How will political ads reach sports fans streaming their games?


This week, the Vegas Golden Knights won the NHL’s first Stanley Cup and the Denver Nuggets won the NBA Finals for the first time. Viewers can choose to watch the game live on TV or online.

Streaming deals for major league sports have become increasingly lucrative as media companies try to win back viewers lost to cord-cutting. But while streaming has created more choice for sports fans, it has also created some headaches for political campaigns.

“We’ve known for a long time that sports and politics are similar,” said Ben Angle, who handles ad buying for Republican clients in the national media research, planning and placement division. “There’s competition and people tend to pick a side, cheer for that side, follow that side, watch that side.”

Angle says the natural connection makes live sports a good place to place political ads.

“People tend to consume it on the spot,” he said. “So people are watching it happen. And they’re attentive and engaged, which is what you want from an audience.”

Campaign ad buyers like him even have data on which campaigns appeal most to which voters.

“In terms of partisan trends, we see that college sports have traditionally performed very well for high-turnout Republican voters,” Angle said. “The NFL has done a great job with both sides, [and the] The NBA tends to lean toward the Democrats. ”

A graph showing which campaigns are popular with which voters. The x-axis is "Democratic tendencies" arrive "republican leaning" The y axis is "low turnout" arrive "high turnout"The top-turned Democratic sport is the WNBA, while the top-turned Republican sport is rodeo.
The distribution of sports popularity across party lines. National Media Research, Planning & Placement analysis using data from Scarborough Research (June 2020-October 2022). N=394,225. (courtesy Ben Kok)

But with many viewers switching to streaming sports instead of watching it on cable or broadcast, it could make it harder for campaigns to reach them with ads.

All of those ads now have to run on multiple platforms, often through multiple companies on each platform, said Jesse Contario, a regional vice president at MiQ Political, which helps advertise ads on streaming services, websites and out-of-home displays. Run political ads.

“Today, the average US household uses seven paid streaming apps to stream content, and 29 percent of US households actually subscribe to 10 or more streaming apps,” Contario said.

All of these subscriptions could help campaigns gather more data than in the past to help target those messages, and more places to reach voters.

“So it just expands the surface area you can advertise on, especially live sports,” said Adam Meldrum, president of AdVictory, a Republican-affiliated media-buying firm. “You have all these traditional cable and broadcast channels that cover a ton of sporting events, but you also have all the streaming inventory that’s available now.”

But campaigns are still figuring out how to best use that inventory, Contario said, and which streams are actually available.

“Whether political campaigns will be able to run on all the apps that lock some of these live sports events remains to be seen,” he said.

Many streaming services have ad-free tiers. Amazon Prime and Apple TV+ don’t accept political ads, and it’s unclear exactly what some other services will allow, media buyers said.

But the bottom line for the 2024 campaign is that more streaming options are likely to translate into more jobs and bigger ad spend.

“You’re going to have to move to streaming, whether you want to or not. To be able to reach voters, you’ve got to do that,” said Tim Lin, president of Lin Consulting Services and a Democratic adviser. Advertising on so many platforms could add another 20 to 25 percent to a campaign’s TV budget, he said.

Over the next few election cycles, Lim expects ads on streaming services to start looking a lot like those on local and cable news today. Next year’s NHL and NBA Finals will likely end with a fair share of political advertising.

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