The NFL has given its broadcast partners a mandate this season – reduce the number of billboard ads used during game broadcasts. A billboard ad usually occurs during a brief break in the action. The network will flash an advertiser’s logo on screen as the broadcaster reminds fans that “today’s game is brought to you by” brand X.
The goal is to eliminate interruptions of the content viewers are tuned in for, and instead incorporate that advertising into the broadcast in different ways. That was what ESPN was doing during a recent Monday Night Football game that included a Playstation Vue multi-view. Fans saw three different angles of the action, while the screen was bordered with a bright blue Playstation Vue logo.
Amanda Herald, who serves as the NFL’s VP of media strategy and business development, told Variety “Small changes in how ads are executed can really add up to how fans perceive games.” It is part of the league’s efforts to attract younger fans. Older fans may be used to having their content interrupted for minutes at a time by people shouting “Dilly Dilly!” but younger generations, raised on streaming and DVRs are used to being able to fast forward through advertising. Integrating ads into content would give them a viewing experience they are more accustomed to.
Some networks are on board with the new strategy. Fox has eliminated billboards from its Thursday Night Football coverage. ESPN offers a commercial-free halftime show for Monday Night Football, which still features frequent reminders from Suzy Kolber that the segment is sponsored by Hyundai Genesis.
Other broadcasts aren’t interested in losing billboard advertising. Fox still uses that strategy during Sunday games. CBS is unapologetically refusing to change their strategy. “We will continue to give people billboards. They are a solid value, and advertisers like them,” VP of NFL Sales for CBS Anthony Taranto said when asked. CBS’s broadcasts of both the NFL and college football are often criticized as stopping the action too often to make way for advertising.
Advertising is a nearly $4.5 billion per year business for the NFL and it’s broadcasting partners, so any changes in league policy will be met with trepidation or even concern. Billboard ads, in particular, are used as added value, a bonus for networks’ top clients. Some networks may be interested in trying new means of advertising that doesn’t interrupt the action in any way, but until the NFL says they are absolutely banned, billboard ads aren’t going extinct any time soon.