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Aligning the Stars

February’s Trio of All-Star Games Draw 16.1 Million Viewers

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Social Media
March 13, 2023
March 13, 2023
 min read

Within the realm of professional sports – where only the world’s best possess the skill, stamina, and consistency it takes to contend on a nightly basis – an elite subset still manages to separate itself from the competition. The athletes comprising this group are often household names and as recognizable as actors and musicians. They command attention and generate followings for themselves and their teams while boasting massive marketing potential. And over the span of two weeks during the calendar’s second month, three major North American sports leagues coalesce these talents for their respective All-Star Games, creating exciting events for fans and athletes alike. This year, February’s opening weekend featured the NFL’s novel Pro Bowl and ancillary events as well as the NHL’s All-Star Game and Skills Competition. Not to be outdone, the NBA staged its All-Star showcase two weeks later, with games and competitions taking place from February 17-19. With unparalleled star power on display within such a short window, we used MVP’s omnichannel platform to examine audience reach for each league. Our analysis includes television viewership figures for each All-Star Game and adjacent competition as well as social metrics pertaining to the leagues and their top teams throughout the weeks surrounding their respective festivities. Overall, the trio of All-Star Games elicited 16.1 million household viewers, but our examination revealed a new football format resulted in a slight loss of proverbial yardage.

Flagging Interest in New Football Format

In recent years, the NFL’s Pro Bowl had become a shell of what it once was. What had historically been a competitive game – albeit at less than full speed – that for decades took place at Hawaii’s Aloha Stadium became seemingly unattractive to the players who were deserving of roster spots for the showcase. Annually, many of the NFL’s best players would opt out for various reasons and the on-field product became little more than a walk-through exhibition, with linemen merely standing at the snap and skill players jogging to make plays. So, this year, the NFL revamped its All-Star vision by hosting its first-ever Pro Bowl Games. This approach encompassed unique competitions pitting AFC and NFC stars against each other ahead of a set of 7-on-7 flag football games to crown an overall winner. But while the format appeared to appeal to participating athletes, it did little to affect broadcast viewership. The 7-on-7 games that aired on February 5 attracted 9.33 million total viewers – a 2.1% drop from last year’s traditional contest. Nevertheless, it was the most-watched All-Star Game within our analysis. Simulcast on ABC and ESPN, it exceeded ABC’s broadcast of the NHL All-Star Game by 2.28x and outdrew TNT’s coverage of the NBA All-Star Game by 3.5x.

However, despite trailing its counterparts in All-Star Game viewership, the NBA narrowed the audience gap while also expanding its exposure for league partners by hosting several complementary events throughout the weekend its stars spent in Salt Lake City. While the NFL and NHL each only aired one secondary telecast – ESPN broadcast the NFL’s Skills Challenge on February 2 and the NHL’s All-Star Skills Competition a night later as an appetizer for the following day’s hockey main event – the NBA provided four ancillary programs. The weekend began with Friday’s All-Star Celebrity Game on ESPN and Rising Stars Game on TNT. Next, All-Star Saturday Night encompassed a branded skills competition, three-point shootout, and slam dunk contest which were all shown on TNT in prime time. And finally, the NBA All-Star Game itself was preceded by an hour-long broadcast of a team draft with LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo serving as captains. Overall, the five NBA broadcasts on All-Star Weekend drew 9.53 million viewers. As a result, although the 2.66-million strong audience watching the NBA All-Star Game represented only 65.1% of the NHL All-Star Game’s viewership, the NBA’s complete broadcast content suite trumped the NHL’s pair of telecasts by 4.11 million viewers – or 75.8%. Additionally, it brought the NBA within 1.32 million total viewers of the NFL’s All-Star events, a difference of only 12.1%.  The NBA’s All-Star Draft drew 2.29 million viewers on its own, with All-Star Saturday Night festivities attracting 2.22 million. Rounding out the top three audience totals among ancillary events was the NFL Skills Challenge, which drew 1.52 million household viewers.

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Association Nets Most Online Value

Diversity and variety are crucial for marketing exposure and reach, and the NBA accomplished both during its All-Star Week this year. In addition to offering several broadcast programs highlighting the league, its stars, and partners, the Association’s social media reach was more expansive than that of the NFL and NHL over comparable time spans. Using MVP’s social platform, we examined social content from the NFL and its teams featuring #ProBowlGames; the NHL and its teams using #NHLAllStar; and the NBA and its teams sharing posts with either #NBAAllStar, #StateFarmSaturday, #JordanRisingStars, or #RufflesCelebGame. Basketball’s bevy of content enabled an array of social hashtags augmenting attention for the events as well as their title sponsors. And as a result, the NBA generated $11.33M worth of total post value throughout the week ending February 20. By comparison, the NFL’s Pro Bowl-related posts generated $4.65M in post value from January 31-February 6 and the NHL’s All-Star content earned $1.44M in post value during the week ending February 5. The NBA also eclipsed half of a billion impressions during the period, accounting for 508.9 million to lead the NFL and NHL by 2.43x and 7.59x, respectively. Notably, the NFL wrested the top spot in total engagements from the NBA. With less than half as many posts, the NFL’s 13.2 million engagements were 12.9% higher than the NBA’s total.

On a team-by-team basis across all three leagues, the NBA accounted for nine of the top 15 places in our post value rankings. From only 21 pieces of content within our analysis parameters, the Golden State Warriors generated $805K worth of total post value and created 37.6 million impressions. Furthermore, they were the only franchise to exceed 2 million engagements, finishing NBA All-Star Week with 2.06 million on relevant content. They were followed in all three categories by the Dallas Mavericks, who generated $597.3K worth of post value thanks to 1.72 million engagements and 35.4 million impressions. Staying in the Big D, the Cowboys rounded out our top three in team rankings by earning $308.9K worth of post value. The only NHL team to crack our top 15 was Montreal, as the Canadiens topped all of their counterparts with $127.5K worth of post value from content related to NHL All-Star Week.

Contrasting Approaches to Reaching Fans

When a league’s best players converge in one location for several days of competition, everyone reaps the benefits. But the NBA, NFL, and NHL demonstrated unique approaches to reaching their fans, amplifying their partners, and highlighting their marquee talents. The NHL remained understated but efficient, attracting 18.5% more viewers for its All-Star Game than it did in 2022. The NFL’s novel approach failed to achieve the viewership bump the league may have desired, but it still led its counterparts in game audience and total audience across all events. Meanwhile, the NBA diversified its content offering and maintained fan interest across broadcast and social media for several days. Stay connected with MVP for further insights into how each impacts brand and partner relationships as well as what the NBA and NHL are doing to pique fan interest as the playoffs rapidly approach.

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