A new playbook for reaching benched sports fans during COVID-19.

By Katie Jordan Green, National Broadcast Supervisor

While video consumption has increased since more people in the U.S. have been homebound, sports networks have seen dramatic declines in viewership given the lack of live broadcasts. As a result of most league suspensions announced on March 11 and 12, the week of March 9 saw a? 24.6% decline in sports impressions followed by nearly 30% of viewership March 16 – 29. Time spent watching sports networks at first declined dramatically then saw a more gradual decline week over week.*

ESPN Hourly Viewing Week Over Week

Chart Source: Simulmedia Marketplace
Chart Source: Simulmedia Marketplace

As the spread of Covid-19 continues to impact sports timelines, advertisers cancel and push back sports dollars in hopes of reaching their primarily male target audiences again once live sports return. In a study conducted by Advertiser Perspective, during the first week of April, 50% of ad executives stopped or pulled a campaign mid-flight because of COVID-19. Ad execs sited other ad spending impacted in the survey as well:

  • 64% held back a campaign from launching until later in the year
  • 49% adjusted media type usage or shifted budgets among media types
  • 44% cancelled a campaign completely pre-launch
  • 35% paused all new advertising until later in the year

However, it’s not as if sports fans have suddenly stopped watching video content altogether. However, where those viewers are gravitating may surprise you. For example, a study done by Simulmedia found that, in the wake of live sporting event cancellations, males (ages 18 to 49) who are avid sports viewers make up 20.5% of the audience watching “Friends” on Nickelodeon and 24.5% of the audience watching “The Big Bang Theory” on TBS. Would you have predicted that a sports-less quarantine would lead an audience whose attention was once captured by fast play-by-play content to classic syndicated programming?

It’s time to put data-enabled TV partners into the game.

The male 18 to 49 audience is an important demographic that can be reached even without the presence of basketball, golf, hockey, baseball and other live sports. Advertisers do not and should not wait until live sports eventually start again to reach this target. Solutions are available to harness data to retarget sports fans:

  • Advanced TV and connected TV that have access to historic TV viewing data can help retarget sports fans by showing what non-sports programs they consume on either a high-indexing daypart or network clusters level.
  • News continues to prove itself as an engaging daypart and audience levels have increased during the pandemic, up 38.6% since March 9.
  • Given many parents are working from home, parental co-viewing can be a way to reach sports fans. The target group actually makes up 19.2% of the “SpongeBob SquarePants” audience on Nickelodeon since sports cancellations.*

Staying connected with an audience now will be beneficial once livelihoods are restored and purchasing power is back in the market. The key is communicating the right message now. While spending habits have changed and consumers aren’t spending in categories they once did like entertainment, retail, health and travel, this doesn’t mean brands should go silent. Being respectful of people’s financial situations and personal and family health is appropriate given the unemployment rate and epidemic spread. Many advertisers have quickly pivoted to produce new creative content in light of this. The sports audience shouldn’t be forgotten in this trend either. Instead of male-targeted brands depicting wild parties, trendy sneakers or the boys’ trip to Vegas, brands take a more sensitive angle and show they understand times are hard, give hope and show support. A motto C-K has always stood for is “Make friends, not ads” and it rings true now more than ever.

During this unprecedented time when daily routines have had to find new norms and entertainment options have been uprooted, viewing audiences still seek quality content to fill their time. Connecting with sports fans doesn’t have to be benched until next season if brands have the right data-enabled strategies and communicate the right message.

*Simulmedia Marketplace Update 3/27/20

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