The National Football League put up some positive numbers during the 2010 regular season, and we're not talking about San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' league-leading 4,710 passing yards.
We're talking about the NFL's impressive television viewership. Nielsen figures show NFL telecasts, which appeared on five networks—CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC and NFL Network—had 207.7 million unique viewers during the regular season in 2010. The NFL said that's the most in league history.
The average NFL telecast delivered an audience of 17.9 million, which was up 1.3 million over the 2009 season. It was also the highest average viewership since 1989, before the rise of cable and the Internet fragmented the U.S. viewing audience.
ESPN, FOX, NBC and the NFL Network each had the highest average viewership in their history, while CBS had its highest average viewership since 1990.
"We have found that a fan's first priority is to watch his or her favorite team," Dan Masonson, the NFL's director of corporate communications, said. "Then, many will watch the players on their fantasy teams. Our research shows that fans who also have fantasy football teams watch more football."
B2b marketers such as Southwest Airlines, Sprint Nextel and United Parcel Service of America are major advertisers on NFL programming. Marketers spent $3.2 billion on ads during this past season's telecasts, according to Kantar Media.
NFL Phone: (212) 450-2549
Audience: 17.9 million average viewers for each game during the regular season, including broadcast networks, ESPN and the NFL Network†
Ad revenue: $3.2 billion^^^^^
Ad rate: N/A
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The appeal is the broad audience, which includes many business decision-makers, from CEOs to shipping executives. "You use this because it has a very big reach," said Audrey Siegel, president-director of client services at media agency TargetCast tcm.
Ted Kohnen, VP-interactive marketing at Stein Rogan+Partners, said the NFL doesn't provide traditional, targeted b2b advertising. "The NFL does support the business-to-influencer model of marketing," he said.
Some media strategists say the NFL has a few drawbacks for b2b. "It [has] a high cost of entry," said Caroline Riby, media director at Roberts Communications. Others say executives aren't as focused on business when watching sports, and a b2b message could get lost.
Nonetheless, the audience remains attractive. But with the NFL owners attempting to lock out the players, the league may be in danger of breaking down the desirable television viewing audience it has built up over the past several years.
"You never want to stick your client into a negative situation like that," Kohnen said.
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