This year promises to bring a return to traditional seasonal play for sports leagues that had scrambled to revamp operations because of the pandemic. The National Football League and National Basketball Association were among the sports leagues that implemented procedures to protect players, coaches and support staff from infection.

Fox Sports is among the broadcasters that faced adversity in providing live sports programming to fans, and giving advertisers a way to reach those audiences.

“We were happy for the most part about how the leagues and everyone managed their schedules,” Seth Winter, executive vice president of sports sales at Fox Sports, said in this interview with Beet.TV. “Each of the sports leagues has done a wonderful job of dealing with the day-to-day health issues with which they’ve all been confronted.”

He commended the National Football League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and NASCAR for overcoming challenges presented by the pandemic. Safety protocols limited fan attendance, and interfered with some of Fox’s marketing programs.

“With some of the challenges of not being able to execute on-site sponsorships in the manner in which we had originally negotiated, the advertisers very much worked with us,” Winter said. Fox still handled several activations, such as a launch for Hummer and Samsung’s 5G smartphones.

“The biggest challenge was moving inventory around as events migrated to different dayparts and weeks,” he said.

Fan Engagement

Live sports is one of the strongest genres on linear TV for advertisers seeking to reach a mass audience. While other genres of programming like drama and sitcoms face competition from streaming services, sports has endured in providing immediacy and excitement to fans.

“The sports genre is the best investment advertisers can make,” Winter said. “Live sports is probably the most predictable of media genres. There’s a rich track record of ratings and the deliveries of sports. There’s also an assurance of scale for most sports.”

Another key advantage of sports programming is the willingness of fans to seek out their favorite teams, regardless of viewing device. That’s an important distinction as people spend more time consuming media on connected devices.

“One of the philosophical decisions we made was to embrace a pass-through sales protocol for all of our network assets,” Winter said. “That allowed us to reach all of our viewers of a particular sport and users with one commercial messaging that we migrated across all platforms.”

Omnichannel Distribution

Fox Sports has embraced the omnichannel environment, which includes over-the-top (OTT) devices to connect TVs directly to the internet.

“With the proliferation of OTT devices … we have not seen much attrition in our viewership and our subscriptions as we had perhaps forecasted,” Winter said. “We’ve seen a kind of stabilization of the impact of cord-cutting to our viewership and our distribution. People find sports wherever they want to find sports.”

Advertisers also are willing to commit media dollars to live sports programming on linear TV, leaving little room for programmatic placements.

“The demand is so great from our linear sales team that there’s very little inventory. We don’t have a lot of programmatic inventory for sale right now,” Winter said.

Because younger consumers are more likely to consumer media on multiple devices, distribution is critical in getting their attention.

“Reaching younger viewers is very important, and that’s something that we and the leagues are very mindful of — that we find our content accessible on platforms that younger users and viewers are using,” Winter said.

You are watching “Live Sports 2021: What’s Next on TV,” a Beet.TV + VAB leadership video series presented by Effectv, a Comcast company. For more videos, please visit this page.