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The NFL Season Kicks Off

In September, five months in advance of Super Bowl LVII, Fox Television Network reported that they’d already sold 95% of their Big Game inventory. Many of those 30-second spots went for $7 million—a new record. “We came out of the upfront marketplace with over 90% sellout in the Super Bowl, which has never happened before,” said Mark Evans, EVP of ad sales. While this spells good news for Super Bowl Sunday, it also speaks to football’s overall popularity now that NFL season is officially underway. From viewing trends to brand activations to new TV spots, here’s what you need to know.

Eyes on the Ball
Amazon currently carries exclusive national broadcast rights to stream Thursday Night Football, but along with catching those games on the streaming platform, Nielsen data recently revealed that 48% of viewers watched NFL Thursday night games on local broadcast stations. As an example, over one million viewers tuned in to see the San Francisco 49ers play the Houston Texans on August 25, and more than 490,000 of them caught the game on a local television station, as opposed to Amazon Prime. Given the seemingly unstoppable rise of streaming, this marks a notable turn of viewing events. “The power of local broadcast TV and major sports franchises couldn’t be more clear,” said Steve Lanzano, president and CEO of TVB trade group. “Football enthusiasts love their home teams and overwhelmingly choose to watch their games on hometown TV stations.”

For its part, the NFL celebrated the opening of its 103rd season with a star-studded 75-second spot that aired during a game on September 8, when the Buffalo Bills beat Super Bowl champs the Los Angeles Rams. The film opens on Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf performing a piano solo at a pep rally while dressed in a sleeveless tux, before the song shifts to Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” anthem (which was performed during the 2022 Halftime Show). Olympic gymnast Simone Biles flips and leaps into the school gym, wearing a Texans uniform in honor of her fiancé and team player, Jonathan Owens. Lil Wayne also makes an appearance, along with additional NFL players, social influencers and TV personalities. “In this kickoff campaign, we’re creating a pep rally fit for the NFL featuring some of the biggest players, best fans, and coolest football personalities in one epic celebration of the upcoming season,” said Zach Hilder, executive creative director at 72andSunny, the ad agency that made the spot.

Brands Show up to Play
The first week of the new NFL season showed extraordinary ad spending results. Brands invested over $250 million on spots seen during those initial games, according to data obtained by TV ad measurement company EDO. This was 8.1% more than what was spent during last year’s first national football week, and it marked a 21% increase over the same period of 2020. Carmakers bought the most ads, with $30.3 million spent within the automotive category from companies like Chevrolet, Hyundai and Toyota. Insurance groups and consumer packaged goods brands followed suit, at $28 million and $25 million, respectively.

Pepsi was among the brands that showed up with a notable activation. Despite the soft drink giant’s May announcement that it will step down as a sponsor of the NFL Super Bowl Halftime Show following a decade of supporting that midgame event, Pepsi is still affirming its dedication to the NFL with a new “Better with Pepsi” campaign that boasts a pair of national TV spots plus a contest giveaway. In “Grillmaster,” a group of tailgaters revel in the pleasure of a Pepsi paired with burgers—despite an unwanted BBQ fire. “Blocking the Kick” combines Pepsi with pizza in the form of a fan so enthralled by the perfect flavor pairing that he nearly ruins the game for his friends by inadvertently blocking their TV view. The 15-second spots aired during September’s NFL Kickoff month, when fans were also eligible to win a Pepsi Gametime Fridge TV—the ultimate in tricked-out entertainment. The 55-inch wall-mounted television slides from center to right with the click of a button, revealing a 16-can fridge so spectators need never miss another play when wanting a drink. #GametimeFridge TV and #PepsiSweepstakes swept Instagram and Twitter in the weeks preceding the winner’s announcement.

Targeting Younger Fans
Pro sports leagues are in the business of courting younger fans, finding them on platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, Twitch, YouTube and other digital forums where they spend time, while also creating TV spots and large-scale campaigns meant to attract the attention of younger demographics. “It’s critical to reach a younger portion of the fan base,” said Chris Marinak, MLB chief operations and strategy officer. “They have the longer span of fandom. We need to do a better job of communicating to Gen Z what it means to be a fan.” The NFL is no exception, as evidenced in a new Under Armour spot starring quarterback Tom Brady. Though the legendary athlete holds more Super Bowl rings than any other quarterback, he didn’t seem destined for greatness from the jump, having been drafted 199th overall into the league. “For young athletes today, there are more distractions coming up through the ranks than there were for me,” said Brady. “I wasn’t a prodigy. I had to really work hard to put myself in a position to succeed.” Under Armour’s 60-second spot, called “Be the Athlete No One Saw Coming,” aired during the September 11 game between Brady’s team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Dallas Cowboys. It shows the quarterback sitting next to actor Morgan Freeman, reading a letter penned to all up-and-coming athletes. Rather than urging them to be like Tom Brady, tomorrow’s sports legends are encouraged to drown out the noise and evolve into the best versions of themselves.

In similar fashion, State Farm geared its new “Personal Price Plan” campaign toward millennials and Gen Z members via a series of ads, the first of which aired during the NFL’s opening Thursday night game on NBC. A total of 15 spots in both English and Spanish promotes the way State Farm provides personalized quotes based on an individual’s specific circumstances—not a revelation when it comes to insurance, but an attempt to nevertheless appeal to these groups via qualities of uniqueness and affordability. “There’s this tsunami of under-40 buying power,” said Alyson Griffin, VP of marketing. “Obviously, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in—that’s an attractive market—but for us specifically, we want to continue to build that awareness and affinity to our brand.” We’ll continue tracking all football-related marketing endeavors as the season unfolds. In the meantime, happy viewing!