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NBC Taps Heidi Klum, Matt Lauer To Draw Broader Crowd for “Sunday Night Football”

NBC Sports Group aims to bolster what is arguably the Peacock's most important primetime program

NBCUniversal is trying to widen the audience for its flagship property “Sunday Night Football” with a series of promos that burnish the pigskin showcase among not only sports fans but also celebrity-watchers and current-affairs aficionados.

The video vignettes, which will appear online starting Tuesday and debut on TV this weekend in pre-season football coverage, feature various NBCU celebrities, including Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel (from NBC’s “America’s Got Talent); Joan and Melissa Rivers (from E!’s “Fashion Police”); Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski (from MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”); Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker and Natalie Morales (from NBC’s “Today”) and Ken Jeong (from NBC’s “Community”), all taking part in ersatz try-outs to sing “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night,”which has been the “SNF” theme song since 2006.

NBC in May selected country-music star and “American Idol” champion Carrie Underwood to warble the song, a reworked version of the old Joan Jett and the Blackhearts chestnut, “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” Underwood replaces Faith Hill, who had been crooning for “SNF” since 2007 (inspiring some parodies from outlets including “Saturday Night Live”). Pink was the first to sing the song during the inaugural 2006 season of “Sunday Night Football”on NBC.

“Our goal is to be as welcoming and as broad as we possibly can,” said John Miller, chief marketing officer of NBC Sports Group. Indeed, he expects the new series of promos to appeal to women as well as the usual male crowd that usually tunes in for football.

The weekly pigskin event is arguably NBCUniversal’s most important property, and gathering viewers for it is crucial.  Last season, SNF” and “The Voice” were the main tentpoles propping up NBC’s primetime ratings.  A 30-second spot in the program cost an average of $545,142 in the fall of 2012, according to media buyers, making it the most expensive program for advertisers on broadcast TV. “We sell it for a lot of money. It drives a significant amount of the ratings in primetime,” said Miller, noting that “SNF” is often used to drive awareness of other NBCU programming. “It’s an important cornerstone of the schedule right now, and we want to do everything we can to make sure it’s successful.”

The aim is “to be inclusive,” said Bill Bergofin, senior veep of marketing at NBC Sports Group. The marketing is geared toward making sure “’Sunday Night Football’ remains the number-one show in television,” said Miller.

“SNF” isn’t experiencing the notable ratings declines of “American Idol” or other long-running pieces of prime-time entertainment, but it did see a slight dip in viewership last season. According to Nielsen, the total viewership of “SNF” dipped about 1% in 2012 , to 21.4 million viewers from 21.5 million in the previous year. Indeed, NFL games in total have seen some viewer leakage over the past two years, according to the ratings authority. In 2012, approximately 5% fewer people watched 101 nationally-televised NFL matchups, which saw aggregate viewership dip to 16.6 million viewers, compared with 17.5 million in 2011.

Despite the trend, advertisers have placed a premium on live sports in recent years, particularly as increased availabitly of the digital video recorder has contributed to the decline of live ratings of scripted dramas and comedies. Sports viewers tend to want to see the game as it happens, and not sit on the sidelines looking for scores and commentary on Twitter. That means they will submit to the usual coterie of beer-and-snack ads and car spots to view the game unfurl.

The promos will be among those that get top priority among various NBCU networks, Miller said. “Because NBC’s Fall is now the cross-promotional priority for the company, and because SNF is the number-one show for NBC, it gets a certain amount of existing weight on all the channels.” But the company will likely tailor the spots for the network on which they appear – Scarborough and Brzezkins,I on MSNBC, Billy Bush from “Access Hollywood” on E! and elsewhere. The promos are also likely to run on NBCSN, its sporst network, as well as The Golf Channel.

The promo marks the return of an original promo to draw attention to football, said Miller. In 2012, with its telecast of the Summer Olympics in full swing, NBCU made use of a promo created by the National Football League.

The Sports Group executed the entire project in three weeks, said Bergofin, issuing invites to NBCU talent from different dayparts and programs. Other participants include Jillian Michaels (from NBC’s”The Biggest Loser”); Yvette Nicole Brown (from “Community”); and Craig T. Nelson (from NBC’s “Parenthood”). The only celebrity executives couldn’t wrangle was Jimmy Fallon, said Bergofin. The talk-show host had to decline owing to the recent birth of his daughter.

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