Fox Sports Is Getting Serious About Live Sports Returning to TV

(Bloomberg) -- Fox Sports, which broadcasts games for the NFL, MLB and other pro leagues, is taking the necessary first steps toward revving up ad sales for the resumption of live sports.

Fox Sports Chief Executive Officer Eric Shanks and his team are holding video calls on Friday with five prominent ad agencies to lay the groundwork. The purpose is to inform the agencies about how Fox and the major U.S. sports leagues are thinking about the rest of the year.

Five weeks ago, when Fox held a similar round of calls, the general consensus was simple: We don’t know much. Now, however, a number of the company’s sports-league partners are unveiling more concrete plans, and there’s momentum building across the industry regarding the resumption of games.

It’s a key moment for Fox Corp., the media company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, which typically gets more than 40% of its ad revenue from sports.

Major League Baseball is starting to discuss a return-to-play plan with its union, Nascar says it will resume on May 17, and the U.S. Open golf tournament has a new September date. Universities across the country say they intend to host students in the fall, a critical prerequisite for college football. Most important, the National Football League unveiled its full 17-week schedule on Thursday.

“We know that the NFL is such an integral part of everyone’s fourth-quarter plans, and that this could be the catalyst for the resumption of serious talks that would lead us to the part of our relationship that gets down to the transactional,” said Seth Winter, executive vice president for sports sales at Fox.

Shanks, Winter and Michael Mulvihill, Fox Sports’ executive vice president for strategy and analytics, will host the one-hour video calls Friday with a handful of agencies and holding companies, including Stagwell Group’s ForwardPMX, WPP Plc’s GroupM, Dentsu Group Inc. and Omnicom Group Inc. The calls come in lieu of a roadshow that typically gives Fox an opportunity to showcase what it will be broadcasting in the future.

While Fox is still negotiating ad deals, it has not been actively selling amid the uncertainty, Winter said. But that is starting to change. The company’s league partners include the NFL, MLB, Nascar, Major League Soccer and a few college conferences, like the Big Ten and Big 12. It also has rights to Germany’s top soccer league, which will resume play on May 16.

“I think every advertiser, traditional and nontraditional, will migrate to sports,” Winter said. “Culturally and symbolically, it means so much to this country. I think you’ll see some very contemporary custom messaging that is not purely selling, but also contextually relevant to the time in which we’re living. Sports are going to be through the roof.”

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