How Football Positioned Itself For New Year’s Eve

It’s a move that’s captivated both the New York Times and Ad Age, and left football fans to make last-minute adjustments to their evening plans: ESPN is making New Year’s Eve a football event.

After high rates for New Year’s Eve play-off games last year, the sports giant is trying the maneuver again, scheduling two hotly-anticipated college semifinal games today. So far, the strategy appears to be working, with advertisers flocking to the events and ad slots going for well above $1 million, Ad Age reports.

But it didn’t start out this way. According to the Ad Age report, ESPN had originally requested the games be rescheduled for this coming weekend, fearing that New Year’s Eve festivities would drown out the football audience. When they weren’t able to shift the schedule, they decided instead to position football as the perfect New Year’s Eve tradition—using the branding power of their parent company Disney.
What makes ESPN’s move notable is that it’s an unexpected but striking example of the power of seasonality—a topic we’ve covered here in the past, both in an interview and on our podcast.

The concept of seasonality often helps brands associate their products as inherent components of life at various times of year (think of the strong association between Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte and the coming of fall, for example.) For many brands, finding a seasonal relevance can help link their offerings to a moment in time for consumers, and create a powerful tradition that keeps consumers returning year after year. Yet it can also backfire, when brands pile onto over-burdened, commercially-viable holidays in a vain attempt to garner consumer eyeballs.

For ESPN, transforming New Year’s Eve into a football ritual isn’t a new idea—other sporting events have become inextricably linked with holidays and the annual calendar. But it’s a big undertaking, as New Year’s Eve represents one of the most entrenched rituals in the American holiday calendar (the legendary Times Square ball drop, for example, has run since the early 1900s and leads to feverish TV ratings each year.) But if there’s anything in American culture that could give the mirror ball a healthy competition, it’s football. This may be one example of a brand that just might be able to gain traction from one of the most commercialized holidays of the year.

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