Nov 5, 2022 - Politics & Policy

College football provides one last ad blitz before the midterms

Illustration of two football helmets, one blue with the Democratic donkey and one red with the Republican elephant, facing off.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Today’s college football games -- including the marquee No. 1 Tennessee v. No. 2 Georgia matchup on CBS -- are the last chance for Republican and Democratic candidates in critical states to reach undecided voters, still open to catching a late pass from either team.

Why it matters: Live sports is one of the best venues to find voters who have somehow tuned out the noise of the campaign throughout the fall.

  • That's especially true with college football, where time seems to stop at kickoff (especially in the South) and loyalty is for a lifetime.
  • “Tennessee v. Georgia is probably going to have 15 million people watching,” said Brad Todd, a founding partner at OnMessage Media. “You just can’t find those potential voters anywhere else.”
  • “College football is a much, much better place to find non-partisans than buying news,” he said.
  • “Every undecided Georgia voter will be watching that Super Bowl-sized audience for the ‘under-Dawgs’ versus the top ranked Tennessee Vols,” said Michael Meehan, the president and chief executive officer of Squared Communications. “Worth every penny for statewide candidates to make the final pitch!”

Zoom in: Both Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and his GOP challenger, Hershel Walker, have booked 30-second spots at $50,000 apiece on Atlanta’s CBS affiliate, according to a media buyers.

  • In the Savannah media market, Warnock is paying $15,000 and Walker is at $35,000.

Zoom out: Under FEC rules, party committees and Super PACs pay much higher rates than the campaign themselves.

  • The Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has booked $200,000 for one spot in Atlanta.
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is paying $75,000.

Between the lines: In Georgia's senate contests, which could go to overtime if neither candidate gets past 50% of the vote, Walker — a former Heisman trophy winner who led the Georgia Bulldogs to a 1980 national championship — is also running a ground game on game day.

  • He will hold a morning rally in Athens before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

It’s not just college football. The World Series and the NFL are also target-rich environments.

  • Both Republican and Democratic Senate super PACs reserved time during the World Series, at $100,000 a game, to convince Pennsylvania voters to vote for either Republican Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor or. Democrat John Fetterman, the sitting lieutenant governor,

The big picture: Airwaves -- from daytime soaps to evening news to late night cable, have been saturated with TV spots -- alternating between pounding and promoting candidates.

  • Every year, voters claim they are somewhere between exhausted and disgusted by the ads, but campaign strategists aren’t planning on doing away with them for one simple fact: They work.
  • “If you want to reach by far the biggest audience in one of many important battleground states with a close election this weekend, advertising on college football games is the way to go,” said Robert Gibbs, a former White House press secretary now a senior counsel at Bully Pulpit Interactive.
  • “This is true whether you’re on the east coast, the west coast or in the middle of the U.S.”

Go deeper: Campaigns will buy airtime on a national network, just to target voters in one or two states.

  • The Big Ten network is selling ads to candidates for the No. 4 Michigan v. Rutgers 7:30 PM matchup for $50,000.
  • No 17. North Carolina is taking on Virginia on the ACC network at noon, where a 30 second spot can be reserved for a relatively low $10,000.
  • And in the tight Oregon governor's race, campaigns can target diehard Ducks fans watching No. 8 Oregon v. Colorado at 12:30 PM for $100,000 on ESPN.
  • “Some people will buy a college game nationally to hit just one state,” said Todd.
Go deeper