The NFL Network, which opens its 2013 TV game coverage when the New York Jets visit the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football, is approaching a 90% sell level of its in-game commercial time, its highest percentage ever prior to the start of its telecast season.
The cable network's revenue from ads during games is also up 35% at this point, compared to last season, at price increases in the high-single digits over last year.
Brad Van Nostrand, sales manager of the NFL Media sales team, said the increase in sales is in part due to the network's increased cable distribution compared to this point last year, along with the anticipation of higher ratings, and a stronger game schedule.
"We had a very healthy upfront sales period and our distribution is up by about 25% compared to last season at this point," Van Nostrand said.
Last year, just prior to the season, the NFL Network signed a carriage deal with Cablevision and just a few weeks into the season, signed a deal with Time Warner Cable. Those deals brought major market audiences such as New York and Los Angeles into the fold and boosted the network's distribution from 59 million viewers to over 72 million. The network is now carried on 24 of the top 25 cable MSOs.
The network's 13-game schedule this season also features 10 playoff teams from 2012, including six division champions and three of the four conference championship game participants. Viewers will see teams this season from major markets such as New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Seattle and New Orleans.
The NFL Network games will also again be carried on free broadcast networks in the cities of the two teams playing on each Thursday night telecast if the game is sold out 72 hours in advance of kickoff.
Time For An End Zone Celebration
November 4 will be the 10th anniversary of the NFL Network and this will be the 8th season it is televising live, regular season primetime games. Last season the network increased the number of regular season games it televises from eight to 13.
It averaged 7.3 million viewers for its cable telecasts and the local market broadcast feeds each week, with an 18-49 demo rating close to a 3.0. Much like the ESPN Monday Night Football telecasts, NFL Network's Thursday night games were the most-watched programming on cable on those nights.
The strongest ad categories for NFL Network for this season have been automotive, retail, fast food restaurants, movie studios, insurance and technology.
Van Nostrand said a strong selling point for the network in addition to the football matchups has been its sizable Thursday night audience, which is particularly attractive to retailers, movie studios and automakers because commercials are used to attract weekend business.
In-game inventory is not the only commercial time that has sold well for NFL Network. Its Sunday NFL shoulder programming inventory sales have "gone through the roof," Van Nostrand said with each of the shows nearly sold out for September and October at mid-single digit percentage increases.
That Sunday programming includes NFL GameDayFirst from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. with Melissa Stark, Sterling Sharpe, Shaun O'Hara and rotating guests; NFL GameDay Morning from 9 a.m. to the start of the 1 p.m. games, with Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci, Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin; NFL GameDay Scoreboard at 4 p.m. between the early and late afternoon games; NFL GameDay Highlights at 7:30 p.m. with Chris Rose, Mariucci and Deion Sanders; and NFL GameDay Final at 11:30 p.m. with Rose, Faulk, Sanders and Irvin.
Pizza Hut returns as presenting sponsor of NFL GameDay Morning and Mercedes returns as presenting sponsor of NFL GameDay Final. Other returning sponsors include Craftsman as sponsor of the Thursday night NFL Total Access Kickoff pregame show; KFC as sponsor of the Prekick Show; and Lexus as the halftime show and postgame show sponsor.
A group of NFL corporate partners are advertising in both the Thursday night games and the shoulder programming, including Microsoft, Pepsi, General Motors, Verizon, Federal Express and McDonalds.
A Football Life, the network's two-time sports Emmy Award-nominated documentary series produced by NFL Films, returned for a third season on Sept. 3 with presenting sponsor Chase. That 30-minute series will air each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. throughout the NFL season, with 22 new episodes that take a look at the iconic individuals who have had an impact on the history of the NFL.
Van Nostrand said there are still commercial time avails for each of the 13 primetime games. "We're still open for business with scatter sales," he said.
This Thursday night, the Total Access Kickoff pregame show starts things off from 6 to 8 p.m., followed by the 8 p.m. Prekick Show from the booth in Foxboro, Mass., all leading up to the 8:20 p.m. kickoff for what will be a highly anticipated division matchup between the Jets and the Patriots.
International recording artist Priyanka Chopra handles the opening music for Thursday Night Football this season, performing her song "In My City."