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Most Viewed Video Ads: NFL Season Return 2021
Oct 06, 2021

Most Viewed Video Ads: NFL Season Return 2021

The onset of fall marks the return to school, pumpkin spice lattes and oversized scarves. But to many sports enthusiasts the most celebrated return is the return to NFL football.


The Most Viewed Video Ads for the 2021 NFL Season Return feature new advertising categories like NFTs and Bitcoin, endorsed by football greats like Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this year’s kickoff ads is the change to the media agreements behind them and introduction of new NFL streaming partnerships.


More games, more advertising opps 

After a pandemic-stricken year of cancelled games and empty stadiums, NFL fans rejoiced as all 32 teams were approved for full capacity in-stand attendance. They’re also being treated to additional games this season as the NFL expands their schedule to 17 games per team (previously 16) over an 18 week time period, marking the first schedule expansion since 1978.

In line with the expanded schedule, the National Football League made substantial increases to their rights fees — with some media partners seeing cost increases of 75%+. The new long-term media rights agreements with CBS, ESPN/ABC, Fox and NBC will run through 2033, and are estimated at a combined total of over $100 billion. As a ratings all-star, media outlets may have felt they had no choice but to accept new terms. Last year, NFL games took 69 of the 100 spots for the most watched television programs of the entire year. 


Declining linear TV viewership prompts new streaming partnerships

Despite being a top performer, NFL games are no exception to the overall trend of declining linear TV viewership and migration to streaming. In 2020, an average of 15.4 million viewers tuned into regular season games, a 7% decline from the previous year. Super Bowl ratings also dipped, drawing in 96.4 million viewers last year, down from 102.1 million viewers in 2020. 

Similar to what we saw in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, although linear TV viewers have declined, digital audiences have increased. Time spent streaming NFL games rose by 88% in 2020 and streaming viewership of the Super Bowl increased by 68%.

As a result, the NFL and Hulu reached a multi-year agreement for the streaming rights to games and Amazon Prime Video will have the exclusive streaming rights to Thursday Night Football starting at the 2022 season — a deal that will cost Amazon $1B a year.  

“It’s not a mystery paid television has been losing subscribers for some time now. But as you see in these deals, we are encouraging [our media partners] to build their reach. We’re ultimately a sport that’s built on reach. By enabling our partners to have more digital rights…we think we’re going to increase that reach.” 

— Brian Rolapp, Chief Media and Business Officer of the NFL, CNBC interview


Now let’s take a look at who made the cut and explore some of the themes that emerged in the Top 10 Most Viewed Video Ads for the 2021 NFL Season Return. 


Most Viewed Video Ads: 2021 NFL Season Return

Rank Brand Campaign Release date views
1 FTX FTX. You in? 8-Sep 1,589,212
2 Pepsi Football is Calling 24-Aug 1,461,295
3 Bose Rule the Quiet 9-Sep 1,046,709
4 Progressive At Home With Baker Mayfield 31-Aug 643,591
5 Cash App Travis Kelce Giveaway Bitcoin 9-Sep 559,184
6 Autograph Premier Preseason Passes 11-Aug 454,621
7 Alaska Airlines Flight #3 10-Sep 368,759
8 Oakley Oakley X Patrick Mahomes 6-Aug 354,621
9 State Farm Mahomes & Rodgers 9-Sep 321,519
10 Subway Bready 9-Sep 156,033

*Data collected by AcuityAds’ True Reach™ insights platform from August 7 – September 22, 2021


1. Blockchain breaks into football fandom

Three out of the top ten ad campaigns celebrating the return of football involve crypto currency or blockchain. Cash App threw a Bitcoin giveaway and FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange, partnered with Tom Brady and his wife Gisele Bundchen. 

Autograph, a NFT platform launched by Brady, promises to bring together some of the world’s most iconic names and brands with best in class digital artists to ideate, create and launch NFTs and ground-breaking experiences to a community of fans and collectors.

The sports NFT market rose to prominence in late 2020 and the NBA took advantage of it by creating their own digital marketplace, Top Shot, where fans can purchase NBA highlights. The startup behind Top Shot is now valued at $7.6B following a $250M funding round. And while the NFL is considering marketing agreements, for now, each team is prohibited from selling sponsorships to crypto trading companies or selling any non-fungible tokens (NFTs). But that doesn’t mean crypto advertisers won’t take advantage of reaching football fans by other means in this emerging market. 


2. Larger than ad campaigns

With its vast and desirable target market, advertisers doubled down on promotional efforts for the NFL season return, incorporating giveaways and experiences to compliment their ad campaigns. 

Pepsi teamed up with NFLShop.com to help fans “gear up for Game Day” by giving away $1 million worth of NFL gear throughout October by scanning the QR codes of specially marked Pepsi bottles. 

Alaska Air honored Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson by branding him his own plane. The Boeing 737-900ER aircraft will fly throughout Alaska’s network the entire season and passengers who wear a Russell Wilson No. 3 jersey or a limited edition Alaska’s Russell Wilson shirt (which can be purchased from Alaska Company Store) will be able to board early for all Seattle (SEA) and Everett (PAE) departing flights during football season. 


So what’s next?

Advertisers are eager to spend on live sports, largely because of their strong return on ad spend. Viewers are typically more engaged compared to other programming which makes them more attentive to advertising. 

However, with skyrocketing rights fees that will undoubtedly be passed onto advertisers and changes in consumer content consumption, how will media planners adjust their marketing strategies in the long run? Will NFL advertising on linear TV still be attractive in 2033 when media agreements are still in effect?

Only time will tell, and this year’s Super Bowl may give some indication of what’s to come.


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About True Reach™ insights platform

Increase total views and time spent on your video campaigns without increasing advertising spend. Our proprietary True Reach technology harnesses all publicly available view data to track real-time performance and enable decision-making that optimizes your Share of Attention™.

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