Viagra won't advertise on NFL games, signaling softening ad market

Adios, Viagra lady. (Viagra via screenshot)

Last year, the NFL’s declining ratings, in the face of zombie hordes, presidential campaign fatigue, and general public indifference (along with, maybe, a touch of political protest), dominated much of the early-season conversation. Ratings rebounded as the year wore on, however, and the Super Bowl pulled in its usual nine-figure viewer total.

But now we’re seeing the reverberations of that ratings slip, as well as other indications of a break in the ever-increasing ad market, and the news isn’t ideal for the NFL and its broadcast partners. Ad Age reports that preseason ad spending is the softest since the 2008 recession, with both the automotive and motion picture categories spending less at this point in the year than previously.

Automotive advertisers are the largest single category buying space on NFL games, by a long shot; their $889.3 million annual spending is more than twice the next-largest category, wireless, at $338.5 million, according to iSpot.tv. Movies are the No. 6 category. Both will likely increase their spending later in the year—automakers have fourth-quarter numbers to hit, and there are Justice League and Star Wars movies coming out—but the early indications is that advertisers may be funneling some of their ad dollars to high-rated but far cheaper programs elsewhere on the TV spectrum.

Throw into that mix the news that Viagra and, most likely, Cialis will be ending their NFL sponsorship entirely, and you’ve got some bleak news. Viagra, which popped up on the market 20 years ago as an aid to erectile dysfunction, is losing its patent exclusivity, which means generic versions will now be available. That, in turn, means that one of the NFL’s Top 40 advertisers, one which spent an estimated $31 million a year on sponsorship, won’t be rolling out ads with come-hither older women appealing to couch-bound dudes any longer. Cialis loses its own patent exclusivity later in the season; if it too decides to pull out of the ad market, the NFL is losing an estimated $50 million in ad revenue each year.

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It’s also worth noting that several advertisers are reportedly bucking up at the idea of a $5 million-per-30-second-ad cost for Super Bowl LII next year. No other program comes even remotely close to the Super Bowl’s 100-million viewer threshold, especially not in these fractured-audience days, but still: the price for an ad has doubled just since 2008, and advertisers are apparently deciding that this price aggression will not stand.

The news isn’t even close to dire yet; the NFL remains one of the most reliable draws in entertainment. And there are upticks within the mire; Fox Sports is reportedly charging a 6 percent premium on the many national-broadcast Cowboys games it’s carrying this season. Still, it’s a reminder—as if we needed yet another one—that viewing habits are shifting, and what worked so well for so many years might not be a sustainable business model for the NFL’s upcoming decades.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.