Fox Focuses on Sports in Early TV Upfront Talks

Fox Networks Group is placing an emphasis on its sports content in early-stage “upfront” talks,  the latest sign of the growing importance the company sees in NFL and MLB broadcasts and the like.

The 21st Century Fox-owned unit is “trying to push multi-year sports deals,” said one person familiar with the tone of negotiations. Two other people familiar with talks confirmed that Fox had put an early focus on sports sales. Fox is particularly interested in working with advertisers who were in its NFL and Super Bowl broadcasts this past season, these people said.  During the industry’s annual “upfront” sales market, the nation’s big TV networks hope to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for the coming programming cycle.

Fox Networks Group declined to comment.

To be sure, many TV companies work to snare their most recent sports advertisers for another round of commercial buys during upfront talks, but Fox’s focus this year comes as the company has ratcheted up the significance of its sports content. In a noticeably different upfront presentation to advertisers last month, Fox led with sports. TV viewers continue to migrate to mobile tablets and streaming video, but live sports broadcasts on TV continue to snare big audiences, who typically can’ t skip around the commercials as easily as their time-shifting counterparts.

At the Fox presentation, new broadcast primetime shows like “The Gifted,”a drama that uses characters from Marvel’s “X-Men” comics, and “The Orville,” a space comedy starring Seth MacFarlane, took a back seat to talk of sports. Fox trotted out announcer Joe Buck, former Yankees player Alex Rodriguez and other game-day luminaries to chat about the value advertisers get when they invest in sports broadcasts on Fox as well as sister cable network Fox Sports 1.

Fox-owned networks accounted for 11% of sports viewing for the week ended May 21, according to data from Brian Wieser, a media-industry analyst for Pivotal Reseach, and 19% year to date as of that week. Disney-owned networks accounted for 35% of overall sports viewing for that year-to-date period, while Comcast-owned properties accounted for 18%.

Media buyers and other people familiar with upfront negotiations suggested TV networks and advertisers were still feeling each other out, while ad buyers continued to wait for a better sense of the budgets their clients would register. “Lots of talking, but slow moving,” said one executive of the state of current discussions.

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