Q4 Nonstarter: TV Sports Feels Recession

NEW YORK National Sunday afternoon NFL games are down slightly from the average price of $400,000 per 30-second spot, but the long term looks a bit more troubling. Fox has one or two units left in its Thanksgiving Day game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks, but CBS is said to be having a hard time unloading time in its Turkey Day matchup, which may be a function of the profound mismatch it has on its hands in the (at press time) 0-9 Detroit Lions and the 9-0 Tennessee Titans.

The economy is getting its licks in with the NFL’s most high-profile game as well. NBC said that it still has about eight Super Bowl spots on its hands, having most recently brought Cars.com back in for a second year. Much of the availability can be chalked up to pullback from previous Super Bowl advertisers, like General Motors, Garmin and Salesgenie.com.

If football is facing something of an uphill climb, the National Basketball Association has been fairly steady thus far in the 2008-09 season. TNT and ESPN both enjoy the security of two- to three-year deals with clients like.

T-Mobile and Nationwide, and neither is hugely dependent on auto as far as their pro hoops coverage is concerned. “Having long-term media partners is certainly a benefit,” said Turner Sports president David Levy. “Our existing deals with sponsors allow us to weather the storm.” As steward of the NBA’s digital properties, TNT also has more latitude to develop multiplatform executions for clients, upping the value proposition.

Undoubtedly, the sports franchise most at risk is Nascar, which was made jarringly evident on Nov. 9, when ABC pushed its coverage of the penultimate race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup over to ESPN2 with 34 laps remaining. In trying to maintain the integrity of its Sunday night lineup, ABC may have raised the hackles of the sport’s governing body. “It’s a kick in the pants to the sponsors,” Novenstern said. “When it comes time to do renewals, if you’re ABC, you’d better hope that [Nascar CEO] Brian France has a short memory.”

Looking ahead, while 2009 may be as lachrymose as one of Favre’s weepy farewell addresses, Erhardt remains upbeat. “Frankly, people still feel pretty damned good about spending on sports,” he said.