Will NFL Questions Send Upfront Into Hurry-Up Offense?

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Media buyers aren’t just thinking about how big this upfront will be. They’re wondering how early it will be.

Over the course of a series of large upfront gatherings this week, it is clear that there is a lot of anxiety in the market, and that could translate into deals getting done in a rush. Some of the nervousness is fueled by high scatter prices, which tends to drive dollars into the upfront.

But the new wrinkle is the NFL labor situation, which could threaten some of TV’s highest rated programming.

One theory from some wise guys at networks that do business with the league is that the start of the season will be delayed four to six weeks. And when the players do return, the games will be hard to watch because of the lack of training camp and an exhibition season.

That would mean NFL advertisers would have to find other places to get their dollars down to reach large, mostly male audiences (good news for college football rights holders, to be sure). That will create a ripple effect as higher sellouts of male oriented programming sends dollars cascading into more balanced programming, eventually landing in even female oriented programming.

How big will the rush be to get those football alternative dollars down? One top sales exec has already gotten requests for proposals and thought deals could start being made in mid-May, about the time the broadcasters start announcing fall schedules.

The sales exec says keeping tabs on the networks’ inventory would be a key and that a priority had to be on making sure that the new demand didn’t keep long time advertisers from getting the inventory they need. After all, networks will be doing business with those clients long after the NFL strike is settled.  Whenever that happens.