Do Football Fans Fade as the Season Ends?

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Do Football Fans Fade as the Season Ends?

It’s been a tough year to be a Philadelphia Eagles’ fan.  A 3-0 start with a rookie quarterback fizzled as the team went 2-8 in its next 10 games.  So it was no surprise when Philly’s leading SportsTalk station WIP dipped from 5.0 to 4.9 to 4.3 in the Sep-Oct-Nov ratings.

I wondered if other SportsTalk stations had suffered similar fates as their teams were eliminated from playoff contention.  Sure enough, San Francisco’s KNBR plummeted from 5.7 to 5.0 to 3.5 as the 49ers tanked the season at 1-13.  But, KRLD/Dallas trended downward 3.7 to 3.2 to 2.9 even as the Cowboys compiled a league-leading 12-2 record with two explosive Rookie of the Year candidates.

In fact, ALL the major SportsTalk stations in the Top 10 markets trended downwards as the season wore on, with the exception of KSPN in Los Angeles, where the return of the NFL Rams (4-10) fueled a minor victory (0.8 to 1.2 to 1.3) in a market that barely supports SportsRadio.

So what happened?  Did Nielsen undersample male listeners this fall?  Or did the thrill of pro football wane as the season progressed?  Given the across-the-board slippage, it’s likely the latter, as the excitement of Week One matchups settled in to reality by Week 15.  Many teams were simply out of the hunt.  And those teams still competing no longer required the must-listen-to-sportstalk-every-day commitment many sports fans feel early in the season.

That’s an important benchmark for advertisers and program sponsors who signed on for 17-week commitment based on one set of numbers that may became a different set of numbers.

So what can you do to protect your SportsRadio investment?

  • Next season, negotiate a performance guarantee. If the numbers slip, negotiate make good delivery during Q1 (when the stations have the inventory).
  • Pay as you go and price the inventory against actual audience size. That’s risky in markets where teams do well, but brilliant in markets where the teams are not perrennial contenders.
  • Leverage added-value (free air time) in other dayparts to compensate for any shortfall. That may be tricky when holiday season collides with football season, but you’ll get nothing if you don’t ask.

There’s a certain prestige to advertising in and around pro football.  But when the audience disappears, some of your marketing dollars should magically appear elsewhere.