People who reply “stick to sports” when a sports figure or network posts something political tend to fall in one of two areas. Either those people live in a fantasy land and haven’t realized that politics have been a part of sports since the very beginning, or they’re being hypocritical and don’t want to hear someone disagree with them politically, but are cool when it’s something they like or agree with.
As the 2020 presidential election approaches, more and more political ads will be embracing the airwaves whether we like it or not. That’ll be the case with Sinclair Broadcast Group, as they view political ads as a lucrative revenue generator on their newly acquired RSNs.
In an interview with NBC News, Sinclair CEO Christopher Ripley pointed out their strategy for the next 14 or so months. And when it comes to their RSN division, expect to see more political ads, possibly to the level of ads on their local affiliates.
Q: You have said 2020 could be the biggest year in history for political advertising. Why?
A: President Donald Trump is ahead of all previous benchmarks in terms of fundraising. In 2016, Hillary Clinton had significantly more funds than Trump — and a typical Republican candidate would have had more funds than Trump. What tends to happen in political advertising is politicians don’t return the money afterwards, they spend it all. You’re going to have two presidential candidates who will have fundraising unlike anything we’ve previously seen and whatever gets raised gets spent.
Q: Will you run political advertising on the RSNs?
A: They have had some in the past, but not nearly to the extent that local broadcasters do. We think it’s a good opportunity to expand their advertising revenue base. They have some of the best programs on TV, with the most engaged audiences, and from an advertiser perspective there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t be targeting those audiences more.
Over the next 14 months, political ads will dominate almost every network and social media platform. Both sides will have deep pockets, they’re going to spend every last dime, and sporting events will especially be a focus since many people are going to watch live, making the “stick to sports” mentality look outdated and have some other meaning than actually sticking to sports.
It won’t just be Sinclair — who has a reputation of their local affiliates being more conservative in local news reports — running political ads on their sports networks. Most sports networks will air ads, regardless if those ads lean left, right, or down the middle. And yeah, we’ll probably be sick of them sooner rather than later.
In an ideal world, sports and politics would be separate, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Maybe when we were younger and we thought sports was more “pure,” we just didn’t think about politics in sports, but they’ve been intertwined since any of us have been alive.
Many stadiums are built with taxpayer money. Many Olympic and World Cup countries host for propaganda reasons in order to sell an image of themselves to the outside world. And the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 gave sports leagues in the United States the right to pool team rights together into one league-wide deal to avoid antitrust laws. Sports and politics have always been together, and if you really don’t like that, it will be a tough 14 months.