Media Buying and Inbound Marketing Blog

Is Cable Losing Sports Programming to Broadcast TV?

By Jane Peters on January 18, 2016 |


Have you noticed more sports programming moving from cable networks to football-931378-edited.jpgbroadcast TV? According to a report by Sports Business Daily it is a trend that you are going to see a lot more and it can't be one that cable networks like.

“The reason comes down to simple math,” the story reports. “While the number of homes that subscribe to pay TV gets smaller, the reach of broadcast networks essentially remains the same. That has caused leagues and media companies to embrace broadcast time slots like they used to a decade ago.”

The NFL is the major league leading the trend. It is said to be focusing on broadcast in its current negotiations for “Thursday Night Football”.  ESPN and Turner Sports may not have much of a chance  according to several sources. 

Other leagues are warming back up to broadcast TV, too. ESPN and the NBA made a joint decision to have ABC start carrying a Saturday night schedule of eight NBA games on Jan. 23, as a complement to the Saturday night college football games it carries in the fall.

Last summer, ESPN moved its midsummer ESPY awards to ABC for the first time and saw such a dramatic viewership jump (250 percent) that the ESPY franchise should remain on ABC for the foreseeable future.

It’s not only ESPN and ABC. A few years after leaving broadcast TV for cable, the British Open Championship made a move that it believes will result in bigger TV ratings by returning to broadcast television this summer on NBC. NASCAR came back to NBC last summer, persuaded by the promise of more broadcast coverage. And the Comcast-owned network introduced professional boxing to broadcast audiences last year for the first time in years, albeit as part of a time-buy arrangement.

Similarly, Fox’s schedule is littered with sports programming, from Big East basketball games to international soccer games and UFC fights to prime-time MLB games. CBS produces almost all of its major sports programming exclusively for its broadcast network.

We've seen significant ratings losses in cable and traditional TV networks across the board. National football-931378-editedcable network ratings tumbled 9 percent in 2014, triple the decline seen in 2013 and more than quadruple the 2 percent decline seen in 2012.  Bad news for cable is that the trend continued in 2015.

Luckily the bright spot on the landscape is sports. Sports is the only segment that guarantees big ratings with it's very large reach and live-audience delivery.

According to Kantar Media, sports in 2014-15 generated $8.47 billion in sales for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, accounting for more than one-third (37%) of the Big Four's overall ad revenue for the period. 

CBS gets the biggest share of sports spending, followed by Fox then NBC in third place.

ABC is the only network that does not air NFL games but their revenue combined with ESPN, who handles sports sales for its broadcast sibling, wins the category of most ad dollars. (Sports programming now accounts for 62% of Fox's overall sales volume.)

NFL games accounted for 45 of last season's 50 most-watched broadcasts, and 24 of those contests were held outside of the prime-time window.

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