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Volume 21 No. 13
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Fox says better games, ad placement for ‘TNF’

Fox Sports is telling advertisers to expect a stronger “Thursday Night Football” schedule and more impactful ad placements for its NFL games this fall.

 

The network kicked off its NFL sales campaign last week with an exclusive advertising dinner at the upscale Italian restaurant Del Posto in the Chelsea area of New York. About 50 ad buyers from top agencies Publicis Media, OMD, Carat and others, sat at round tables adorned with white tablecloths and centerpieces made up of the NFL’s official Wilson footballs.

The main theme to come out of Fox’s presentation is that NFL games are the most popular programming on television and that Fox will carry more NFL games than any other network this fall. Fox will have 38 NFL game windows this season between its Thursday and Sunday schedule, and network executives projected that it will account for more than 40 percent of all NFL game viewing during the season.

The sales process is a particularly important one for Fox, which in February committed more than $650 million annually over five years for the rights to “Thursday Night Football,” plus other events including the NFL draft. That was a strikingly aggressive bid, as previous “Thursday Night Football” rights holders, CBS Sports and NBC Sports, have said they lost money on their deal, when they paid a combined $450 million per year.

“Thursday Night Football” has been the focus of complaints by fans and players who say the quality of the games on a short week of practice pales to what they see on Sundays.

Fox executives believe the NFL is making moves to change that perception. The most noticeable of those changes should come from the strength of the “Thursday Night Football” schedule, which is expected to be released later this month. Fox executives have told NFL schedule makers that it would like to see high-quality games that normally would have anchored Fox’s late Sunday afternoon window to move to Thursday night. The goal is to have the games rival “Sunday Night Football” in terms of quality.

“We committed to the NFL that we are happy to have any of the top games from our NFC package show up on Thursday Night,” Eric Shanks, Fox Sports president, chief operating officer and executive producer, told the crowd.

The NFL will relax rules from previous seasons that had Thursday night games made up of teams that came from the same time zone, which means, for example, the Cowboys could play their interdivision rivals, the Eagles, Giants or Redskins, on “Thursday Night Football” this year.

Still, the league has rules in place that make scheduling Thursday nights more difficult. Thursday night rules mandate that teams will not have to play on a short week more than once a season. It’s possible that the same team could play on consecutive Thursday nights, like the past couple of seasons when the Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving and the following Thursday.

“The NFC package on Sunday is the best package in football by far,” said Tom McGovern, president of Optimum Sports, who attended the dinner. “If you want to pick games for Thursday night, you want to pick them from that package. Having a cooperative partner on the NFC package opens up greater opportunity.”

Fox Sports’ top executives attended the event, including Shanks; Joe Marchese, president of advertising revenue; John Entz, president of production; and Mike Mulvihill, executive vice president of research, league operations and strategy.

During his talk, Shanks also spoke about Fox’s plan to give advertisers better placements for their messages during the game broadcasts. Shanks was short on specifics, but he used last year as an example, when the NFL implemented a new format that virtually eliminated the extra-point-commercial-kickoff-commercial rotation. Two years ago, NFL broadcasters had 503 of those “double ups.” Last year, that number was down to 46.

“We’re working with the NFL to do things this year with Thursday night that are going to be able to get brands closer to the game,” Shanks said. “That’s actually going to make the pace feel even better — feel like there’s fewer interruptions.”

Shanks also hyped its pregame show, which will be produced from New York with Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Michael Strahan. Long, Strahan and sideline reporter Erin Andrews attended the dinner and participated in a panel that showed why Strahan, in particular, is so important to the pregame show. Fox Sports had a 2-minute sizzle reel that it planned to show at the beginning of the event. When it failed to run — marred by technical malfunctions — Strahan made light of the situation and seamlessly started the panel session.

“Fox has a very special talent in the pregame show,” McGoven said. “How Strahan carried that room in a time of near crisis was impressive. He is a special television talent.”