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The NFL is Making a Comeback

The NFL is Making a Comeback

It’s been more than six weeks since the NFL’s second pandemic season kickoff. 

Though some leaders questioned whether interest in sports waned during the pandemic, it’s clear fans are ready to pack stadiums and enjoy football at home. 

Ratings are the highest they’ve been since 2016, which is good news for the NFL and their ad buyers. How much has spending increased and who are the top sponsors this season?

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The NFL is in a good position despite pandemic

Because of the timing of the pandemic, the NFL was the only major sports league that played its regular season with no cancellations. But it still experienced major losses.

It’s estimated that the league missed out on $4 billion in revenue due to the public health crisis. This loss was mostly driven by limited in-person attendance. TV ratings were also down 7%, but this didn’t pose a long lasting threat to their ad contracts. 

In fact, during the pandemic the NFL expanded their content. They branched out to non-sports entertainment and team owners agreed to expand playoffs to 14 teams for more postseason content.

“So the NFL, its position as the top broadcast property in the United States actually got stronger,” explained Marc Ganis, co-founder of Chicago-based consulting group Sportscorp. “That just helps going into the negotiations for the next media deal.”

So far this season, fans have been eating up the return of their favorite sport. This season’s kickoff drew in 20% more viewership than last year—the highest it has reached in six years. TV ratings are up and stadiums are packed. 

“The optimism right now is leaps and bounds ahead of last year,” said Molly Arbogast, founder and chief executive of POV Sports Marketing, to MarketingDive.

With high spirits, future media contracts are expected to increase in size. And we can already see that spending is up compared to last year.

MediaRadar Insights


Unlike last year, the NFL preseason was able to take place in 2021. 

20 of the 37 preseason games were aired across four networks: NFL Network (17), ESPN (1), CBS (1) and NBC (1). These games generated $41.9 million in TV ad revenue. 

Regular Season

The NFL regular season began on September 9th. Since kickoff, NFL games have generated $1.1 billion across six networks: CBS, Fox, ESPN, ABC, NBC and NFL Network. This is up 10% from $1 billion in 2020.

With the added revenue from a resumed preseason, NFL ad revenue in 2021 is up 14% so far compared to last year.

On average, one NFL regular season game generates $39.3 million in advertising revenue.

*Note: This excludes preseason advertising and does not make any considerations for the added costs of primetime or broadcast vs cable. It is calculated based on the 28 nationally televised games aired across ABC, CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and NFL network. 

Geico is the top advertiser in 2021. Geico’s ad spend has totaled $116 million this season so far, accounting for 11% of all ad spend.

Geico ad example

Geico is followed by: Apple iPhone, Progressive Insurance, State Farm and Verizon Wireless.

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