With Games Canceled Heavy Sports Viewers View More TV

When ball games were canceled because of the Coronavirus crisis, television lost some of its most popular programming.

But according to Nieslen, heavy sports viewers are actually watching more TV like the rest of us.

In a new analysis reported in a blog post, Nielsen looked at viewers in the top quintile in terms of time spent watching sports. From Feb. 10 to March 8, before the NBA and other leagues suspended play on March 11, sports accounted for 26% of their viewing time.

With games in time out, total TV viewing by those heavy sports viewers rose 10%. That compared to a 23% increase in TV watching by all adults.

Sports programming, including vintage games and shows like SportsCenter, still accounted for 10% of these heavy sports watchers’ viewing time on Sunday.

Nielsen said they are watching more news to keep up with the latest on the crisis and movies.

They also boosted their time spent with streaming programming by 50% and were using their mobile devices an extra 20 minutes, accounting for 9% of their time.

“Leagues and programmers can also keep consumer continuity and help engage viewers while maintaining brand momentum, and perhaps even build some equity, by thinking outside the pandemic penalty box as it were,” the Nielsen blog post said. “When NASCAR moved its series from the gasoline-vapored pavement to a virtual experience, they lured talent out of retirement and drove, literally, both ratings and social buzz. They also exposed new fans to both the sport and the huge amount of branding that goes along with it.”

There are big bucks at stake. Nielsen Sports estimates that sports sponsorship deals are worth $50 billion, including $17 billion in the U.S. TV Advertising in sports-related programming was about $20 billion, with $17 billion of that bought during games and other events. On top of that brands paid $1.2 billion for digital advertising on sports sites, including official league pages.

Some of that money can will follow where viewers, including the heaviest sports viewers. “That’s why it’s crucial that brands and sellers of media know where, how and what these consumers are viewing as a way to reach and maintain relationships with them,” Nielsen 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.