A large part of professional and collegiate sports is marketing and finances. With giant contracts with a major broadcasting stations on the line, the need for a competitive advantage in viewership is vital. In response to this need for viewers, the front offices for all of the country’s biggest sports organizations such as the NBA and NFL have seriously looked into finding the best times to create an artificial spotlight for their various products, the games in this case. The NFL has tried things in recent years such as isolated games on Thursday and Saturday (rather than the traditional Sunday slate), and the NCAA has put some college football games on Friday and Thursday night (rather than on the traditional Saturday slate); however, nothing in the last five or ten years has been more evident than the push to put more games on holidays.
With the holiday season just around the corner, it is fitting to look at the overall trend of having games on Christmas, New Years, and other important days. Let’s start with the NFL. The first major move that they made was in 2006, with the decision to add a night game to the set of Thanksgiving Day games. The Cowboys and the Lions have both hosted Thanksgiving Day games since 1960, but a third game was added at night in 2006. Thanksgiving is seen as a perfect money-making prospect for the NFL, with countless American families sitting around with family all day, so the NFL front office decided that they would make a load more money if they just slotted in a third game that day. And that is exactly what happened, the NFL made money and have kept that third game there ever since. The last two years, the NFL has made advancements on Christmas games as well. Rather than have all of their games on Sunday, and one on Monday, they moved all of the games to Saturday December 24th, except for two highly anticipated rival games on Christmas day. The NFL were able to increase viewership for the games by isolating two games on Christmas, another day where families are all together sitting around, and by advertising those games non stop. All throughout the Saturday slate of games the NFL got CBS and FOX to run continuous ads for the two Christmas day games. With the combination of the advertising, holiday viewership, and quality of the matchups, the games on Christmas were a huge success, much better than if the NFL was to put all of the games at the same time. They are doing the same thing this year, by adding a second game on Christmas monday, and taking a game away from the large slate of games on Sunday the 24th, anticipating the same success as last year.
It’s not just the NFL that are utilization the holidays to increase viewership for their games, the NBA are doing the same, and they have been doing so for longer. They started having games on December 25th in 1947, and have had them ever since. The Christmas day slate of games are the NBA’s most viewed regular season games. There is no mystery as to why these games are so popular. They use the same two techniques that the NFL use to get ratings on holidays: Have the best teams play, and advertise the games non-stop. Employing those techniques allow the NBA to turn an already profitable day into their most profitable day of the regular season. Last year, the prime game was the Warriors vs. Cavaliers, a rematch of the previous two NBA finals and a matchup of some of the most recognizable names in professional basketball, players such as Lebron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving. The NBA is doing the same this year, having the Cavaliers play the Warriors again, coincidentally a rematch of last year’s NBA finals as well. It is not just the marquee games that get viewers, the Christmas day game commercials have started airing on ESPN networks starting as early as the first week of December, and if you have tuned into an ESPN program since then, there is a good chance that you have seen the commercial with the Santa and the Philadelphia 76ers player. The NBA knows how to maximize viewership, and they will look to do the same by employing the same marketing strategies this year.
Holiday broadcasting is not something that is strictly found in professional sports either, the NCAA has been showing their coveted College Football Bowl Games during the holiday season for years. However, with the institution of the College Football Playoff, the NCAA has struggled to find the best time to broadcast their three most prized games. Last year, their idea to show the games on New Years Eve wasn’t the complete success that they had intended, so they switched it up to the semi-final games on New Year’s Day instead, hoping to see an increase in viewership. It was unclear as to what the cause of the declining viewership was, whether it was people being preoccupied at New Year’s festivities or other factors, but a change in day was necessary. Keep in mind, however, that these are postseason and not regular season games, so the NCAA has no control over which teams play in these games. Luckily, the Playoff this year consists of great football teams and storied programs, which should help the interest level in the games. It will be interesting to see how the change in day affects the viewership for the biggest College Football event of the year.
Graphic: Maraea Garcia