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Fox Is Selling 2023 Super Bowl Spots as Sports Ad Market Heats Up

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New York Giants in 2020
The NFL returns to television screens this week. (Image credit: Allen Kee/ESPN Images)

With the advertising market for TV sports running hot, Fox is looking to sell commercials in the 2023 Super Bowl to advertisers now, 18 months before the game kicks off.

The 2021 National Football League season kicks off Thursday, and Fox and the other networks are reporting a surge in demand that has driven sales volume up significantly and hiking pricing by low-double digits — increases not seen for about a decade. 

ViacomCBS also reported strong demand for NFL ads on its CBS Sports broadcasts.

College football and postseason Major League Baseball are also running well ahead of forecast for Fox Sports.

Fox is taking advantage of what it expects to be a strong season by having its Tubi streaming service sponsor the post-game show, The OT. 

Comcast's NBCUniversal said in July that it had already sold 85% of its Super Bowl commercial inventory for the game at the end of this season to be played in February 2022, and Fox Sports executive VP Seth Winter, a former NBC sales exec, told B+C that he figures that NBC’s game now is just about sold out. He hears that NBC got about $5.5 million for each 30-second spot, with the most recent sales going for more than $6 million.

Winter said that Fox will strike while the iron is hot and while advertisers are concerned about getting shut out of the big game and worried that prices could continue to soar.

“There’s so much demand, we’re going to be in the market very early with it and also for the World Cup. We’re knee deep in conversations about the World Cup, which is basically maybe 14 months away,” he said. “There are a lot of good conversations around these big tentpole events. There’s so few of them and there’s just so much interest that it’s never too early to start having conversations and we’ve already written a few [World Cup] spots.”

Next year’s World Cup will be played in the fall, when demand is stronger, instead of the summer because of the heat in the deserts of Qatar, which will make the soccer tournament more popular in the U.S.

Last season, the upfront market — and sports sales — got pushed to Labor Day because marketers were unsure about their budgets and the networks’ ability to deliver programming. This year, the ad market rebounded and the upfront market closed stronger and earlier than it has in years. Sports has been riding a similar tide.

“Having seen the NFL execute almost perfectly under the most extraordinary, adverse conditions, people have a lot of confidence that the NFL under better conditions could certainly pull off another season flawlessly,” Winter said. 

That led to a ton of early interest in buying NFL ad inventory, he said, with some scatter dollars contributing to this season’s upfront volume. 

Sports continues to promise large audiences even as streaming siphons off ratings points from entertainment programming. 

“Advertisers continue to migrate their investments from other forms of media where there are fewer impressions into sports where there continues to be a pretty healthy reservoir of impressions,” Winter said.

With fans back in the stands, Fox is forecasting that viewing levels for the 2021 season will bounce back to the pre-COVID 2019 level, he said.

New categories are driving some of the sales, most notably the growing legal gambling category. “I haven’t seen a category come on the scene in such a robust fashion in my 15 years working in network sports,” Winter said. He added that the NFL’s rules limiting how many gambling spots can run in games will be good long-term for business—and be a benefit to viewers. Gambling ads are also showing up in the talk shows on FS1 and FS2.

Another new category is cryptocurrencies, with Crypto.com sponsoring NFL games and Fox’s Saturday afternoon college football show, and FDX, which is a Major League Baseball sponsor and will have a significant presence in the postseason.

This will be Fox’s last season broadcasting Thursday Night Football. That package moves exclusively to Amazon Prime Video next season. Winter said that some advertisers were shifting their spending from Thursdays to Sundays in order to lock in their base for the 2022 season, since Amazon’s ad sales strategy isn’t yet clear.

Last season, the NFL regular season generated $2.77 billion in ad sales, up 2.7% from the prior season, according to Standard Media Index. Fox had the largest share of that revenue, with 41%. 

Between the NFL on Thursdays and Sundays, college football and baseball’s postseason, Winter estimates that Fox has about 50% of the gross ratings points available in sports in the fall.

For baseball, Winter said, Fox could achieve its revenue forecasts even before the first pitch of the postseason.

“It’s sports. We’re very fortunate to be in the marketplace with the properties we have in our portfolio,” he said.

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.