As NFL falters, MLB sponsors spent record-high $892 million

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Major League Baseball’s corporate sponsors spent a record $892 million this season, a 7.9% increase from last season, according to a new report from ESP Research, which is owned by British ad giant WPP.

The list of official MLB sponsors includes Amazon (Amazon Web Services powers Statcast), Bank of America, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, DraftKings (in which MLB has an equity stake), Gatorade, MasterCard, Nike, and T-Mobile.

Good news for the baseball business

The 8% rise in spend is a sign of faith in pro baseball’s growth, after the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians was the most watched World Series in 12 years, and Game 7 of that series was the most watched single game in 25 years.

“We had storylines in the postseason that kept audiences with baseball even after their individual team was out,” said Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit in February. He called the excitement around the 2016 World Series a “reaffirmation of the fundamental strength of our game.” It makes sense that following a record-breaking World Series, MLB sponsors upped their investment.

For comparison purposes, via ESP Research: NBA sponsors spent $861 million last season, a 7.8% increase from the year before and inching closer to MLB; NHL sponsors spent $505 million last season, a 5.9% increase over the year before; and MLS sponsors are projected to have spent $347 million this season, which would be a 4.1% increase.

Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees celebrate after beating the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS on Oc. 18, 2017 (Getty)

In football, it’s a different story right now, though it still has the highest sponsor spend: $1.25 billion last season.

NFL television ratings were down 5% year over year at the halfway point of the season, and down nearly 20% compared to the 2015 season; advertisers are “nervous” amidst the ratings dip and ongoing political controversy; and at least one official sponsor, Papa John’s (also an MLB sponsor), has said it is scaling back on its NFL advertising.

Football is seeing a different sponsor trend

According to pollster Morning Consult, the NFL has become one of the most divisive brands in America.

The MLB sponsor spending hike is not a direct result of the current NFL season’s political controversy, since the NFL season begins in September, when baseball is already wrapping up its regular season. But it is interesting that while MLB is seeing sponsor spending growth, NFL sponsors are pulling back.

And the two trends are likely not completely unrelated: the NFL experienced a ratings drop last season as well, and the current controversy over player protests began last season with Colin Kaepernick.

Make no mistake: The NFL is still the top dog among American pro sports leagues, with an expected $14 billion in overall league revenue this year.

But football is trending negatively right now, while baseball is showing a lot of positive indicators.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwriteSportsbook is our sports business video and podcast series.

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