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With College Sports Headed For Hiatus, Where Will The Ad Dollars Go?

These are dark days for college sports, particularly the high-stakes world of major conference football.

Two of the nation’s powerhouse conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-12, have already announced the postponement of this fall’s action, and it remains a distinct possibility that other NCAA Division I schools will soon be following suit — sending sports advertising budgets into freefall.

College football last year captured an estimated $1.7 billion in national and spot TV ad revenues, according to Kantar Media.

A new report from eMarketer, which utilizes findings from a June survey by Advertiser Perceptions, tries to make sense of how the advertising dollars will be allocated — with three courses of action emerging as the most likely scenarios.

The first would be for advertisers to pull their spending completely — without reallocation. According to Advertiser Perceptions, 38% of advertisers indicated they would take this approach.

“That was the most common response in the survey,” eMarketer says, “and we anticipate many more advertisers will use this tactic now. Though the duration of the pandemic remains uncertain, one thing is abundantly clear: There is no quick fix. We expect that organizations will most likely cut commitments to prepare for a long period of economic uncertainty.”

Meanwhile, 36% said they’d keep their commitments with the same media company and wait for the spring, when the conferences that have suspended play hope to resume action. That strategy, however, may come with pitfalls attached.

“Assuming other sports like basketball and baseball stick to traditional schedules,” eMarketer says, “a college football season in the spring may find itself competing with other leagues for viewership.”

The last scenario — keeping commitments with the same media company but shifting to other sports programming — is the third possibility. That option is buoyed by the fact that fans at least initially were willing to tune in to NBA and Major League Baseball games, despite those leagues’ limited capacity. Lately, however, NBA ratings have sagged. But MLB ratings appear to be holding steady.

“During MLB opening weekend, regional sports networks saw a 31% increase in viewership year over year, according to Nielsen. Some advertisers may want to commit as much spending as possible to the sports programming that is available, providing a potential boost to professional leagues,” eMarketer says.

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