In our previous discussion, we described the likely reality that sports viewership will not return to pre-pandemic levels. Given this reality, marketers must begin to consider how to best approach their advertising efforts moving forward. With no definitive sense for the scale of the decrease in traditional sports TV viewership, it is difficult at this point to make any detailed plans. However, as we discussed previously, there are some considerations to take into account.
Data coming in related to TV viewership during the pandemic indicates some major shifts. From early March 2020 to early May 2020, average households’ weekly TV viewership hours rose from 57 to 66 hours, according to Comcast. Further, viewing times changed significantly over this period; Comcast reported a 40% increase in viewing between 11 PM and 2 AM and, interestingly, a 6% decrease between 6 and 8 AM. This implies that people are staying up later, and then sleeping in more during the pandemic. There have also been changes in viewing days; Mondays actually saw more viewership than Saturdays. While these numbers have reverted to a degree since the end of the stay-at-home orders, this data suggests an overall shifting landscape.
Another issue for sports viewership moving forward is the increased amount of streaming. In fact, 78% of U.S. consumers used a streaming service in 2020, an increase of 25% over four years (Statista). As a result of this increase, companies must reconsider their focus on traditional media. Interestingly, while overall sports viewership has been down 7% from pre-pandemic levels, traditional TV sports viewership is down 30%. As of April 2020, according to Business Insider, 11% of the U.S. population considered themselves digital live sports consumers. By 2023, this number is projected to increase to 14.2%. In the meantime, sports TV viewership is expected to decrease by 2.6%, or about 8.5 million.
While streaming is becoming the way of the future, there are still some issues to be worked out. As the Wall Street Journal describes, one of the most frequent issues with advertising on streaming services is that viewers often receive the same ad multiple times, limiting the medium’s marketing potential. Another issue is that, with a number of options, it can be difficult for advertisers to track consumer data. If advertisers can market and track across multiple platforms, this would present a significant marketing opportunity, perhaps allowing companies to target consumers with even greater precision. While companies in the streaming industry are working on finding solutions to these problems, it presents a conundrum for businesses looking to advertise during sports programming while fewer people are watching on TV.
While the sports viewership landscape has been changing for a while, these changes have been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. Since last March, when the sports world came to a halt, TV viewing habits have changed significantly, with many people watching on different days and at different times. Further, while data shows a relationship between sports viewership and usage of traditional television, this link seems to be weakening. Streaming has increased significantly in recent years and is projected to continue doing so going forward. Changes in sports viewership are likely here to stay; in order to continue to successfully market to consumers, advertisers must adapt to the changing landscape.