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Why Fox COO Doesn’t Think They’ll Need a Backup Plan for 2020 College Football Season

John Nallen gives an update on Fox’s ad sales amid pandemic

Though the NCAA has yet to vote on its plan for the 2020 college football season amid the pandemic, Fox Corporation COO John Nallen doesn’t think that the media giant will need to formulate a backup plan to fill a potential college-football-shaped hole in its programming this year.

“Look, I don’t think that’s the case,” Nallen said during a webcast presentation for the Credit Suisse 22nd Annual Virtual Communications Conference Tuesday, when asked what the “backup plan” would be for the Fox broadcast network and Fox Sports’ cable channel FS1 if there was “no college football this year.”

“College football, the issue there is that there are just so many teams involved, so many universities involved, so many administrators that have to make decisions, not only about football, but about their own universities,” Nallen told the investor conference. “When are they returning? How are they returning? And some of them have said if the kids don’t come back to school, they will not play football. So you may end up with certain conferences playing different schedules, maybe certain teams within a conference not playing because of the way their schools have decided to come back.”

Last Thursday, the Division I Football Oversight Committee finalized a proposal for a preseason model for the 2020 college football season, one that would allow for the traditional season to begin on time. The NCAA will vote on that plan, which “assumes COVID-19 local and state health policies are considered at the institutional level,” on Wednesday.

“I think in the next month, mainly because you’ve got to get hundreds of thousands of kids moving around the country back to universities, there will be an announcement as to what the shape of the universities’ year will be, and therefore what the shape of the college football season will be like,” Nallen said Tuesday. “What we’re saying, what we’ve said before, is that whenever they’re ready to play, we’re ready to produce.”

Nallen also spoke about Fox Corp’s ad sales amid the pandemic — and the general state of the U.S. ad market — which have gone down as sports became almost non-existent. He says that though the Fox is seeing a “returning demand” in the scatter market and, though “the pricing is clearly softer,” it’s pricing that’s “above upfront, even with a softer market.”

“We’re seeing categories that are leading this, like tech and telco, finance, those are ones that are active in the scatter market,” the Fox Corp. COO said. “The laggers are the ones you’d expect: quick-service restaurants, retail, studios, auto. There is a market, but the pricing, I would say, is much softer — still above upfront, but much softer than we had pre-COVID.”

But Nallen can’t make any long-term projections for Fox’s ad sales for the coming year until sports leagues have finalized their plans.

“For us, it is so dependent on the sports calendar, that I can’t really speculate,” he said. “I need to know what’s the shape of baseball, what’s college football going to be like? We’ve got two golf opens coming this fiscal year, one in September, one in June. And of course, the expectation that the NFL is returning, the announcement that the NFL is returning. But until it’s all locked down, I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of robust activity for us in the ad market.”