How Advertising Differs During the NBA Playoffs


Round three of the NBA playoffs ended this previous weekend and the NBA finals began on July 6th, which means another opportunity for advertisers to put ads in front of a captive audience. After three rounds of play, we’ve seen some interesting advertisements from brands. Thus far we’ve tracked nearly 170,000 airings of over 5,000 ads from about 1,700 advertisers during the playoffs. The top advertiser has been Dominos with just over 6,500 total airings of only 10 different creatives. Dominos is followed by Progressive, ABC/ESPN/TNT, Taco Bell, and Allstate.

Playoff Advertising Trends

These individual data points line up with overall trends we’re seeing among playoff advertisers. During the same dates as the playoffs, household goods were the top advertisers across all channels, making up nearly 6% of all ad airings. During playoff games, however, household goods only make up 2.8% of advertisement airings. The advertiser category with the most airings during the playoffs have been fast-food brands, followed by alcoholic beverages, and auto makers. Fast-food advertisers actually make up around 21.5% of all ad occurrences during playoff games as opposed to 4.5% during all other programming those same days. Notably, Dominos advertising makes up nearly 4% of total advertising during these playoff games. During the first round of the playoffs Papa John’s was the second highest fast-food advertiser, making pizza the number one food category. However, as the playoffs have progressed, Taco Bell has swooped into the number two fast food spot. We expect this to continue and probably rise as Taco Bell has a promotion where if a team comes back in the second half after being down in the first everyone in America gets a free taco.

As with most sporting events, messaging and creative is generally funny, fast paced, and targets men. Brands throughout this round of the playoffs are attempting to mimic themes from other commercials geared towards men, like the iconic Old Spice advertisements. Many brands are hoping that a humorous shock and awe campaign will leave customers with a good taste in their mouth and the brand close to top of mind. Papa John’s most aired creative, with 1,916 ad occurrences features a disguised Shaquille O’Neill and Wing Stop has aired a creative 2,151 times depicting a man forgetting his child because he was so excited about Wing Stop’s wings – something every dad can relate to.

We anticipated the NBA and other related advertisers might mention in their creatives the availability of tickets to attend the playoff games in person, as social distancing restrictions in many areas are being lifted and sporting events are allowed to have full capacity. This, however, has not been the case and as far as we can tell, not one of the many promo pieces surrounding the playoffs mentions ticket sales. One of the most aired ads from the NBA is this ad which is a fusion of playoff advertising and trailer for the newest Fast and Furious movie. This fun twist on an advertisement aired 739 times, accounting for 25 percent of total ad occurrences by the NBA. We will continue to monitor advertising during the finals to see if anything is significantly different during the finals.

*Data pulled on 7/6/21

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