As the NFL Turns 100: Radio is Now on the Clock


Heading towards their 100th season, the NFL faced massive headwinds: concussions and brain injuries, half empty stadiums, kneeling for the National Anthem, and steadily declining ratings.

In fact, “Super Bowl ratings and viewership have now declined in four straight years, the longest streak of declines in Super Bowl history.”

Despite this combination of existential risks, the NFL remains a money making machine with revenue expected to grow from $15 billion currently to $25 billion in 2027.

Meanwhile, national brands like Lowe’s are not just walking towards the NFL, they are running to be associated with the shield.

“Let’s face it: The NFL is dominant,” Lowe’s Chief Marketing Officer Jocelyn Wong said. Lowe’s came to the NFL after ending a 17 year relationship with NASCAR.

Similarly, when Papa John’s cut ties with the NFL, blaming the player boycott for slumping sales, the league had a more valuable agreement with Pizza Hut finalized in 24 hours.

The NFL is 100 years old and facing smaller numbers of teenagers playing the sport as well as increased competition for their target audience’s time and attention.

100 years old, $15 billion in annual revenue, concern over the next generation and increasing audience fragmentation. All of these elements could be used to describe radio.

So what’s the difference?

“We have obsessed a lot over the last three or four years on game presentation, which I think matters,” said Barry Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer. He continued, “We always pay attention to them (the ratings), but it’s not as much week-to-week or year-to-year. It’s about how is it trending generally.”

This unrelenting focus on the user experience has resulted in reduced TV breaks. In addition, the NFL is riding the wave of two massive macro level forces: the popularity of fantasy football and the legalization of sports gambling.

Both factors give diehard fans reasons to watch more football, thereby driving occasions and time spent.

Radio: First in Audio

The original commercial broadcast on KDKA in Pittsburgh in November of 1920 provided election results. A century later, our democracy in action will once again be the biggest story of 2020.

According to Pew Research more Americans get their news from radio than printed newspapers or social media. Among those who get their news from social media, “57% say they expect the news they see on these platforms to be largely inaccurate.”

In addition, it’s increasingly difficult to figure out “real news” from manufactured/fake outrage. A reliable source of news and context is essential, especially for our employed listeners who are too busy to sift through all the daily drama.

Politicians governing and conducting diplomacy via Twitter is not going to end with the Trump Administration. It might be bad for world affairs and our republic, but it’s great for driving ongoing tune-ins.

In addition, the ability for music stations to serve as an oasis and provide an escape from the political craziness is an enormous macro level force that will continue to generate listening.

Also, just like in the NFL where Father Time remains undefeated, musicians won’t live forever. With so many icons in their 70’s, their passing will provide ongoing opportunities for radio to connect and engage with the audience.

Whether it’s Dolly Parton, Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney, even the Boss turned 70 last week, time doesn’t stand still. Factor in all those artists who will pass far too early and our employed A25-54 core audience will be looking to radio to celebrate these legendary lives.

Radio’s first 100 years have been filled with ongoing innovations in the face of new technologies and changing business conditions.

The reach of radio and the ability of stations to connect with the employed listeners who have money to spend with advertisers is a tremendous competitive advantage.

Not all listeners are created equal. By continuing to recruit and engage the heavy listeners who matter most to your ratings and revenue, radio is investing in a high margin business model, while using our strong local AM/FM brands to simultaneously grow incremental digital, podcast and event revenue.

Here’s to the next 100 years!

On behalf of Catherine Jung, Doug Smith, Jen Clayborn, and everyone at DMR/Interactive, thank you for reading and working to drive radio forward.

Andrew Curran, President and COO

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