NFL ratings are booming in just about every time slot this season, and is no exception. It debuted on September 12 and drew 19.8 million total viewers, its highest viewership since 2009.
Now the Disney franchise is mixing things up in an effort to open up even more advertising opportunities. Two games will air at overlapping times tonight on ABC and ESPN, a twist on the back-to-back doubleheaders that aired for more than a decade in Week 1 on ESPN.
Game 1, on ESPN and ESPN2, will feature the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills. An hour and 15 minutes later, at 8:30 p.m. ET, the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles will begin on ABC and ESPN+. Numerous cuts and periodic side-by-side displays will keep viewers tuned in during the bonanza, which promises to be more than an hour longer in total than a typical 3-hour NFL timeslot. (The popular “Manningcast” on ESPN2 is taking a break this week.)
Deidra Maddock, vice president of Disney Advertising Sports Brand Solutions, told Deadline in an interview that the company has been “working towards this day since we signed the deal.” Disney, along with Paramount Global, NBCUniversal, Fox and Amazon, have signed a record $110 billion rights deal for NFL games over the next 11 years. Under the new contract, the number of annual Monday night games was increased from 17 to 23. (Some are branded “MNF” but air in different time slots.)
Maddock said Monday night games have sold out over 90% since the start. In 2021, Disney took in $318 million from in-game ads at night, according to Standard Media Index, an 18% jump from 2020.
As for tonight’s double dip, she said, “partners see it more as an activation than a one-time opportunity,” she said. The momentum attracted new advertisers. The target is a new FMN sponsor, whose spot will be broadcast at the end of half-time. All-State is the new funder of the halftime show.
As the games approach, Disney pointed to new data indicating growing levels of engagement in addition to the massive tune-up. The company has partnered with EDO, a data and analytics company that measures predictive convergent television outcomes, to measure consumer engagement with ads shown during Monday night football.
“It really emphasizes the power of live sports,” Danielle Brown, SVP, Disney Advertising Data Enablement & Category Strategy, said in an interview with Deadline.
EDO found that, overall, viewers were 68% more likely to search for brands and products advertised in week 1 of FMN on ESPN than viewers of commercials during prime-time broadcast and cable shows. According to Disney, the Denver Broncos-Seattle Seahawks opener also saw 7% more searches than other networks’ openers.
Brown said the ebb of Covid in society, with the easing of mask mandates and limitations on mass gatherings, has sparked even more interest in the NFL. “The return of a bit to normalcy has sparked interest,” she said. “Having a full crowd is really meaningful to viewers.”
The NFL venture comes after some public wrangling over ESPN’s fate as a Disney affiliate. Activist investor Daniel Loeb, who recently bought a small stake in Disney, has expressed a preference for an ESPN spin-off, which he says would allow him to capitalize on sports betting and other market developments. . “When the world thought maybe ESPN was up for grabs, we got a lot of inquiries,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek told Deadline in an interview during D23. These overtures speak volumes “about the power of sports and the advertising industry,” the executive added, but the company is redoubling its commitment to 100% ownership of ESPN. Loeb also withdrew his spin-off suggestion.