Healthcare and Televised Sports – Capturing Audience Attention as Live Sports Popularity Booms

Joe Warren, EVP, Media Investment

May 20, 2021

Americans have always been passionate about their sports. Next year is looking as if it could be a banner year from a televised audience perspective. In the past, healthcare advertisers have shied away from  sports advertising and major sponsorships, but going forward this strategy may change, as that is where  the television audiences will surely be.

Already we are seeing audiences build, hungry for live events.

The recent conclusion and final game of March Madness was between two small schools, and as  such they were not leaning into the huge alumni  bases to draw an audience. Yet, Baylor-Gonzaga  delivered 16.92 million viewers on CBS, marking  the finals highest rated and most-watched non-  football sporting event since Game 7 of the 2019 World Series (23.22M) (Source: Sports Media Watch).

On the second weekend in April, the Masters final round delivered an average audience of 9.45 million  viewers on CBS, up 69% from 2020. While it did not  break all-time records for golf viewership (blame  Tiger’s absence) it was the 6th most watched  sporting event in the last year (3 MLB finals games  and two of the afore mentioned NCAA games beat out the Masters) (Source: Sports Media Watch). Nevertheless, it was a very good sign for televised live sports.

The NFL is the 800lb gorilla in the room and dominates TV audiences with its Sunday, Monday, and Thursday night offerings. 2020  was tough even for the NFL with its shortened season format.

Ave NFL TV Audience 2010-2020

Source: Statistica

The largest fall-off happened with Sunday night games;

Breakdown of the main broadcast networks over 2020*
ESPN’s Monday Night Football — down 3%
CBS Sunday — down 4%
Fox Sunday — down 6%
Fox Thursday Night Football — down 6%
NBC Sunday Night Football — down 16%

Yet, of the top 100 most watched shows of 2020, 69  of those were NFL broadcasts. That includes every  awards show, every sporting event, and even every  debate from the last presidential election. The NFL  drew an average audience of 14.9M viewers that is  still impressive against the 2020 backdrop (Source:  Pro Football Network).

In 2021 we are expecting a full NFL season; the  NFL announced in March that it had concluded its  broadcast rights sales for the next decade at an  estimated value of $100 Billion, the headline being  that Amazon’s Prime Video will be the exclusive  broadcaster of Thursday Night football for $1Billion a year. Once we look past the attention-  grabbing headline there is an interesting dynamic  at play: All games will be available through streaming services. Disney, which owns ABC and  ESPN, expanded its rights to allow for simulcast of  its games on ESPN+. Similarly, NBC will stream  across NBC’s Universal Peacock, Fox will stream  across Tubi and CBS will make use of Paramount+  connection.

Therein lies the opportunity for healthcare marketers to be able to target consumer and,  yes, HCP audiences, around the sports they love, while maintaining high levels of target specificity. Messages can be targeted to tightly defined audiences without the need to pay for mass market delivery and the waste of budget  that it implies.

Based on the early data it is looking like the NFL, MLB, golf, and NCAA televised events will all  be drawing large (potentially record) audiences. For the savvy marketer focusing on an audience-  first approach, it matters little which of the sports that you advertise in as it becomes more important to prioritize a schedule of opportunities  to connect with your audiences. So, no matter  what the sports season, the telecasts of the events  can be at the core of that audience connection.