uncertain if games will be played in front of fans or in empty stadiums.
…Winter expects an enormous amount of sports compressed into a compact time, which he says will be a positive for viewers. “I think people will flee to sports once this is all over. I don’t claim to know what the market will look like, but I think sports and news will be the most attractive media genre for investment when things return to normal.”
It obviously makes sense for a Fox executive to say sports and news will be “the most attractive media genre,” given that that’s pretty much all the “new Fox” focuses on. Whether he’s right is another question, and whether compressing a lot of sports into a short time will be positive is more debatable still; that might lead to ratings struggles for some events if they’re facing more competition than usual from other sports. All of that’s quite hypothetical at this point, though, as we have very little information on when sports will be able to restart and what that might look like. But it’s certainly interesting to read about Fox executives’ discussions with ad buyers and what those discussions are covering so far.