If you spent your Thanksgiving watching football, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to miss the ads for the movie, “Concussion.” The film, hitting wide release on Christmas Day, features Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian forensic pathologist who was the first to publish findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players.
It’s heavy stuff, and is expected to be one of the biggest roles of Smith’s already stellar career. But that’s show business. More interesting to the sports business-to-business market is the way Columbia Pictures is ramping up its TV advertising -- especially in NFL programming over the past four weeks.
According to an article in MediaPost, national TV advertising for the film from Nov. 17 through mid-day Nov. 30 amounted to $5.93 million, with the biggest chunk of those dollars going to NFL programming, $2.2 million, according to iSpot.tv.
In case you’re shaking your head in disbelief, we’ll repeat that for you: the lion’s share of commercials for the movie will be airing during NFL programming.
If you want some comparative numbers, Columbia is placing advertising in smaller chunks in college football programming ($626,820), NBA basketball ($556,754), Fox’s “Empire” ($479,658) and Univision’s Latin Grammy Awards ($301.988.)
The movie has sent the majority of its national TV advertising spend to CBS so far -- $1.22 million. Fox is next at $1.0 million; ESPN, $934,353; NBC, $605,404; and Univision, $380,870.
Whether or not ESPN would accept advertising for the movie had been a matter of conjecture among pundits, who noted that the network’s Monday Night Football deal — the richest among the league's TV partners — extends through 2021 and is worth $15.2 billion to the NFL. That, they said, made ESPN an unlikely platform for advertising a movie that portrays the league in perhaps the worst light possible.
A film that takes aim at the NFL might be considered controversial enough, but the chatter didn’t stop there. In September, The New York Times published e-mails from the Sony hack that insinuated the film was cut to appease the NFL. The piece says:
Another email on Aug. 1, 2014, said some “unflattering moments for the N.F.L.” were deleted or changed, while in another note on July 30, 2014, a top Sony lawyer is said to have taken “most of the bite” out of the film “for legal reasons with the N.F.L. and that it was not a balance issue.” Other emails in September 2014 discuss an aborted effort to reach out to the N.F.L.
Columbia Pictures has been quick to discredit the reports, and reviewers, having noted the film spares nothing in its unflattering portrayal of the NFL, have done the same. In one review, director Peter Landesman was quoted on the matter.
"It's almost laughable," he said. "Anybody who sees this movie knows this movie is a shot between the eyes of the NFL. Not because we're going after the NFL. Just because the truth is our defense, you know, and it's a powerful movie about human beings. It's not a hit piece about corporate America."
There’s no doubt the film has received tremendous exposure, not just from trailers in theaters (which have been playing for several months now) but from commercials aired over the Thanksgiving weekend which are, after all, the starting gun for the holiday season.
MediaPost noted that research indicates Thursday night (from special Thanksgiving Day games; CBS’ “Thursday Night Football”; and Univision’s “Latin Grammy Awards”) and Sunday (from CBS, Fox, and NBC run NFL games) were the top time periods the movie was advertised.