In case you weren’t aware … football is finally back! And as this unique 2020 season gets under way, it is not just the teams having to make adjustments. Advertisers and sponsors are busy preparing contingencies and backup plans in case the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts or even outright cancels the season.

The stakes, of course, are huge for the NFL. Advertisers spent close to $5 billion on the NFL last season, according to ad-tracking firm Kantar, with close to $3 billion of that on TV alone. As one of the last remaining ongoing live events — that also draws huge guaranteed audiences across the country — in a year when most college sports and the Tokyo Olympics were put on hold, there is a lot riding on this season for everyone. In fact, the postponement of college football is predicted to have a $1 billion disruption in ad spending. That is not too mention that TV networks also have to deal with a shutdown of scripted programming. In short, the resumption of the NFL is THE contingency plan for many advertisers.

So what does this all mean?

For advertisers and official NFL sponsors (who sign multiyear contracts, some that were worth $1.47 billion last season), the first hurdle is redirecting budgets traditionally spent on in-stadium branding and advertising since most teams will be playing games without an audience in the stands. For many advertisers, the obvious solution is moving those funds into TV advertising. But is it the right solution?

Networks airing NFL games are likely to raise prices for remaining ad slots now that the NFL is effectively their golden goose. But those networks may find it difficult to convince advertisers to shift all their money to their platforms, particularly with the very real threat of the season being disrupted. Major League Baseball has already seen at least 40 games postponed due to positive COVID-19 cases — it is unlikely that the NFL won’t see similar interruptions. Therefore, advertisers should be wary of committing themselves to TV networks.

The other contingency is pivoting budgets into the digital space. This opens advertisers up to an infinitely broader environment and arguably presents less risk than committing to the TV space. Ultimately, even if the games stop, the conversation around the sport and the supplementary experiences will not. We saw this ourselves here at The Baltimore Sun earlier this year when our livestream of the NFL Draft had unprecedented engagement numbers and a great return on investment for the sponsors that we worked with. Online video will be a vital option, particularly given the growth of associated platforms due to so many people stuck at home.

Beyond video, digital space allows for a great latitude with your spending and a minimum wastage. Be it fixed-display options or ROS branding, The Baltimore Sun offers a vast range of sponsorship packages, all of which can guarantee huge impressions. We are blessed with one of the most invested fanbases in the NFL. Ravens fans flock to our coverage each season — to the tune of 1.9 million page views per month — to read the predictions and analysis by Mike Preston, Childs Walker, Jonas Shaffer and others.

It is also important to get creative to reach fans in digital spaces and via social media. We have seen a host of virtual events popping up around football in recent months such co-branded virtual autograph signing events for players. Fantasy football leagues will also undoubtedly retain fan engagement. Podcasts have seen a great leap in numbers over the last six months, and football-themed podcasts will form an important cornerstone of fan engagement this season.

Our advice is do not despair. Whatever happens with the coming season (and it goes without saying that we all hope it proceeds with minimal disruption) it is important to know that there will be exciting opportunities to reach and engage with fans regardless of what happens on the field. There are 187 million Americans who call themselves NFL fans, including close to 60% of the population here in the Baltimore DMA. It’s safe to say they won’t be going anywhere, and the current conditions will allow for new avenues to connection. Home delivery services, grocery and cleaning services are just some of the verticals that will undoubtedly see boosted potential from people experiencing NFL from their homes.

As the year winds on and we get closer to gifting season, the NFL once again can position itself as a unique advertising platform in a period when so many other cultural events are on hold, and advertisers may reap the benefits of that. The digital space will be an ideal venue.

Baltimore Sun Media has the reach and the bandwidth to hit all your targets this football season. With numerous plug-and-play sponsorship opportunities and a la carte options, we have you covered. Get in touch now to find out more.