Fans, Sponsors Missed Sports, NBC Study Finds

Los Angeles Dodgers player Corey Seager during a 2019 regular season game.
(Image credit: Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)

Just in case you were wondering, fans really missed watching sports during the pandemic.

NBC Sports took the opportunity, with sports being sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, to find out how the sudden absence of sports was affecting viewers.

The network will be using the study, part quantitative survey, part qualitative report, part expert opinion, to help convince advertisers to open their wallets as live sports return to the airwaves.

“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Dan Lovinger, executive VP at NBCU responsible for sports ad sales. He said the sports deprivation study was designed to provide information to the industry--and not be specific to NBC Sports. 

Related ESPN Survey Find Fans Want Sports Back on TV

The data will be shared in upcoming weeks with ad clients, media buyers and even with the leagues that NBC does business with, including the PGA Tour, NASCAR, horse racing and the English Premier League.

Lovinger said the results were surprising in terms of how strongly people felt about sports, with numbers starting at 50% and heading up from there. 

People said sports were important not only as entertainment but were a big part of a fan’s identity and even affected their family dynamics. The survey found that 82% said it’s hard to live without sports, 84% said there’s nothing like watching live sports, and 76% of fans said they weren’t the same person without live sports.

“Those are things we never would have known if we hadn’t asked the questions,” Lovinger said.

The attachment viewers have to sports translate to advertising.

“It’s not just that advertising is tolerated, but sports are better because of those breaks,” he said, noting that fans said that commercials help relieve the intensity of watching a game.

According to the survey, 78% of fans said commercials play a part in making watching a game a great experience. They also believed that by being on TV, the sport gets more resources to improve and grow.

More to the point, marketers missed the reach and environment sports provide, leaving a significant gap in media plans to reach existing and potential customers and a lack of immediate mass reach, a loss of deep connection with sports fans.

The postponement of sports also interrupted sponsorship campaigns.

The research showed that 83% of fans were made more aware of a brand’s products and services by ads during games, 68% said they seek out more information about brands, 69% were more likely to buy from companies that advertise in games and 70% felt loyal to those sponsors.

The numbers were even higher for NBC Sports viewers, according to the study.

That means that brands that advertise in sports increase their share of mind, while those that don’t lose share, and the category average stays flat.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.