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NBCUniversal plans broad promotional blitz for NFL opener

NBCUniversal is planning a company-wide media and marketing blitz on September 10 to support to the start of the 2020 National Football League season, happening that night on NBC Sports with the network’s coverage of the defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs against the Houston Texans.

The primetime coverage of the game on NBC Sports will be preceded throughout the day by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll appearing on NBC’s Today show, NBC Sports play-by-play announcer appearing midday on CNBC, a series of custom integrations of NFL Kickoff 2020 on Telemundo, and other promotional support from NBC Entertainment, NBC regional sports networks, the Peacock streaming service, and NBCUniversal’s social media platforms.

Today will also feature a virtual plaza with Chiefs and Texans fans, and NBC News’ Sam Brock reporting on-site from Kansas City. The game’s pregame show also has been expanded by a half-hour and will begin at 7 p.m. ET.

The promotional push is designed in part to generate a strong start for NFL ratings that are already the highest of among all US television programming, regardless of content genre.

The Chiefs-Texans game, however, will face an unprecedented level of competition from other major US sports compared to other NFL openers in prior years. That is, of course, due to an unprecedented compression of game schedules across the industry due to suspensions earlier this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other primetime sports events planned for September 10 in the US include a National Basketball Association playoff game involving LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, a National Hockey League playoff game with the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars, and a heavy slate of Major League Baseball games, many with playoff implications as that league approaches the final two weeks of its regular season.

“We’re looking at a sports calendar that no one has ever seen,” said Fred Gaudelli, Sunday Night Football executive producer for NBC Sports. “We’re going to see the Stanley Cup championship be awarded, the [National Basketball Association be awarded]…the US Open, the Masters, all these signature events that we all love to watch, and they’re all coming down at the same time.

“Will it be a factor? I don’t know how it couldn’t be a factor. But the NFL is the ratings kind, and there’s not even a close challenger. We feel really good about that, but I think there has to be some kind of impact,” Gaudelli said.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, are one of the few NFL teams that will allow limited attendance for home games, with local officials approving a planned to have roughly 16,000 fans, representing about 22 per cent of normal Arrowhead Stadium capacity, in the venue.

The team, however, will ban Native American headdresses or culturally appropriating face paint as the entire US sports industry continues to go through a large-scale reckoning on names, logos, and related imagery now widely seen as racist.

Ticket sales for the Chiefs-Texans game, however, remain notably soft, likely due to concerns around Covid-19, the likely much more sedate fan environment with reduced attendance, and expected rainy weather in Kansas City for the game. As of the morning of September 10, there were still numerous primary market seats available through official NFL ticketing partner Ticketmaster, and resale markets similarly showed plenty of available ticket inventory at or near face value prices.

As the Chiefs operate in a pod-based seating plan for its reduced attendance, seats in groups of two were in relatively greater demand compared to groups of four, five, or six.

“There is not pent-up demand for 25 per cent full events where the experience will not be what fans are accustomed to,” tweeted Patrick Ryan, co-founder of prominent ticket distribution company Eventellect. “Not saying these games are worthless, but expectations need to be managed. There is pent-up demand for the energy of a full stadium. There is pent-up demand for normalcy.”