Which Publishers are Best Positioned to Capitalize on NFL Offseason Interest?

In an apparent effort to drive TV ratings, the first round of the 2010 NFL draft was held during primetime for the first time in its 75 year history. The result was a ratings windfall; ESPN’s draft coverage was the fifth most watched cable program of 2010 in US households despite splitting its sporting-enthusiast viewership with NHL and NBA playoff games.

The growing popularity of the NFL draft is also evident in online consumer behavior; on the day of the draft 8 of Google’s top 10 "˜Hot Search’ terms (terms with the highest surges in popularity) were names of NFL draft prospects.

Increased interest in offseason activities such as the start of free agency and pre-draft coverage is also apparent when looking at traffic coming to the NFL.com site during the month of March. When looking at Compete data, the number of visitors to the NFL.com site in March, long after the conclusion of the season, has grown by 23% between 2008 and 2010.

Despite the fact that interest in NFL content drops significantly at the conclusion of the season (by 60% from its peak in December to March), offseason content has become increasingly lucrative for publishers over the past three years as online consumer interest has climbed. Online traffic to NFL content heavily over indexes on 18-34 year old males making more than $60k annually, a desirable demographic to many advertisers. Which content publisher is best positioned to monetize this traffic? To explore this I looked at Compete data, comparing the market share of NFL related traffic held by some of the top national publishers of football content on the internet (NBC Sports[1], CNN/Sports Illustrated[2], ESPN[3] and NFL.com).

  • NFL.com maintains a commanding share of NFL content interest during the season from September through February, likely due to its exclusive rights to game action video on the internet
  • The conclusion of the season in February levels the playing field for publishers as NFL.com’s stranglehold on game footage declines in importance. With the onset of free agency in March the NFL news cycle is dominated by reports, rumors and opinion pieces related to player transactions. This has likely allowed CNN/Sports Illustrated to grow its market share of NFL interest to 12% in March through its editorial columns and the "˜Truth & Rumors’ section of the site
  • NBC in particular has established itself as a provider of offseason NFL content with the acquisition of the ProFootballTalk (PFT) blog last June. The blog offers humorous insight on NFL news and reports on rumors around the league, which lends itself to driving offseason interest. PFT now accounts for more than 80% of NFL related traffic on the NBCSports.com website
  • In addition to providing much of the content available on competitive sites during the offseason, ESPN differentiates itself by providing in depth coverage of events leading up to the NFL draft including reviews of prospects, the NFL Scouting Combine, and Pro Day workouts on college campuses

NBC seems to be in the best position to capitalize on offseason interest following its acquisition of ProFootballTalk.com. While competitive sites see interest in NFL content decline in the offseason, PFT’s coverage of rumored player movements during NFL free agency drove its traffic to an all time high in March. With the NFL offseason providing publishers with a growing opportunity to capture traffic from a segment desired by many online marketers (males aged 18-34), expect competitors to emulate PFT’s rumor-mongering approach.

[1] Interest in NFL articles, scores, schedules and statistics pages on NBC Sports domains. Includes traffic to the ProFootballTalk blog

[2] Interest in NFL articles, scores, schedules and statistics pages on the Sports Illustrated site. Includes traffic to columns by Peter King, Don Banks, Ross Tucker and Bucky Brooks

[3] Traffic to the NFL section of the ESPN website