“Necessity is the mother of invention” is an enduring phrase with special meaning for broadcasters of live sports during the coronavirus pandemic. The health crisis forced sports leagues, their sponsors and their broadcast partners to come up with new ways to work together as fans hungered for live entertainment.
“History proves that people need sports the most. There’s always this huge desire for sports coming from fans,” Dan Lovinger, executive vice president of advertising sales at NBC Sports Group, said in this interview with Beet.TV.
He cited examples of when sports viewership has bounced back from interruptions ranging from player strikes to major disasters. The massive scale and stubborn persistence of the pandemic set it apart from other disruptions, challenging everyone involved with live sports to respond.
“What was different this time was that sports stopped for a long, long time — and that left the leagues, the fans, the owners in a much different position,” Lovinger said. “All those people did a terrific job in trying to wade through this no-sports environment.”
As sports leagues suspended play, NBC Sports was among the broadcasters that scrambled to reinvent its programming.
“Early on, we were faced with a real problem. We didn’t have sports for a sports network, other than some library content,” Lovinger said. “The biggest lesson that came out of the pandemic for us was the ability to add technology to our production, and create a lot of remote possibilities.”
NBC Sports first focused on crafting shows based on its library of programming, such as “best of” highlights, countdowns and “stunting,” which describes one-time shows to draw a bigger audience. Sports broadcaster Michael Todd Tirico provided a lunchtime show from a makeshift studio in his home office.
During the rescheduled French Open, tennis analysts weren’t sitting courtside at Stade Roland-Garros in Paris — and instead provided remote commentary from the NBC Sports Group campus in Stamford, Connecticut.
Combining Sponsorships and Media
With sports stadiums mostly empty of fans, leagues and broadcasters have worked on developing sponsorship packages that ensure higher visibility. Sections of many stadiums have coverings over the seating that prominently display logos of sponsors that are visible during games, as one example.
“We are working with all the leagues to make sure the in-stadium signage is camera-visible where appropriate,” Lovinger said. “We want to make sure our league partners are delivering to their sponsors as well.”
NBC Sports is working with the organizers of the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles on developing opportunities for sponsor participation.
“A lot of what we’ve been doing in terms of working with advertisers and sponsors has less to do with the pandemic, and more to do with the way we feel the model works better,” Lovinger said. “By combining sponsorships and media, we’re able to amplify everything we do in sponsorship with that the media presence and the storytelling capabilities that NBC in particular brings.”
Streaming Live Sports
NBCUniversal last summer rolled out Peacock to reach the growing number of households that are connecting their TVs directly to the internet. The over-the-top streaming service carries a mix of hit movies and shows, and is expanding its roster of live sports.
Peacock is carrying games from the English Premier League (EPL), whose season began in September and runs through May 23. The streaming service also showed the NFL Wild Card game between rust-belt rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
“Our hope is to add more sports to that platform, as our rights permit,” Lovinger said. “We hope that’s a great way to attract younger viewers.”
Lovinger sees the possibility for sponsors to reach target consumer groups with its AdSmart solution for advanced advertising, and the mass audiences that tune into live sports.
“When I look at something like an NFL Sunday night broadcast, I am never going to want to apologize for delivering 20 million adults to an advertiser,” he said. “That’s what you can do with something as big and powerful as an NFL game.”
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.