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Volume 27 No. 26
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SBJ Unpacks: Can Football Keep The Momentum Going?

Tonight in SBJ Unpacks: The NFL heads into another weekend with plenty of questions around potential virus ramifications. 

  • Cardinals become 16th NFL team to gain clearance to allow fans
  • SEC planning to punish teams breaking protocols
  • Uncertain football schedule has TV advertisers worried
  • Inside theScore's strategy around sports betting
  • Presidential campaigns look to target more sports broadcasts

 

NFL CONTINUES TO NAVIGATE AROUND POSITIVE TESTS ON TEAMS

  • News around positive COVID-19 tests in the NFL and their impact on upcoming games dominated the headlines late this week. Most recently, the Patriots canceled today’s practice amid reports that "another person has tested positive for coronavirus" and that "it is a player." The team also is "awaiting the results of a second test to confirm if an additional person has also tested positive." The Patriots are scheduled to host the Broncos on Sunday.
  • There was good news for the Colts, who were set to "re-open the practice facility" this afternoon after four members who previously tested positive returned negative tests Friday morning. Upon learning of the positive tests early Friday, the Colts "initially shut down the facility and moved all meetings and work online, conducting everything virtually as the samples were re-tested."
  • The Falcons, another team dealing with virus uncertainty, had zero new positives from Thursday's round of testing and "resumed in-person work under the NFL's supplemental intensive protocols," meaning Sunday's game against the Vikings "remains on as scheduled." On Thursday, the Falcons "held virtual work after a positive test, but the result was to an assistant coach, not a player."

 

NFL HITTING HALFWAY MARK ON TEAMS ALLOWING FANS

  • The Cardinals announced today they will be allowed to host 1,200 fans inside State Farm Stadium at their next home game on Oct. 25, becoming the 16th team -- half the NFL -- to gain government clearance for fans, reports SBJ's Ben Fischer.
  • The 1,200-person limit is less than 2% of the venue’s 63,400-seat capacity, making the Arizona Dept. of Public Health among the most conservative of local authorities that have allowed fans. The Phoenix area ranks 24th out of 30 NFL markets for total community spread of COVID-19 currently, with a 14-day rolling average of 8 cases per 100,000, according to NFLPA tracking data.
  • According to the Cardinals, the permission is for Oct. 25 only, with decisions about future games still to come. The teams that still do not have approval: Chargers/Rams, 49ers, Seahawks, Raiders, Packers, Bears, Vikings, Lions, Bills, Jets/Giants, Patriots, Saints, Washington, Ravens.

 

The Cardinals are set to become the 16th NFL team to allow fans after having played home games fan-less so far this season
Photo: getty images

 

SEC PLANS TO CRACK DOWN ON SCHOOLS VIOLATING PROTOCOLS

  • Multiple SEC schools "will have revenue from the conference deducted" as a result of "not following proper COVID-19 protocols," according to ESPN sources. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey in a memo sent last week wrote that schools "will have their conference revenue distribution cut by $100,000 for each week that they do not follow protocols."
  • Sankey wrote, "Do not relax -- and do not let those around you relax -- because of a few weeks of success." That line was "underlined and bolded for emphasis." This week has been "anything but successful" for the conference, as Vanderbilt-Missouri and LSU-Florida were "postponed as a result of coronavirus outbreaks."
  • With more outbreaks and even Nick Saban testing positive, CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd writes the SEC may "soon have to consider pausing the season." The SEC has been "out front with its protocols," and until this week, its plan to wait until Sept. 26 to start the season "looked brilliant." Dodd: "If the ability of Alabama and -- by extension -- the SEC to contend for a championship is impacted, what kind of season is it anyway?"

 

SHIFTING FOOTBALL SCHEDULE HAS TV AD BUYERS WORRIED

  • The rescheduling of games in the NFL and across college football is "putting TV advertisers on edge" and has "dampened demand for college football in particular," according to Digiday. Sports marketing agency rEvolution Exec VP/Media & Business Development Larry Mann said, "It’s a slow marketplace, primarily because of the uncertainty and ambiguity."
  • That uncertainty was "amplified this week with multiple college football games set for this Saturday being postponed." TV ad buying agency Marketing Architects VP/Media Ron Blevins said, "I wouldn’t characterize what we’ve seen as a significant uptick in demand. We’re still seeing a depressed marketplace. The uncertainty is causing it to be more depressed."
  • TV networks had "prepared for this dynamic to an extent," as "most of their football inventory is secured in long-term deals, between corporate sponsorships and upfront commitments." Meanwhile, networks have "refrained from offering guarantees to some advertisers buying their football inventory in the so-called 'scatter' market, where networks sell the inventory left unclaimed by upfront advertisers."

 

THESCORE TAKES OWN STRATEGY TO CAPITALIZE ON SPORTS BETTING MARKET

  • TheScore has had a busy 2020, expanding its U.S. sports betting operations, which had only been in New Jersey, to Colorado and Indiana. The Toronto-based company is planning to enter Iowa once the state legalizes betting in January. That has led to a focus on creating a harmonious experience for app users, wherever they are. “Being able to use a single app across states with a multi-state wallet. … It's the same app experience (state-to-state). Your balance follows with you,” theScore President & COO Benjie Levy told SBJ’s David Rumsey.
  • With plenty of other companies vying for customers in the sports betting space, theScore is focused on sticking to it own strategy. Levy pointed to the integrated approach theScore app takes by being both a media and betting platform. “It's not just about advertising and promotions and user acquisition,” Levy said. “It's winning in the long-run by presenting your consumers with a truly differentiated offering.”
  • Although this year has seen huge developments in the sports betting space, with a new deal or partnership being announced almost every day, the headlines Levy has been following the most revolve around the pandemic. He said, “What matters to me is that they play the games. … That we're able to be in an environment where we're able to play the games and we're able to engage our fans and our patrons.”
  • As theScore looks toward the future, Levy is excited about the growth of mobile and live betting that attracts a younger, tech-savvy demographic. “The whole type of in-game experience that we can deliver to fans lends itself, very, very well to our approach of integrating betting in into a fan’s media experience,” he said.

 

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN ADS HITTING SPORTS TELECASTS IN SWING STATES

  • WWE "Friday Night Smackdown" viewers watching Pittsburgh’s WPGH-Fox affiliate tonight will see a 30-second spot paid for by the Donald J. Trump for President campaign, kicking off a weekend where the election's two candidates have ordered more than $700,000 in ad time to run during sportscasts on local network affiliates across the country, writes SBJ's David Broughton.
  • An ad spending analysis in this week’s SBJ shows that President Trump has bought 93 ads totaling $532,000 to run across 22 battleground markets this weekend. More than half of that spend is scheduled to air in Tampa during college football on WFTS-ABC and NFL coverage on WTVT-Fox Sunday. Trump’s total would have been even higher, but the orders he placed back in the summer for weekly spots to run in Ohio and Michigan during Big Ten football games, which can run up to $60,000 per minute, were all cancelled.
  • Joe Biden has 20 local spots scheduled to run, at a cost of $173,000, and 70% of that will come during "Football Night in America" and "Sunday Night Football" telecasts on NBC stations in Phoenix, Atlanta, Denver and Green Bay.

 

 

SPEED READS

  • The Sabres and BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York have partnered to provide 10,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to several schools across the community. Each kit includes face coverings and hand sanitizer to help keep teachers, students and staff safe as they resume in-person education. On Monday, Sabres GM Kevyn Adams and representatives from Pegula Sports & Entertainment will join BlueCross Blue Shield Senior VP/Chief Marketing & Communications Officer Julie Snyder to deliver PPE kits to Buffalo Public School educators.
  • Ted Griggs is leaving NBC Sports Regional Networks, where he has been President of Group and Strategic Production & Programming since 2016, reports SBJ's John Ourand. In an email sent to staff on Thursday, NBC Sports Group Chair Pete Bevacqua said Griggs is moving back to the Bay Area, where he previously had spent 18 years with NBC Sports Bay Area. NBC Sports Regional Networks President & Group Leader Bill Brigden will take over Griggs’ duties.
  • ESPN+ has acquired the U.S. media rights in both English and Spanish to the Scottish Premiership, Scotland's top pro soccer league. As part of the agreement, the streaming service will carry at least one Scottish Premiership match per week, beginning Oct. 17, and will also have coverage of select matches from the Scottish Championship, Scottish League Cup and Scottish Challenge Cup
  • Suspended driver Kyle Larson has applied for reinstatement to NASCAR, and while the sanctioning body did not confirm it Friday, the request is expected to be approved in the coming weeks, sources told SBJ's Adam Stern. NASCAR on Friday afternoon confirmed that Larson applied for reinstatement earlier in the week and said that it is still reviewing the request. But sources told SBJ that there are not expected to be any issues at this point and that it will be approved in short order after he served around a 30-race suspension.

 

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Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.