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Live Sports TV Advertising: How to Enter the Arena During Playoffs

Imagine you just tuned in to watch your favorite team compete in the NBA playoffs, and suddenly you’re bombarded by the same rotation of ads every commercial break for the next three hours. Why is that the case with live sports tv?

Playoff season is an intense period—not just for the teams competing, but also for advertisers. Hundreds of brands are vying for the opportunity to showcase their products and services to millions of very attentive viewers. 

That said, advertising during these games is on a whole other level of competitiveness, offering unique engagement and visibility. But securing a coveted advertising slot seems nearly impossible for most companies. Especially for brands that don’t have the clout of giants like AT&T, Progressive, Burger King, and Wingstop—who you’ve probably seen over and over.

So let’s get into the details of why and discover how you can break through the barrier.


“NBA playoff games were averaging 3.01 million viewers across ABC, ESPN, TNT, and truTV.”
Sports Media Watch, April 25, 2024


The Playoff Advertising Playbook


The Challenge on the Field 

Heading into playoff season is a high-stakes time for media buyers. One big challenge is that networks want you to commit to ad spots early in the year. It’s a bit of a gamble that requires some serious foresight and a hefty marketing budget. This early bird approach works out great for networks since it locks in cash early, but it also means only those with the means and the guts to take early risks get to play the game. 

Why It’s a Tight Game 

Live sports TV advertising during playoffs is akin to securing a prime-time spot in the world of television advertising. The massive audience and the intense emotions of live sports create an awesome opportunity for brands to shine and really connect with consumers. But, snagging this golden ticket isn’t without its hurdles: 

  • High Demand, Limited Spots: Everyone wants a piece of the action during playoffs, making spots scarce and prices steep. 
  • Top Dogs: Big name brands are all over this space, making it tough for smaller or newer brands to get a foot in the door. 
  • Smart Moves and Budgeting: Getting in early and managing high costs means advertisers need to be on their game with smart planning and careful spending, which is easier said than done. 
The Exclusive Circle of Advertisers 

Like we mentioned, you may have noticed how the same few advertisers dominate commercial breaks during your favorite sports games, and especially during playoffs. It’s no coincidence. In fact, some events decisively hand select and limit their number of advertisers to best align with and promote their brand. A good example of this is The Masters Tournament, which only allows IBM, AT&T, and Mercedes to advertise during the event.

Despite most playoff events being less exclusive than The Masters, the competitive space and higher advertising costs typically mean only a few big names decide to secure their advertising spots early. 

Those big names understand the value of playoff visibility and go all in, making it hard for smaller brands to compete. Moreover, these big brands usually have strong, existing relationships with networks—ensuring they get the best ad spots and keeping the playoff advertising circle exclusive. 

Nonetheless, it’s not impossible for smaller brands to secure some space during playoff season.

Entering the Live Sports Arena as an Underdog 

Jumping into playoff advertising may feel like the ultimate David versus Goliath challenge. In reality, it just takes a mix of creativity, strategy, and smart networking. But smaller or lesser-known brands shouldn’t throw in the towel by any means. 

Here are a few ways to get your foot in the door: 

  • Team Up: Partnering with broadcasters for smaller, event-specific sponsorships can sneak you into the playoff advertising scene without breaking the bank at the start of the year. 
  • Focus on Entertaining Content: Make awesome, engaging content to share everywhere. This can grab the crowd’s attention, even if you can’t land a direct ad spot during the game. 
  • Develop a Targeted Media Buying Strategy: For the first time, focus on purchasing a singular ad slot on a TV channel or program that aligns with your target audience’s preferences. Leveraging viewer demographics and interests can significantly increase the effectiveness of your TV advertisements. Ideally, you’ll be able to scale your campaigns from there. 
The Bottom Line 

If you’re eyeing an advertising spot during the playoffs, the challenge is tough but definitely doable. Getting the hang of playoff advertising, spotting the challenges, and coming up with creative strategies to connect with viewers can open up new ways to get noticed during some of the most watched sports moments. 

Even though some big brands might have a head start in the arena, it’s not game-over for smaller ones. With the right moves, the playoff season can still be a goldmine for brands aiming to win over sports fans worldwide.

When it comes to live sports TV advertising, everyone’s got a shot—it all depends on how you play the game.

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