TV & Streaming

Disney is almost sold out of Christmas NFL, NBA, and Rose Bowl ad inventory

“Monday Night Football” is the star of the show on Dec. 25, and the NBA’s lineup that day has been “reinvigorated,” an ad exec said.
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Disney Advertising

· 4 min read

For some families, the highlight of Christmas is gathering around a brightly lit tree and opening presents. For others, the best part is basking in the glow of their TV screens as they watch the annual Christmas Day NFL or NBA games—or both.

Advertisers, too, are fans of the Christmas Day matchups, according to Jacqueline Dobies, VP of revenue and yield management at Disney Advertising. Monday Night Football is the star on top of the tree that day, she said, with more advertisers and categories this year than last, and the five NBA games airing that day are also holding their own, “nearing sellout” as of the first week of December.

“Christmas Day has really always been a huge flagship sporting day for us in the sports world,” Dobies told Marketing Brew. “It’s really a special day for us that we take a lot of pride in.”

NFL sleighs: Once upon a time, Christmas Day was “owned by the NBA,” Dobies said, but the NFL has been establishing more dominance over that airtime with its own matchups.

This year’s games are likely to be of high interest for a couple of reasons. For one, Monday Night Football viewership is already up by about 29% compared with this time last year, according to Dobies. Plus, with top Super Bowl contenders the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers facing off in that slot, some fans are sure to be roused from their cookie comas to tune in.

As for the brands, 33 across 23 categories are advertising in the game, up from 30 brands spanning 21 categories last year. Of those brands, 14 are full sponsors, including insurance companies Allstate and Progressive and fast-food chains Burger King and Taco Bell. As of last week, the game was nearly sold out, Disney said.

White Orange Christmas: While the NFL seems to be the king of Christmas these days, Dobies said advertisers have only become more keen on the NBA games slated for that same day as the season has progressed, spurred on by the league’s new in-season tournament.

“We used to say that, from an advertising perspective, NBA Christmas Day was really like the unofficial start to the regular season, because it’s really where we started to see regular-season demand start to peak,” Dobies said. “We're seeing that interest reinvigorated, I think, a lot by the success of the in-season tournament. As that tournament has played out, we’ve certainly seen more demand and interest in the matchups that we have on Christmas Day.”

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The tournament’s championship game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers averaged 4.6 million viewers on ESPN2 and ABC, making it the most-watched game of the NBA regular season apart from Christmas games in more than five years, ESPN said, citing Nielsen data. Brands that have locked down sponsorships in this year’s nearly sold-out Christmas games include PepsiCo’s Starry, State Farm, and Google Pixel.

New Year’s resolutions: On the heels of Christmas comes New Year’s, and what better way to ring it in than with college football? ESPN has the rights to more than 40 of the postseason college football bowl games for the 2023–2024 season, including the Jan. 1 College Football Playoff semifinal between the University of Alabama and the University of Michigan at the Rose Bowl.

That lineup of games has 40 sponsors, per Disney. Some of those are multiyear deals, which can span from two to six years in length, get inked as far as six years in advance, Dobies said, but some sports advertisers prefer to wait until the last minute.

“You have larger partners that have very integrated deals that want to be a part of the college football postseason, or the playoffs specifically, regardless of who’s in it,” she told us. “And then we have a lot of advertisers that wait till those matchups are set, and that’s when we usually start to see a surge of those last-minute dollars come in.”

College Football Playoff games were about 90% sold out as of the first week in December, according to Dobies. Rose Bowl inventory was the most scarce at the time, she said. Research from measurement company EDO, which partners with Disney, recently found that the College Football Playoff National Championship and the NCAA New Year’s Six bowl games (including the Rose Bowl) were the top college football games of last season in terms of ad engagement.

Starting next year, ESPN has exclusive rights to SEC football and men’s basketball under the terms of a 10-year deal, and “we’re already getting a lot of questions and a lot of interest” in next year’s sports slate, Dobies said.

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