How does Sports Lend Itself to Advertising on Television?

Jose Mendes

Western Connecticut State University


This study examines the way sports are used by advertisers to sell their products on television. This study further examines the effects of television on sports due to advertising, and the different ways networks promote advertisements without having full control over what is being broadcasted. The history of televised sports was also looked at to demonstrate how the medium has progressed. Television networks use programming to sell advertising space. This study found that most sports examined have given in to some rule changes to become television friendly.


How does sports lend itself to advertising on television? Television has transformed sports into a lucrative business, where the money made around the games is seen as more important than winning the contests. Are sports traditions compromised so they can be better received by television viewers?

History of Sports Television

Television in America was born at the opening ceremonies of the 1939 World's Fair when it was broadcasted on David Sarnoff's NBC network. Sarnoff declared " we have added sight to sound" and that it was bound to affect all of society. (Schwartz, 2002). Since the advent of radio Americans took to this medium for news and entertainment. A voice painted a picture of wars, comedy routines and of Babe Ruth smacking a homerun out of Yankee Stadium (Rader, 1984).

Although 1939 signaled the beginning of the television age, it was still at the early stages and open to experimentation. On May 17 1939, legendary radio broadcaster Bill Stern's voice came across the airwaves; along with it were live pictures of Baker Field at Columbia University. Several hundred at the RCA pavilion, including Orrin E. Dunlap Jr. of The New York Times, viewed the game (Rader, 1984). That following Sunday, Dunlap had this to say about televised baseball:

The televiewer lacks freedom; seeing baseball on television is too confining, for the novelty would not hold up for more than an hour, if it were not for the commentator.

To see the fresh green of the field as The Mighty Casey advances to the bat, and the dust fly as he defiantly digs in, is a thrill to the eye that cannot be electrified and flashed through space on a May Day, no matter how clear the air.

What would Christy Mathewson, Smokey Joe Wood, Home Run Baker, Eddie Collins, Frank Chance, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Rube Marquard and those old timers think of such a turn of affairs- baseball from a sofa! (as cited in Rader, 1984,17)

Experimental network W2XBS continued to televise sporting events through 1939 and 1940. Some of which were the first professional sporting event televised in America between the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Dodgers, and the first professional football game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Eagles. Few fans watched these games because television sets were not selling due to lack of quality programming and little money from advertisers. Soon all television experimentations were ceased due to the war effort (Rader, 1984).

Two years before W2XBS began experimenting with televised sports, The BBC in London broadcasted all matches from Centre Court at Wimbledon. More than sixty years later the two-week tennis tournament put on by the All England Lawn and Tennis Club is still broadcast by the BBC and seen by a worldwide audience. The BBC continued broadcasting sporting events up until 1939, including soccer matches from Wembly Stadium and boat races. These were met with much success in England but were brought to a halt due to the Second World War (Barnett, 1990).

At the conclusion of the war television in the United States and England resumed. In America the golden age of television was on its way and it also brought upon the first era of television sports. The first era found sports easily controlled for large audiences to gain popularity. These sports included wrestling, roller derby, and boxing. Wrestling went from a mighty battle of grappling artists to a theatrical fight between good and bad. Roller Derby added fake violence to a sport were the goal is to skate oval, and boxing substituted slugfests for finesse fights (Rader, 1984).

In the 1960s color television, slow motion, and replays brought more control to outdoor team sports, such as baseball and football. Television audiences for these sports began to grow, hurting attendance. Colleges took action by reducing the number of games being telecast. Professional sports, such as the NFL, embraced television and used it to propel them into a form of entertainment.

The second era began with the increased popularity of football, and baseball on television and was officially set policy changes by the networks (Rader, 1984).

Prior to the 1960s, sports had small portions of network budgets and programming time. That changed when "doormat network", ABC, made sports the centerpiece of their programming. The boldest move was the launch of Monday Night Football. For the first time professional sports were up against programs like the movie of the week. This move propelled ABC to the top in ratings. By the mid 1970s, NBC and CBS would follow suit (Rader, 1984).

A war between the three major networks had begun. By the 1980s the hours of televised sports had doubled in comparison to ten years before. The rights to telecast professional and college sports along with the Olympics were driven to incredible amounts of money. Sports were packaged to be more appealing to television, in effect compromising the nature of the games (Rader, 1984).

The Commercialism of Sports

The second era has changed the landscape of both television and sports. The leagues and teams are bringing in millions of dollars from television contracts. The television networks pay for these contracts with the money they receive from advertisers paying for airtime on their telecasts of these sporting events. The effects that this money has caused since the beginning of the second era to know are insurmountable (Chandler, 1988).

The profitability of sports on television has caused leagues to expand to cities with large media outlets as well as to expand the length of their seasons. From this athletes have been put on a pedestal. They command large salaries and put a much larger strain on their bodies to perform than the players in the past (Klatell & Marcus 1988).

Television executives will point out that without the money from television, many events would not exist. To accommodate for television, sports have had to adjust schedules, the pace of games, and the locations. Professional baseball went from a sport played mostly in the afternoon to a game that is mostly seen now in the evening under artificial lights. Basketball, hockey, and football have added television timeouts to break for commercials. (Klattell& Marcus, 1988).

Television's influence has brought upon on-site banners, logo, and sponsor tie-ins. Arenas and stadiums are covered with billboards. The networks sell ad space for such things as the halftime report, or the official beer of the event (Klatell& Marcus, 1988). For example, NBC's coverage of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games used tie-ins along with commercial breaks. One of these tie-ins was the "Chevy Moments". These were personal profiles produced by NBC and sponsored by Chevy to attract viewers to some of the lesser-known athletes that are only heard of every four years (Goetz & Thomaselli, 2002). Another example is Tuner Sports' "AT&T Half Time Report," used for their NBA programming (Cassidy, 2001).

Regular sporting events usually bring in low ratings. In Television and National Sport, Chandler (1988) evaluated television ratings for the week of September 28, 1980. The highest rated sporting event was "Monday Night Football," and it was twenty-forth overall, behind hit shows of the time like Little House on The Prairie, and The Jefferson's. His research goes on to show that regularly scheduled sporting events fell short in the ratings.

The big ratings for sports come from the big events, such as the Super Bowl, World Series, and the Olympics (Chandler, 1988). Five of the top ten all time top rated programs in America are sporting events. Four of those are super bowls including "Super Bowl XVI," played in 1982 between The San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals, the highest rated sporting event. It pulled in a 49.1 rating, seen by nearly half of the television sets in America and it is fourth overall (Brown & Morrison, 2000)

The one high rated sporting event that is not a Super Bowl is, the women's figure skating final from the 1994 Winter Olympics. It is the third most watched sporting event and sixth overall with a 48.5 rating. It was so widely watched due to the circumstances involving two of the competitors, Tonya Harding, and Nancy Kerrigan (Brown & Morrison, 2000).

Normally, one of the largest television events of the year is the Super Bowl. Averaging nearly eighty millions viewers, the Super Bowl commands over two million dollars per thirty seconds of commercial time. Watching the commercials has become a separate part of the festivities. The Super Bowl held February 3, 2002 was not so super when it came to advertising. A mix of dealing with a sagging economy and competition from the Olympics being held the same month, took away from the normally biggest ad day of the year (Lowry, Khermouch & Grover, 2002).

For the first time the rate for commercial spots dropped. Although there was a drop, the Fox Network still managed profit over one hundred million dollars. Seventeen days of exposure on the worlds biggest stage was too enticing for such companies as Nike, and Volkswagen (Lowry, Khermouch & Grover, 2002).

Along with the seventeen days, another key reason for choosing the Olympics over the super bowl is women viewers. Advertisers choose to target women, with the logic that they do most of the shopping in American homes. Executive Vice President of NBC Olympics, David Neal said in Advertising Age (Goetz & Thomaselli, 2002) "figure skating is the crown jewel of any Winter Olympics. It appeals to all demographics, but particularly to women."



The populations examined were nationally televised live sporting events. Eight samples were chosen, and they were basketball, football, baseball, auto racing, soccer, hockey, tennis, and boxing. The actual events were chosen randomly and have no other significance than being an example of a televised interpretation of these sporting events.

The events chosen are:

NBA, Orlando Magic vs. Philadelphia 76ers. Aired on NBC, March 17, 2002

NASCAR, Daytona 500. Aired on NBC, February 17, 2002

Soccer, USA vs. Italy. Aired on ESPN, February 13,2002

NHL, New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils. Aired on ABC. March 16, 2002

Tennis, Pacific Life Open. Aired on ESPN2, March 13, 2002

Boxing, Friday Night Fights. Aired on ESPN2, March

Baseball, Game Six 2000 American League Championship Series, Seattle Mariners vs. New York Yankees. Aired on NBC, October, 2000

NFL, 2001 NFC Championship Game Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants. Aired on Fox, January, 2001


Each of these games were watched and evaluated on how they lend themselves to advertising. Several questions were asked and elaborated on. Those Questions were

1. Is the play of the game stopped for advertising?

If yes, how does it affect the game?

2. If the play is not stopped, do the broadcaster cut away to commercial while the game is still in action?

If so, is it a random act or are there strategic times when they do cut away for commercial?

3. What other forms of advertising do they use during the broadcast while the game is in play and what techniques do they use?


NBA, Orlando Magic vs. Philadelphia 76ers

1. The people controlling the game stopped play. The network used these stoppages to break away to commercial.

2. Play was only stopped for timeouts, or at the end of the quarter and halftime. Commercials were taken at these times. Timeouts were taken for either two minutes or thirty seconds. The break between quarters were three minutes, halftime was twenty minutes. Halftime was split evenly, ten minutes of advertising and ten of in studio programming.

3. There were on-screen graphics promoting sponsors and upcoming NBC and NBA programs pitched by the announcers. There were advertisements around the arena for brands such as Pepcid and Motrin. In the halftime show the network opened with an electronic billboard in the arena saying " halftime brought to you by Ebay". The announcers never mention this.

NASCAR, Daytona 500

1. The race never stopped for television.

2. The network cut to a two-minute commercial break every ten minutes while the race continued. They also took a commercial break at any caution flags, showings as many commercials as they could while still keeping the viewers informed on the race. At one point in the race the network went to commercial and returned five seconds later to show the aftermath of an accident that had occurred as they went to break.

3. The race was an event of the "Winston" Cup Series. The racers, their pit crews and their cars are moving billboards with logos of their sponsors. The network used on-screen graphics promoting their sponsors. Certain drivers had on board camera, all with sponsor logos in strategic locations. The running board scrolled along the top of the screen, each time though with a different sponsors logo and the logos of the automakers. There were also many sponsor tie-ins, such as the, "Bud Poll Award", "Lowe's Soozers", "Cingular call to the pit", "UPS lap leader board", "NAPA field summary", and the " move of the race". These tie-ins posted graphics on the screen and received commentary from the announcers. As the network went to a commercial break it featured a music video with highlights of the race and "Fuel for fire" by Metallica off of the album "Nascar Full Throttle".

Soccer, USA vs. Italy

1. Play was never stopped for television.

2. The network never cut away to commercial while the game was in play. Commercials were only taken at halftime.

3. The starting lineups were placed on the screen along with the logo of Avaya. A graphic score board remained on the screen at all times displaying the score and time. Every five minutes a different sponsors logo appeared underneath the scoreboard, followed by an acknowledgement by the announcers. For example, "This part of today's game is brought to you by Lego's". The field was surrounded by Italian advertisements. ESPN promoted other events on its networks with on-screen graphics and acknowledgements by the announcers. There were also player profiles sponsored by Lego.

NHL, New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils

1. Play was stopped for advertising. The teams played three twenty-minute periods. A two-minute time out was taken 5 minutes from the last break, on the stoppage of the puck. The first time out was taken after the clock reached fifteen minutes remaining, with the first stoppage of the puck. The next break was five minutes from this break. It continued this way until the end of the period. The intermissions between periods were twenty minutes. In these twenty minutes, ABC used twelve minutes for advertising and eight for in studio programming.

2. Play was stopped

3. ABC promoted programming with on-screen graphics and acknowledgements by the announcers. Sponsors had logos painted on the ice and billboards on the walls surrounding the ice. Southwestern Airlines graphic appeared when the network showed a shot from the goalie cam. The announcers referred to it as the "Southwestern Airlines goalie cam. A graphic was used to display league leaders in the plus minus category. The Bud Light logo appeared along side it. Michelin sponsored the first intermission and Dodge sponsored the second.

Tennis, Pacific Life Open

1. Play was not stopped for advertising

2. Commercial breaks were only taken when play stopped. A ninety- second break was taken after every two games and between sets.

3. ESPN used on-screen graphics to promote more programming. These promotions were acknowledges by the announcers. The walls of the court were used to promote sponsors, as well as the clothing of the athletes. Both Vicario and Seles were wearing Sanex patches on there clothing. There was also a Sanex logo on the wall, along with the logos of Indian Wells Resort, and for Pacific Life.

Boxing, Friday Night Fights

1. The fight was never stopped for advertising.

2. One minute commercial breaks were taken between rounds. Each round lasted three minutes.

3. The fight tooking place at Cirpiani's restaurant in New York City. The announcers acknowledge it several times and shots of people dining were shown. Miller Lite logos were displayed in the center of the ring and on the turnbuckles. The Miller Lite logo was on the screen along with a graphic showing the boxers names. Golden Johnson has a temporary tattoo on his back promoting ESPN also used on screen graphics and acknowledgements by announcers to promote more programming.

Baseball, Game Six 2000 American League Championship Series, Seattle Mariners vs. New York Yankees

1. The play of the game was never stopped for television.

2. One minute Commercials breaks were taken after each half inning and two minutes and thirty second breaks with each pitching substitution.

3. The network uses on screen graphics to promote the sponsors of the game. The interior of the stadium was filled with strategically placed billboards, with sponsor's logos. They also used several promotional tie-ins such as, the "Mastercard" starting lineup, "SAP player profile", and the "Chevrolet player of the game". Every time display a shot form the blimp cam the announcer would acknowledge it as the "Bud blimp" and "the official beer of Major League Baseball, along with a Budweiser logo.

NFL, 2001 NFC Championship Game Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants

1. The game was stopped for television. A timeout was taken in the final two minutes of each half, for television. The network went to a two-minute commercial break at the two-minute warning. Two minute commercial breaks were also taken after the ball switched possession. The only changes of possession where commercials were not taken, were those created by turnovers, or those within four minutes of the next set stoppage time. The only set stoppages are the two-minute warnings, end of quarters and halftime.

2. Play is stopped.

3. The network used on-screen graphics and the acknowledgement of the announcer to promote other FOX programs. Billboards in the stadium displayed logos of sponsors. At one point when the network returned from commercial break they showed a live shot of the New York Stock Exchange, before returning to the action on the field. At the next commercial break was a commercial for the New York Stock Exchange. Visa promoted the halftime show. The Visa logo appeared at the bottom of the screen with a scrolling bar displaying the first half statistics. The announcer acknowledged one promotional tie-in, the "Dr. Pepper" play of the day. They also promoted the "Southwestern Airlines" post game show with a graphic before ending the broadcast.


The results of the research have brought the researcher to several conclusions. There is not a uniform way to present all sporting events and to advertise within these events. There are two basic categories to separate sports on television. Those that are stopped by television to show advertisements, and those that are not.

Soccer, baseball, boxing, tennis, auto racing and basketball, fall under the category of those that are not stopped. Football, and hockey are in the category of sports that do stop for television. Basketball is questionable and can fit in both categories. The basketball game evaluated here was not stopped for television. Televised college basketball games, which were not evaluated, do have an imposed television timeout.

Television timeouts have a direct impact on the games. In football, a two-minute commercial after the ball changes possession can kill momentum. A team can come up with a momentum changing defensive stop, then the offense must wait two minutes to return to play. Those two minutes can lower momentum and can change the outcome of a game. The television timeouts in hockey are similar and can kill momentum shifts.

The two-minute warning in professional football has become a point of strategy. From this has come the term of the two-minute offense, where a team usually makes the final drive to score before the game ends, wasting as little time as possible. This is a key part of football that only exists because of television. In contrast college football has never adopted the two-minute warning.

The research done here was important to the field of sports media. Each sport much be looked at separately, not as a whole. Each one has their essential rules that can affect the way it is presented on television. This gives the advertiser a challenge to find new ways to market their products. The use of temporary tattoos in boxing is among the newest trends. With technological advances and the certain future of a hybrid computer / television, we are certain to see more overwhelming ways to advertise.

The research done has opened the door to the study of how sports lend themselves to advertising. Future researcher of this topic must look at one sport on its own and evaluate several games on different levels. A game on national network may not apply the same rules as a game being broadcasted by a local network or on cable. The study of advertising and television is essential to interpreting the future of sports.


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