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How is the NFL Changing the Advertising Game?

How is the NFL Advertising Game Changing?

In a series of posts last year, we discussed advertising across many different sports, including the MLBNBANHL. This year, we wanted to delve into the advertising surrounding the NFL and the ways in which it’s shifted over time. Here’s what we found.

“2017 NFL Season Test”: Liquor Advertising

2018 marks the first year that the liquor industry will be allowed to market its spirits in NFL games, according to a piece by AdAge. While some liquor brands already partner with individual NFL teams and have advertised in other major professional sports leagues for over ten years, this is a major milestone for them. The industry is gaining millions of new viewers and entry into America’s most popular pro sports league. That’s why six liquor brands ran during opening weekend this year, as opposed to four other bands in 2017.

Liquor brands (and flavored malt beverage brands) do have restricted entry, however, compared to the access beer brands like Anheuser-Busch InBev, the NFL’s official sponsor, have. Below are some of the limitations:

  • Liquor brands can only run four 30-second ads, with a limit of two ads in any quarter or within halftime.
  • Sponsorships and liquor ads that have a football theme are restricted.
  • At least 20% of liquor ads airing during the season must “consist exclusively of social responsibility messaging.”

The beer industry may oppose this change, however, networks and leagues, even popular ones like the NFL, need more revenue opportunities. The National Football League can no longer turn away those like liquor brands that feed it ad dollars.

NFL Sponsorship Grows

Despite lower game attendance, NFL sponsorship soared this year. ESP research noted that “Sponsorship spending on the professional football league and its 32 teams rose 5.9 percent to $1.32 billion in the 2017-2018 season,” compared to 4.3 percent in the previous season. Two of those new 2017-2018 sponsors are Intel, which leverages the NFL through its FreeD replay technology, and Amazon Web Services. Amazon’s “Next Gen Stats” is a platform that captures real time location data, speed, and acceleration for every player on the field.

NFL TV Ratings are Up

While the NFL has been losing viewers over the last two years, CNN announces that the league finally has 2% higher TV ratings this year than last, garnering around 15.6 million more viewers. Why? Here are some possibilities:

  • The 2018 season games have been both high-scoring and competitive, making them especially interesting for viewers to watch. “Teams have scored 3,739 points, which is the most through week five in NFL history, according to the league.” Plus, in 45 games, winners have been determined by just one score.
  • The NFL anthem protests and concussions stirred up a lot of controversy for the league. Now that these subjects are not discussed as much, or are swept under the rug, the NFL is seen by audiences in a more flattering light and, therefore, considered more acceptable to watch.
  • The Supreme Court kept sports betting legal, causing a boom in the number of gamblers watching and betting on NFL games.

NFL Opening Weekend TV Advertising Increases

Throughout the National Football League’s (NFL) opening weekend this year, which occurred between September 6th and September 10th, advertisers spent more than $280MM on ads during pro-football programming.

MediaRadar data found a 22 percent increase in the number of companies advertising during this year’s NFL opening weekend, compared to last year’s.

Toyota Motor Corporation (Toyota), General Motors Company (GM), and Cellco Partnership, Inc. (Verizon Wireless) leading as the top three spenders.

New to this year’s lineup were Visa, Inc. (Visa), the FedEx Corporation (FedEx), and the Kohl’s Corporation (Kohl’s), as all three companies did not advertise during the 2017 NFL opening weekend, but were all front and center this year.

For a number of the companies advertising, this was their first time running TV ads in over five months, since the end of the last NFL season in February 2018. YouTube, LLC (YouTube), Netflix, Inc., and Southwest Airlines Co. were among the notable companies on this list, as well as Spectrum and the Wells Fargo Bank NA (Wells Fargo & Company).

According to MediaRadar CEO, Todd Krizelman, “We continue to see an advertising spike during the NFL season, especially during the opening weekend, as it is one of the most sought-after advertising spots. In addition to a 22 percent increase in the number of companies advertising, out of the top-50 advertisers from last year’s opening weekend, all but three were advertising again this year.”

NFL Ramps Up Snapchat Advertising

In a Variety article, Blake Stuchin, NFL’s VP of digital media business development, emphasizes the league’s ongoing interest in engaging the Millennial and Gen Z audiences through Snapchat. In an effort to get younger audiences to tune in to live games on TV and buy tickets and merchandise, the NFL will continue their “Our Stories” section and launch a new and richer “Sunday Publisher Story.” The latter will show highlights from season games and send updates every hour during Sunday games. The league is even working with Snapchat to produce another show, a short-form format for serialized content.

From Week 1 to Week 7 this year, the NFL and their broadcast partners, have advertised on 19 different Snapchat channels. This does not include NFL-owned channels. The NFL also plans to embed and share their Snapchat content across and the NFL mobile apps.


Although the league has shown that they can still draw large TV audiences (last year the NFL accounted for 37 of the 50 most watched TV events), it’s aware of the cord-cutting trend. The league is working to combat this via their own channels, or through various partners, such as Amazon Prime, streaming “Thursday Night Football” this year. The NFL also has more sponsorships and an aggressive platform on Snapchat, pursuing a younger audience. The 65% leap in viewership in digital is a sign that the strategy is working.