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Volume 27 No. 5
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SBJ Football: NFL Pleased With Team Efforts To Limit Pandemic Refunds

Welcome back to SBJ Football, friends. Just like when we last published, pro sports remains intensely challenged by a global pandemic. But we’ve come a long way since early May, and it’s now clear that resumption of play is possible under the right conditions. One change on our end: We’re going to publish this newsletter on Thursdays instead of Fridays this season. Let us know what you think.

 

NFL INSIDERS SEE 2020 SEASON-TICKET FIGURES AS A VICTORY

  • About 40% of NFL season-ticket holders who pushed their packages to 2021 requested a refund, according to league sources, a figure insiders consider a victory. Most teams tried to encourage fans to leave money on their accounts through incentives such as priority access to playoff tickets and food-and-beverage discounts.

  • One league source said the refund rate is lower when you consider how many fans didn’t do anything with their season tickets, instead agreeing to take their chances with partial packages or single-game seats in 2020 as circumstances allow. "If you project this out across the entire season-ticket member base, we estimate that only approximately 30% ... requested their money back,” this person said. “Or looked at the other way, 70% chose to leave money on account for either a ticket purchase this year or for season tickets next year (2021). We see that as very positive.”

  • Among the 20 teams that gave fans a choice of rolling with the unpredictability of 2020 or bailing altogether, 55% opted out, according to league research (12 other teams canceled all season tickets, in effect making that choice for them). “That sounds higher than I would have expected,” said Tony Knopp, CEO of TicketManager, which handles corporate ticketing for major clients. But he suspects the numbers vary widely by market -- the Packers, for instance, said last week that 80% opted out.

 

PICTURE OF NFL ATTENDANCE COMING INTO FOCUS

  • There are now 12 NFL teams committed to having no fans at their stadiums to start the season, and several more are likely to take that step in the near future. Only five teams have committed to allowing fans in and 15 haven’t made a decision, indicating the discussion between teams and their local authorities remains highly fluid in many cities with just three weeks until kickoff.

  • As recently as June, the NFL was still talking about “full stadiums,” but each successive development with the pandemic has driven the situation toward fewer fans. That’s a combination of worsening numbers in much of the U.S. over the summer, an aversion to risk from politicians wary of their exposure should a large gathering trigger an outbreak, and a realization in league circles that simply getting the product on TV is the dominant priority.

  • Teams are prepared to roll with the punches from week to week -- only five teams have ruled out fans for all eight home games -- so the attendance counts could still improve if the overall COVID-19 case counts continue to improve (many teams are indeed counting on that). But barring some major public health breakthrough, the ceiling is low. While the NFL has generally left it up to local jurisdictions to decide capacity limits, sources say teams are expected to comply with CDC social distancing recommendations, which in practice caps attendance at about 20-25% of most venues’ usual capacity.

 

NFL TEAMS: PLANS FOR HOME ATTENDANCE DURING 2020 SEASON
TEAM
FAN PLANS
TEAM
FAN PLANS
49ers
No decision
Jaguars
25% capacity
Bears
No fans
Jets
No fans
Bengals
No decision
Lions
No decision
Bills
No decision
Packers
No fans first two games
Broncos
No decision
Panthers
No decision
Browns
No decision
Patriots
No fans through September
Buccaneers
25% capacity
Raiders
No fans
Cardinals
No decision
Rams
No decision
Chargers
No decision
Ravens
7,500 fans
Chiefs
22% capacity
Saints
No fans for season opener
Colts
25% capacity
Seahawks
No fans first three games
Cowboys
No decision
Steelers
No decision
Dolphins
No decision
Texans
No fans through September
Eagles
No decision
Titans
No fans through September
Falcons
No fans through September
Vikings
No decision
Giants
No fans
Washington
No fans
Download the
NFL Team Fan Scenarios

 

49ERS SELL OUT ALL CAMERA-VISIBLE SEAT COVER LOGOS

  • The 49ers have sold all 16 spots available in the league’s pandemic program allowing camera-visible logos on seat covers at the bottom of Levi’s Stadium, CRO Brent Schoeb tells SBJ. There had been some concern around the league that sponsors most in need of make-goods wouldn’t want or couldn't afford the new inventory, but at least in the Bay Area, that’s no problem.

  • Under the rules, the end-zone tarps are reserved for NFL sponsors who are also team sponsors, and space between the 30-yard lines are reserved for team messages. The Niners sold to 15 different companies, with one buying two locations. “We’re overall very satisfied with where we ended up, and this was a huge help from the NFL,” Schoeb said.

  • It’s reasonable to assume plenty of teams won’t sell out the space, considering that some have fewer overlaps with league-level sponsors, and the price may be prohibitive for most local sponsors in markets less affluent than Silicon Valley. NFL CRO and Exec VP Renie Anderson said at SBJ’s Road Ahead conference on Wednesday: “Some teams are going to be putting club branding on that, other teams will be able to utilize the third-party sponsor branding, and I think it's going to be a bit mixed but I think it's going to be awesome. I think the exposure in our games is unbelievable."

 

DATA SHOWS JUJU, CAM, OBJ LEAD NFL PLAYERS ON YOUTUBE

  • Many NFL players used the unusual offseason -- one spent primarily away from team facilities -- to build their brands by engaging their fans on social media with videos featuring training, insight into their personal lives and furthering the social justice conversation. SportsAtlas’ Will Cavanaugh took a look at a few of the notable players pushing out content on personal YouTube channels.

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster is the only NFL player to eclipse one million subscribers (1.01 million). The Steelers wideout launched his channel a few months after being drafted in 2017 and has steadily grown his audience by posting engaging content multiple times a month -- a more frequent cadence compared to other athletes. JuJu’s top-performing content during the offseason, when he saw almost 127,000 video views on the platform, included playing video games with other celebs, gifting a house to his family and sponsored content for Pizza Hut and NERF.

  • With an average of more than 700,000 views for six videos posted during the offseason, Cam Newton, who launched his channel around 18 months ago (now with 456,000 subscribers), led all NFLers in viewership on YouTube. Newton saw solid performance from videos of him testing YouTube personality Logan Paul’s football ability and playing basketball with rapper Quavo and Todd Gurley. But his best-forming video was one where he speaks out on his departure from the Panthers for the Patriots -- a video that generated more than 1.8 million views.

  • Just over a year ago, Odell Beckham Jr. created his YouTube channel (now with 239,000 subscribers), and similar to Smith-Schuster and Newton, many of OBJ’s top-performing videos give fans a behind-the-scenes look at his workouts and recovery from offseason surgery. However, a roundtable conversation on social justice titled, “The Bigger Picture,” went viral and became Beckham’s top video yet with more than 1.2 million views. During the hour-long conversation, OBJ discussed hard-hitting questions on race, COVID-19 and the NFL’s role in promoting change with Newton, Gurley, and Victor Cruz.

 

  


SPEED READS

  • The Rams are launching sales of fan cardboard cutouts today in conjunction with stadium naming-rights sponsor SoFi, following the Texans as the first two NFL teams to announce a program that’s been popular in empty MLB ballparks. The cutouts will be displayed in the end zone seats beginning with SoFi Stadium's Sept. 13 regular-season debut. All cutouts will be displayed in a Rams jersey or T-shirt. Rams season-ticket holders get first dibs today for $70 per game, with general public access starting tomorrow for $80. Proceeds will go to the Los Angeles Rams Foundation. The Texans’ cutouts cost $75 per game ($60 for season-ticket holders), and are currently on sale to season-ticket holders, with public sales starting Aug. 24.

An example of the Rams’ cardboard cutouts now on sale to fans, with proceeds going to the Los Angeles Rams Foundation
An example of the Rams’ cardboard cutouts now on sale to fans, with proceeds going to the Los Angeles Rams Foundation
An example of the Rams’ cardboard cutouts now on sale to fans, with proceeds going to the Los Angeles Rams Foundation

  • HBO is staring at record-low viewership for "Hard Knocks" this season, per SBJ's Austin Karp. After two episodes, the show -- focused on the Rams and Chargers this season -- has averaged 262,000 viewers (not including streaming figures, which aren't likely being made available off of the new HBO Max OTT platform). Last year, the first two episodes for the Raiders on "Hard Knocks"averaged 719,000 viewers on TV. In 2016, when the show featured the Rams after moving from St. Louis to L.A., the show was averaging 498,000 viewers after two episodes.

  • The Chiefs plan to fill Arrowhead Stadium to 22% capacity for games this season. On the "Around The NFL" podcast, NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal said of the move: "What's the upside here? ... I guess the fans are getting the experience of going. ... It doesn't feel like the reward here is worth the risk." NFL.com's Marc Sessler added of fans in the stands anywhere around the league: "If you replace (piped-in crowd noise) with 15,000 fans, and at any given moment, 3,000 are getting beers or going to the bathroom, that feels like a lame crowd to me."

  • When NFL TV viewership comes in this season, expect out-of-home (OOH) numbers to be included, but don't expect the bump that networks got in the past, a source tells SBJ's Austin Karp. OOH numbers typically get a boost on Sundays from fans watching NFL games in bars, gyms, airports and restaurants -- many of which remain closed or have significantly reduced capacity during the pandemic. OOH also includes places like college dorms (those that remain open) and second homes, where many people have retreated amid COVID-19. The source says OOH is expected to deliver around a 5% viewership bump this fall. That number is typically in the low-to-mid double digits for the NFL.

  • During SBJ's Road Ahead virtual conference yesterday, the NFL's Renie Anderson had this to say on some of the league's social messaging for the 2020 season: “There’s been a lot of local market support with the hospitals … Those frontline workers, we want to celebrate and thank them for all the work that they’re doing, as well as all the initiatives that are going on now with social justice. And so you’re going to see a combo and a mix as we go back to the season.”

 

 

 

Enjoying this newsletter? We've got more! Check out our SBJ Media (Monday and Wednesday), SBJ College (Tuesday and Thursday), SBJ Esports (Wednesday) and SBJ Unpacks (week nights).

Something on the football beat catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to either me (bfischer@sportsbusinessjournal.com) or Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it. Also contributing to this newsletter is Thomas Leary (tleary@sportsbusinessdaily.com).