Everyone in the sports media business is well aware that football season is the crucial time of the year. As we enter July, it’s all barreling upon us. College football is huge in its own right but the NFL is King, and from my vantage entering the most fascinating season of all-time.
The primary reason for this is there is an unprecedented depth of great, interesting, and/or serviceable quarterbacks. If you pull up a list of the 32 NFL teams, there’s virtually no dreck to be found. As we’ll discuss, the floor has been raised several levels.
I’m not sure everybody realizes how dominant the NFL is not just in sports but also the broader TV landscape. Thirty-three of the top 50 most-watched TV shows of 2020 were NFL games, including 14 of the top 20 (this year there will be robust Olympics competition, but no presidential debates).
And the rich are getting richer. This offseason, the league inked new TV deals collectively worth $100 billion. The regular season is expanding to 17 games. Fans are returning to the stands, which makes the games feel much more meaningful. Knock on wood, games should be played at the dates and times they’re supposed to be, rather than the roving jigsaw puzzle of last year. Gambling continues to be legal in ever more states, which should help with eyeballs on the margins — even if it doesn’t it’s effectively a printing press of money in marketing partnerships.
Out of home viewership was not counted in standard 2019 ratings, and last season sports bars were either closed or faced capacity restrictions in many regions. I expect an enormous impact to be felt with the full inclusion of these metrics this season.
I ran all this by a network executive who responded: “Ad sales for football are through the roof. College and pro. The marketplace agrees with you.”
Returning to the unprecedented quarterback talent in the league: To double-check my own opinions, I reached out to NFL experts Peter King, Albert Breer, Mike Florio, and Sean Salisbury — who combined have closely followed the league for over 100 years — to see if they could ever remember a season that lined up to be as fascinating as this one. Here’s what they said:
Peter King (NBC Sports)
Lots of reasons to think 2021 will be one of the NFL’s most interesting seasons. I’ll give you four.
One: We are in the NFL’s golden age of quarterbacks, with the best crop of young passing stars I’ve seen in 37 years covering the league. In 2005, two quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards, and two had a rating over 100. In 2020, 12 surpassed 4,000 yards, and 10 had ratings over 100.
Two: Tom Brady at 44, piloting a fully intact defending Super Bowl champion. Both of those things are incredible.
Three: GMs are bolder than ever. If the Deshaun Watson case is resolved by midseason, one of the risk-taking GMs could trade for him, even if Watson is suspended.
Four: Navigating a 17-game season, with more injuries and general fatigue, will be a storyline. Coaches should rotate series off–at least for veterans–in fourth quarters of decided games, but will they? I didn’t mention COVID, and how teams respond to the 2021 protocols. But I have to think a team with 2019 freedoms could have a competitive advantage over a division rival with 2020 restrictions.
Albert Breer (Sports Illustrated)
Where I think the NFL’s collective quarterback situation is so interesting stems back to three years ago, when it seemed just about every team was going into the season with at least some sort of plan at the position. That year was 2018, and I honestly couldn’t find a single team where I looked and could say, definitively, that team is going to take one in the first round next year. Three did—the Cardinals fired their coach and bailed from Josh Rosen after a single season, the Giants finally tabbed a successor for Eli Manning, and Washington saw its QB, Alex Smith, suffer a seismic injury—but that didn’t lessen the overarching idea, and that was that the NFL, as I saw it, had never been healthier at its most important position.
And now, going into the 2021 season, I think we’ve reached the next phase of that, where just good, for a lot of teams, isn’t good enough.
Call it the Mahomes-ization of the NFL. At the aforementioned juncture, before the 2018 season, Mahomes was indeed the Chiefs’ plan at the position (they’d just dealt Smith away to clear the way for their 2017 first-round pick), but few knew what Andy Reid was about to unleash on the league. Three years later, he’s the mountain that most other teams are looking up at, the one they’ll have to scale over the next decade to win a championship. A decade ago, winning a championship with Joe Flacco or Eli Manning, or a raw second-year player (where Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger were for their first titles) was realistic, if you were good enough around them. And a lot of teams, looking at the challenge Mahomes will present them for the foreseeable future, clearly don’t see it that way anymore.
If you’re the Bills with Josh Allen or the Chargers with Justin Herbert or the Jaguars with Trevor Lawrence, you have reason to believe that the ceiling is there where you’ll get close enough to keep pace with Kansas City and Mahomes. But most others? There’s a reason why the Rams paid a king’s ransom to swap out a 26-year-old Jared Goff for a 33-year-old Matthew Stafford, and why the Niners moved heaven and earth to gamble on Trey Lance, which will eventually mean bailing on Jimmy Garoppolo. As is the case with Allen, Herbert and Lawrence, the ceiling is there with Lance and Stafford, and clearly the Niners and Rams don’t think it was with Garoppolo and Goff.
So that, to me, is the most interesting thing about this very interesting season to come. It’s the year where good was not good enough for a lot of teams at the position. I believe the explosion of capable quarterbacks in the NFL is a result of a couple things—these guys are developed with personal coaches like golfers from the time they’re in grade school, and the NFL is far more creative offensively than it used to be, allowing for a wider net to be cast for talent at the position—and that has raised the bar at the position.
It seems like the talent pool now is deep enough for everyone to be good at quarterback. But because of the presence of Mahomes, more and more, teams feel the need to be great.
Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk; Mike’s book ‘Playmakers’ is out March 15th)
It’s all driven by the quarterbacks. We continue to be in a golden age of the most important position in football, with several older quarterbacks who are among the best to ever play (Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger), plenty of great young quarterbacks who ultimately could be among the greatest to ever play (Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield) and some potential all-time greats (Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott) in the middle. Quarterback play is improving at the college level, and NFL teams are no longer trying to make quarterbacks who did great things in college do something different at the next level. They’re embracing the great college quarterbacks for who they are and what they do, and they’re becoming great pro quarterbacks.
The annual availability of a fresh crop of competent rookie quarterbacks has made teams more willing to move on from veterans, resulting in more quarterback movement than ever before. Every year, free-agency will include quarterbacks who previously never would have gotten away from their existing teams. Now, teams who have good quarterbacks will crave finding great quarterbacks, and they’ll be willing to give up the bird in the hand to get there.
Here’s where this all is going to eventually lead. Within five years, the league will start talking about expansion. A few years ago, there weren’t 32 quarterbacks who were good enough to start in the NFL. Now, there are enough. Enough to justify 34 teams, 36 teams, or more.
Legalized gambling will push the league in that direction. The new 17-game season will inevitably become an 18-game season. Beyond that, the only way to increase the inventory of games will be to increase the number of teams.
Sean Salisbury (SportsTalk 790 and KPRC 950 in Houston)
No doubt the energy and momentum the NFL will get from the return from Covid will heighten the excitement. We are blessed with as deep a Starting QB class as we’ve possibly ever had. We have play callers who are doing things most of us didn’t think was feasible. Two of our best, Rodgers and Watson, may not play. Brady is the favorite and still is the very reason the team should be the favorite to be in the Super Bowl. At 44 years old this August he should be preparing his HOF speech. Yet, he’s playing like he did a decade ago.
I don’t remember a time when we went into a season thinking a dozen different QBs could win an MVP. We have franchises who people have laughed at that are now in positions to win their division and are a February threat like Cleveland and Arizona. The excitement of young stars — Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence — bringing relevance to the Jets and Jags while giving hope to their fan base. We all wonder who Carson Wentz and Jimmy G actually are as players and whether Bill Belichick will turn Mac Jones into his next Super Bowl QB. There are so many other wow factor stories in the league this year, yet the QB drama alone is enough to make you pay triple the price for a ticket. For me, I can’t remember a time when I was more intrigued and pumped for an NFL season than I am in 2021!
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.