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Return Of The Sports

Post COVID-19 Prediction by TWO NIL

The stay-at-home measure imposed on U.S. residents and businesses forced many content producers to halt production for the foreseeable future. From anticipated season finales to pilot episodes, new TV centric content does not seem likely during the current COVID-19 climate. Many programmers have already cancelled their upfront offerings for the year. Even brands known for their high advertising spend have reduced or suspended their campaign altogether. However, we are currently seeing younger viewers turn to OTT and live streaming platforms for new content. With the media landscape changing during this time, there will be a strong area of opportunity for advertisers looking to achieve high ROI- Live Sports.

This idea might sound counterintuitive at first glance because even without the COVID-19 outbreak sports networks have seen a plateau in viewership. However, with the cancellation of almost every major sports league, eSports and re-runs have replaced the regular programming of NBA and MLB. Along with this, there are a number of reasons why that live sports will be the major battleground for TV advertisers in the coming months.

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Success of alternative sports programming

As mentioned earlier, the sudden void created by discontinuation of live sports has been filled with eSports and re-runs. From H-O-R-S-E tournaments with NBA players to virtual NASCAR races, many organizations are looking to create buzz despite the sudden halt in regular programming. NASCAR virtual races, in particular, showed promising signs that sports fans desperately want their sports back. Nielsen reported that this specific airing on March 22nd was the most watched linear eSports broadcast in history. The clamor for sports also led ESPN to fast-track the release of its highly-anticipated Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance. The documentary series, centered around Michael Jordan’s career and the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s, premiered with 6.1 million viewers tuning in across ESPN and ESPN2, higher than any NBA game aired on ESPN (~5 million).

The (unexpected) return of sports

We clearly see that the interest for sports is there, but when will normal sports programming actually come back? The answer is unclear, but when major sports leagues sign contracts with content distributors, there’s usually a clause that binds them to air a certain number of events through said distributors. For example, the UFC-Disney deal signed last year guarantees UFC $750 million under the condition that UFC hosts 42 televised events throughout 2020. With only seven events hosted so far, UFC continues to explore possibilities of hosting private events with essential staff only. Though the time-table for its return is still uncertain, it looks certain that UFC, and many other sports organizations, will push to ship out new content faster than ever as their main source of revenue depends on the continuation of their season.

Based on the interest and current viewership of sports-related content and with upfront cancellation of many scheduled programs, we predict that once it resumes, viewership demand surrounding sports events will rise.

Big advertisers will refocus their investment into the sports-related medium, which could cause the cost of the inventory to increase significantly. For that reason, we do recommend advertisers to keep any pre-existing sports related media inventories instead of canceling or reinvesting.

If advertisers wish to be proactive and would like to take advantage of this potential change in viewership, one should understand the sports fans media consumption behavior.


OLV and OTT is revolutionizing the sports world as online video platforms, such as Hulu, is broadcasting live sports. This shift is an attempt to be present to cord-cutting trends.


Despite live sports slowly moving into the realm of OLV and OTT, many TV viewers still rely on linear TV to catch the latest live sport event. Though many sports viewers are spread across different networks for time being, the latest Nielsen report shows that Sports Viewers still spend more time tuning into TV than other mediums.


Sports leagues will still heavily rely on traditional broadcast business models, but use online video platforms such as OTT as a complement to broadcast delivery. If you would like to find out more about this opportunity or discuss it with our strategy team, please reach out to us.

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