Eager as ad buyers were for major sports like the NBA and NFL to return to TV, many were anxious about how the volume of sports on TV going from famine to feast would affect viewership.

So far, the results have been a mixed bag.

Live sports on TV remains the best option for advertisers to reach a large number of people at the same time, but viewership has fallen short of advertisers’ expectations, according to agency executives.

Ratings for the NFL’s opening week Sunday slate of games fell 3% short of the 2019 mark. Ratings for the first three rounds of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs dropped 28% compared with the prior season. Meanwhile, the NBA has seen viewership for day games suffer but prime-time matchups pick up.

“They probably haven’t lived up, in terms of ratings, to what clients were hoping for, but I think there’s just so much going on in the landscape,” said Cara Lewis, evp and managing director of video investment at Dentsu Aegis Network’s Amplifi.

For example, NFL games are going head-to-head with NBA playoff games for the first time seemingly ever. The NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals are taking place a month before the regular season would usually start. The MLB has had to postpone games because of players testing positive for coronavirus. And college football conferences delayed or canceled then uncanceled the starts of their seasons…

…Compounding matters, the TV networks seem to have had similarly high expectations and didn’t lower the audience guarantees offered to advertisers. “For the most part, partners kept their [viewership] estimates as they were,” said Tim Hill, evp of integrated investment at UM Worldwide. As a result, many advertisers that had been guaranteed to reach the usual number of people will likely be owed so-called “make-goods,” in which the networks run an advertiser’s ads to make up for the delivery shortcoming.

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