NFL Ratings Are Down This Season, but TV Ad Spending Still Jumped 2 Percent in September

Advertisers bought $513 million worth of in-game spots for the month

The first month of NFL football this season raked in $513 million in advertising. Getty Images
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Ratings for NFL games have been off slightly this year, but the bottom line for the networks with football rights continues to grow. Ad spend on NFL games in September increased 2 percent from the year prior, according to new data from Standard Media Index.

In September, TV advertising during NFL games jumped from $504 million a year ago to $513 million. These figures don’t include revenue from pregame or postgame shows.

According to SMI, which tracks 70 percent of national ad spending from global and independent agencies, ad load in NFL games has jumped 2 percent, accounting for around 15 more minutes of commercials overall than in September 2016. The percentage of makegoods increased from 13 percent of all spots in 2016 to 20 percent of all spots this year.

Overall, NFL ratings are down 5 percent this season, but advertisers are still betting big on football audiences. Across all networks, the average cost for an NFL ad jumped 7 percent, from $482,000 a year ago to $515,000 in September.

NBC, which had a larger ad load and higher rates than last year, saw a 12 percent uptick in ad spend, from $155 million in 2016 to $174 million.

Fox’s NFL game revenue jumped 8 percent, from $128.5 million to $139 million. The network aired one more national game in September than it did in September 2016.

Meanwhile, CBS had two fewer games on Sept. 17 than the same weekend a year earlier, and its ad spend dropped accordingly—it was down 23 percent, dropping from $148 million to $113 million—even though unit costs were up at the network.

ESPN saw a 4 percent revenue jump, from $61 million to $64 million. The network made up for a lower unit cost with an increased ad load.

The NFL Network, which aired one more game in September than it did a year ago, enjoyed a 96 percent revenue increase, going from $12 million in 2016 to $23 million.

Among all networks with NFL rights, NBC had the highest average cost per spot at $717,100. That was up from $705,000 in 2016. Fox averaged $553,600 per spot, an increase from $550,400 in 2016. CBS jumped from $438,900 in 2016 to $496,400 last month.

The other two networks saw decreases in their spot averages. ESPN dipped from $316,600 to $304,700 this year, while NFL Network saw a slight drop, from $191,100 in 2016 to $190,400.

While ad revenue is up from 2016, it falls short of September 2015, when FanDuel and DraftKings—which rose quickly in 2015 and fell even quicker—helped networks rake in $527 million.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.