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How College Football Cancellation In Battleground States Affects Campaign Advertising

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Two of the country's biggest college sports conferences, the Big Ten and Pac 12, have announced they won't play football this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, but other conferences are still planning to. And yesterday, President Trump offered his support.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'd like to see college football come back. I'd like to see them come back proud and strong.

FADEL: The main question, of course, is whether it's safe for student athletes and coaches to play on during a pandemic. Well, we wondered about the political implications to this debate, given the huge TV audiences that college football typically attracts, especially in battleground states, where college football fans are a highly sought demographic for political advertisers. So we called Ken Goldstein. He's a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, where he focuses on political advertising. Professor, welcome.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

FADEL: So it's worth noting you are a product of the Big Ten, graduating from the University of Michigan, teaching at Wisconsin. And you say that the demographics of Big Ten football fans are attractive for campaigns. Why?

GOLDSTEIN: So college football is particularly valuable for a couple reasons. One, obviously, states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan are key battleground states in the 2020 presidential election. Those are also states in the Big Ten that have major college football programs. And the sorts of people who watch college football are the sorts of people who might be swing voters or, especially on the Republican side, might be voters that the Republicans want to mobilize. In addition, in this world where people tend to DVR or record or watch on Hulu or Netflix or Amazon Prime, sports - live sports, in particular - is one of the best ways to get eyes where they don't DVR it. And they watch it live. And they watch the commercials.

FADEL: We know in the 2018 midterms that Democrats spent at least $4.1 million on ads during college football. Republicans spent $6.5 million. That's according to the firm Advertising Analytics. Well, without ads during college football in those Midwestern battleground states, where do you expect that money to go?

GOLDSTEIN: So I think those estimates are way too modest. So some of that is going to go to the NFL. Some of that might go to the NBA on the Democratic side. Right? We've never had a fall where there's NBA playoffs. But those demographics tend to not be as valuable for Republicans as they may be for Democrats.

FADEL: Why?

GOLDSTEIN: So the NBA tends to skew a little bit younger. And the NBA tends to skew more nonwhite. And also, the NBA will also tend to skew towards larger urban areas on the coasts.

FADEL: Now, before I let you go, could the canceling of these two conferences hurt the president's popularity over his handling of the pandemic. I mean, these are places where he drew key support in his last campaign. Now there's no advertising space. But also, a lot of economics around football are gone, right? People going to bars to watch together, things like that.

GOLDSTEIN: You know, this election is about Donald Trump. And it's people making a retrospective evaluation about the state of the country. Their assessments of the state of the economy - and certainly there's a lot of things going on with the economy and a lot of negative things going on in the economy - but to the extent that college football not happening creates more anger, more angst and more actual economic damage in some of these Midwest battlegrounds, that certainly doesn't help the president's reelection effort.

FADEL: That was Ken Goldstein. He's a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco. Thanks for being with us.

GOLDSTEIN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.