By Barry Janoff
(Originally published in MediaPost)
November 14, 2016: Even though the NFL this season is dealing with lower than usual ratings across its prime time broadcasts, NBC’s Sunday Night Football has consistently been atop the overall ratings, regularly attracting 16-18 million viewers, with Sunday night’s Seattle Seahawks-New England Patriots game pulling in more than 22.2 million viewers.
NBC will seek to match that success when it premieres on Nov. 17 Thursday Night Football under a two-year deal signed with the NFL this past February.
To reach maximum eyeballs, NBC this week breaks a multi-media campaign, "Start Your Weekend Early," anchored by a series of spots featuring stars from such NBC shows as The Blacklist, Blindspot, Law & Order: SVU, Superstore, The Voice and the network’s trio Chicago Fire/Med/PD.
The campaign also includes a generic spot, "Weekends Are Tough," plus a spot that features characters from the animated movie, Sing, hitting theaters in December (from NBC siblings Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures).
NBC Sports said it would build the campaign, to run for the duration of its Thursday Night Football package, by "engaging millennials with numerous digital and social media partnerships and activations," including AOL, Bleacher Report, EA Sports’ Madden NFL, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify, Twitter, UrbanDaddy, Whistle Sports, Yahoo and YouTube.
Each spot was created with customized content in which actors from the respective shows stay in character while watching NFL action.
The premise: "The work week can be tough, so what would be better than to start your weekend early with NBC Thursday Night Football."
According to Jennifer Storms, CMO for NBC Sports Group, "As the only network with two primetime NFL packages, we wanted to distinguish Thursday Night Football with the proposition that millennials start their weekend early. And what better way to reach millennials than with the casts of their favorite shows watching Thursday Night Football within customized spots produced by the shows themselves."
In "TNF: The Voice," Blake Shelton and Adam Levine bicker as usual, but agree that "rooting for the same team" on Thursday night "isn’t such a bad thing." In "TNF: Blindspot," Sullivan Stapleton, Jamie Alexander and crew see a mysterious tattoo on a woman’s shoulder but, unlike the premise of the show (in which the FBI is using tattoos to solve a murder), this leads to the Thursday Night Football broadcast.
In "TNF: Superstore," the cast ignores the request of a customer who needs help so that they can stay glued to a bank of TV’s showing the NFL. In "TNF: The Blacklist," James Spader refuses to take a call from the FBI because he is engrossed with football on TV.
In the generic spot, people are having such rough work days (spilled coffee, missed meetings) they can’t wait for the weekend to begin with Thursday Night Football.
The NBC Sports spots were produced in collaboration with ad agency VML, Kansas City, Mo.
In February, the NFL said it would broaden its Thursday Night Football platform — which began in 2006 on NFL Network and expanded to broadcast TV on CBS in 2014 — to include NBC, with NBC and CBS getting five games each (all simulcast on NFL Network) and NFL Network getting an eight-game exclusive package. The new two-year deal (2016-17) was valued at $225 million per year for each network by industry analysts.
CBS averaged 14.7 million viewers for its five Thursday Night Football games this year (which ended Oct. 20).
"This customized consumer engagement plan demonstrates NBCUniversal’s extraordinary company-wide support for Thursday Night Football," said Storms.
All games are simulcast on NFL Network and live streamed on Twitter, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.
NBC’s Thursday Night Football five-game schedule:
• Nov. 17; New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
• Dec. 1: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
• Dec. 8: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
• Dec. 15: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
• Dec. 22: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles