Mar 13, 2020 - Sports

How the coronavirus-driven sports outage impacts TV and advertising

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Without live sports for the foreseeable future, it's unclear what networks like ESPN and FS1 will broadcast in those time slots or what they'll talk about on their studio shows and radio programs during the day.

Why it matters: With so many Americans nesting at home, linear TV viewership was expected to spike. But without sports, streaming platforms, video games and other mediums will likely be the big winners instead.

The big picture: A prolonged sports outage could lead to an acceleration in cord-cutting, while also wreaking havoc on the advertising industry.

"One of the only reasons to advertise on TV in 2020 is sports. If sports aren't being played, that's going to be a huge issue for the ad market that could literally lead to a tailspin."
— Rich Greenfield, media analyst at LightShed Partners

Between the lines: Given the fluidity of the situation, there are many advertising-related questions that have yet to be answered.

  • What happens to the ad revenue that has already been booked? Do the networks give that money back?
  • If the NBA and NHL playoffs air, it will help networks make up for missing regular-season games, but what if the playoffs don't happen? Then what?

For reference: Last season, regular season broadcasts accounted for 38% of the NBA's total TV ad revenue, while postseason games accounted for 62%. The NHL had similar numbers.

The state of play: ESPN was unable to comment on what their programming will look like without live sports, but here's what was shown on their airwaves yesterday:

  • ESPN: SportsCenter all day and night
  • ESPNEWS: Video simulcasts of radio shows and taped programming
  • ESPN2: Simulcast of ESPN and ESPNEWS

The bottom line, per Greenfield: "Think about the TV ecosystem as a huge Jenga game, which is already under extreme stress. The last piece holding up the whole thing is sports, and in the last 24 hours, you've pulled that piece out for an unknown amount of time."

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How sports media is handling the coronavirus outage

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In the Era of No Sports, media publications, TV networks and leagues are scrambling to find alternatives to fill the void — and in some cases, redeploying staff to work on non-sports coverage.

Driving the news: The Washington Post has redirected some of its sports staff to help with non-sports coverage and, starting this Saturday, the newspaper's daily Sports section will move inside the Style section, per an internal memo (Sunday Sports will continue to stand on its own).

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PGA strikes $680 million TV rights deal with NBC, CBS, ESPN

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The PGA Tour has struck a 9-year rights deal with CBS Sports, NBC Sports and ESPN for around $680 million, Variety reports.

Why it matters: The value of distributing professional golf in the U.S. is increasing as more TV networks clamor to hold live sports rights. In the streaming era, live sports are keeping traditional TV alive.

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Mark Cuban predicts social media explosion from bored athletes

Mark Cuban reacts to a call as the Mavericks play the Portland Trail Blazers in Dallas in January. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks owner and "Shark Tank" star Mark Cuban, who quickly announced that he'd pay workers "as if the games happened" during the NBA shutdown, spoke with Axios by email yesterday.

The big picture: The cancellation of sports due to the coronavirus — the NBA, March Madness, MLB spring training and more — is what has hit some Americans the hardest, serving as a reality check as to just how serious this situation is.

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