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Sunday Night Spells Success

SNF on NBC Attracts 19M Viewers Per Game in 2021

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Sponsorship Valuation
February 24, 2022
June 21, 2022
 min read

The 2021 National Football League season was bookended by thrillers on NBC. It began with Dak Prescott returning from injury to lead the Dallas Cowboys against the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in what would be Tom Brady’s final season opener and ended with an overtime affair with massive playoff implications between AFC West rivals Los Angeles and Las Vegas. What transpired during the NFL’s other 270 games broadcast on CBS, FOX, ESPN, and NFL Network provided storylines galore for fans, but also painted clear valuation and viewership pictures for the league and its partners. We used MVP’s broadcast platform to determine which teams drew the largest audience shares, what networks averaged the most viewers, and what each meant in terms of sponsorship value. Our broadcast data includes every game throughout the 18-week season, but it’s clear that prime-time contests provide a distinct exposure advantage for partners.

NBC’s Audience 2.53x Larger than Average 

A perfect combination of nationally relevant teams, premier quarterbacks, and rivalry matchups coalesced for SNF on NBC during 2021, providing those who waited all day for Sunday night a premier weekly viewing experience. In return, an average of 19.02 million fans watched NBC’s NFL broadcasts during the regular season. The figure was 44.3% higher than the audience earned by NBC’s closest competitor – ESPN – and 2.53x more than the NFL’s average viewership in 2021. NBC and ESPN were the only networks that exceeded the league average of 7.49 million viewers, although Thursday Night Football games simulcast on NFL Network and FOX were within 5.3% of that total at an average of 7.11 million. In part due to their breadth of coverage, FOX and CBS could not compete with prime-time viewership numbers. But while broadcasting every game in the 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. time slots – many on only a regional basis – the networks still averaged 6.2 million and 5.75 million viewers, respectively.

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ESPN is Most Generous to Brands

Despite trailing NBC in average viewers, ESPN delivered the highest average value to brands and partners throughout the 2021 regular season. We used MVP’s video scanning technology to examine in-stadium assets shown during broadcasts and found ESPN averaged 29 minutes and 45 seconds’ worth of exposure, which translated to $6.2M in value. NBC only aired in-stadium assets for an average of 20 minutes and 54 seconds per game. Factoring in viewership totals, the difference in brand value provided by the two networks was roughly $900K per week. There was another $1.3M value gap between NBC’s broadcasts and the Thursday Night games shown on NFL Network and FOX, which averaged $4.0M in brand value thanks to 23 minutes and 31 seconds’ worth of exposure. FOX and CBS generated $1.7M and $1.3M in average value per week, respectively.

Proper positioning is pivotal for partners, so we endeavored to identify the spaces that provided the highest value potential. The most frequently shown assets on broadcasts during the 2021 regular season were sideline equipment, headsets, static signage and video boards, ribbon LEDs, and tunnels – in that order. Sideline equipment, headsets, and static signage and video boards all exceeded five minutes’ worth of exposure per game. However, in contrast to our findings from the first and second five weeks of the campaign – when sideline equipment was the largest breadwinner – the most value was generated by static signage and video boards over the course of the season. Team partners featured on signs and boards throughout stadiums benefited to the tune of $693.6K in brand value per game from television broadcasts alone. Sideline equipment – with partners including Gatorade and Microsoft Surface – created an average of $511.9K in value, and headsets placed third in our rankings at $505.6K per game, a significant portion of which was earned by Bose.

Cowboys, Packers, Chiefs Lead the Way

Fan interest often relies on polarizing franchises, recognizable players, and competitive teams. During the 2021 season, the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and Kansas City Chiefs checked each box, so it was little surprise to find they occupied the three largest viewership shares across the NFL. Five of the 10 most-watched games during the past season included the Cowboys, whose broadcasts attracted 6.74% of all viewers. The Packers and Chiefs – who each competed in at least one of the most-viewed contests – were the only other teams to exceed 6% of the total viewership, earning 6.61% and 6.28%, respectively. The defending champion Buccaneers were next on the list at 5.44%, and the Pittsburgh Steelers rounded out the top five with 4.81% of the NFL’s viewers in 2021. Ultimately, the top 10 teams in terms of viewership received roughly 50% of the league’s total. 

NFL Commands Year-Round Attention

We are less than two weeks removed from the Los Angeles Rams hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the first time since relocating to the City of Angels, but the gridiron grind never stops. Coverage of the NFL will continue with the Combine and ensuing Draft in the coming months, and teams’ multi-faceted objectives will include improving on-field success and marketability to compel broadcasters to show them in prime-time. Both NBC and the Cowboys – who played on Sunday Night Football thrice this past season – displayed their value potential for partners in 2021, and rival teams and networks will no doubt try to replicate their success in 2022.

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