Home Analysis 31% of U.S. linear TV ad revenues depend on live sports

31% of U.S. linear TV ad revenues depend on live sports

According to research from Nielsen Sports, despite live sports only receiving 8% of total U.S. linear TV viewing time in 2021, 31% of U.S. linear TV ad revenues depended on live sports events. Davide Usubelli, Consulting Analyst at Nielsen Sports, reveals that, in the U.S. market, 13% of sports viewing time comes from fans aged 18-34 – almost double the figure for 55+ viewers (7%).

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According to research from Nielsen Sports, 31% of U.S. linear TV ad revenues depend on live sports programming. This is the case despite the proportion of total U.S. linear TV viewing time spent on watching live sports between Q2 2020 and Q2 2021 was only 8%. Nielsen Sports also reports that sports content drove a 22% month-over-month increase in U.S. broadcast TV viewing even though “sports programming represented only 2.7% of the available broadcast program content.”

During the “Fans are changing the game” webinar hosted by Nielsen Sports, Davide Usubelli, Consulting Analyst at the company, revealed that, in the U.S. market, 13% of sports viewing time comes from fans aged 18-34 – almost double the figure for 55+ viewers (7%).

Speaking at the webinar as well, Tatiana Scherbina, Strategy Manager at Nielsen Sports UK, noted that “while the overall number of people [globally] claiming that they are interested or very interested in watching sports is not declining, the composition of those people is what is changing.”

She notes that 2019 saw an almost equal demographic split between sports fans who were within the millennial or generation z age groups (55%), compared to fans who were in the age groups of generation x or baby boomers (45%). In 2021 however, younger fans constituted 61% of the total number of sports fans. These findings were based on surveys conducted across global markets, including: Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Spain, UK, and the U.S.

Scherbina said: “This is important as generation z is known to be first generation that grew up with gadgets, while millennials were introduced to gadgets as early teenagers. They are the most digitalised generations ever, and with these ages group now representing six out of ten people expressing interest in sports, the challenge for rights holders is to translate that potential interest into real consumption. Rights holders and brands need to evolve their content proposition to unlock the most effective ways of engaging with this group.”

Usubelli argued that engaging younger audiences through original programming, and across different sectors – such as e-sports – is important to continue growing fan-bases. He cited Nielsen’s prediction that engaging generation Z could grow the global generation z sports fan base by up to 2% in the next 18 months – from 25.2% to 27%.

Reflecting on changing viewer behaviour and preferences around sports, Scherbina argued that ancillary content is increasingly gaining demand when compared to live events. A recent study by Nielsen shows that the demand for non-live sports content related to a live sports event (content such as announcements, highlights, recap videos etc.) is now “almost at the same level of demand  as for the live event itself”, with 39.39% of global fans saying they would watch this type of ancillary content (only 1.21 percentage points below the proportion of fans saying they would watch the live event itself.) For fans aged 16-29, the percentage willing to watch this type of ancillary content is even higher – 43.59%.

Fans are also willing to watching non-live content that is not related to a live sports event (such as documentaries, behind the scenes, virtual events etc.) 34.24% of total global fans said they would be willing to watch this type of ancillary content, as well as 39.77% of global fans aged 16-29.

Scherbina believes that the significance of this is that it is “important for content creators to guarantee fan engagement through the development of a rich content plan, to be distinctive compared to other entertainment sources, and to bundle together different fan interests.”

Usubelli outlined the explosive impact of TikTok on social media engagement for sports. Nielsen research shows that, across the top ten most followed European football clubs, the engagement rate with their content on TikTok averages to 3.26%. This is 10X higher than the engagement rate they experienced on Instagram (0.83%), Twitter (0.1%), and Facebook (0.05%).

Nielsen reports that: “When the UEFA Euro 2020 was postponed to summer 2021, TikTok joined as a sponsor just four months before the championship began. With an array of activations developed with UEFA during the tournament, views of #football on TikTok have nearly doubled from 70 billion to 130 billion since the sponsorship was first announced.”

Usubelli remarked that interest in women’s sports is increasing, however “coverage is not keeping pace with the fandom”. According to research from Nielsen Sports, the percentage of U.S. viewers who said they were interested in the women’s NBA (WNBA) is 17%, while 32% said they were interested in the (male) NBA – approximately 2X more. Despite this, the NBA receives 4X the average number of seconds of coverage on SportCentre per game.


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