Given the impact of the pandemic, Nissan's 2020 marketing budget is "still under discussion," a company spokeswoman said.
Last year, the Nissan brand spent about $538 million on overall media advertising in the U.S., up from more than $510 million in 2018, according to data from Kantar Media.
Nissan ranked seventh among automakers in sports sponsorship spend, investing between $30 million and $35 million last year, according to IEG.
Nissan is a major backer of college athletics. It is a sponsor of the NCAA men's basketball tournament and has a 15-year partnership with the Heisman Trophy Trust.
Witherspoon is confident that sports programming will be back. "When it returns, we expect the viewership to be strong," she said.
But the nature of the fan experience at sporting events now is an unknown and poses the biggest challenge to marketers.
"The physical activation — that is probably what will change most," Witherspoon said, referring to live events where crowds can touch the products. "How do you create a physical experience that is low-touch, or contactless?"
The absence of fans in stadiums also takes away some of the premium assigned to sports sponsorship deals, said Peter Laatz, global managing director at IEG.
The deals are about selling access to fans, rather than just selling signs. Automakers rely on vehicle displays and brand ambassadors at the game to drive lead generation.
Brands seek to move the sports fans through the sales funnel and get them into a dealership, Laatz said. "It's harder to do that with an outfield board."
With the in-stadium fan experience off the table for the foreseeable future, auto industry marketers and sports properties are in a "reconciliation process" over the value of their sponsorship deals, Laatz said.
"Sports and sponsorships have a powerful way forward post-COVID," he said. "But it's going to require reinventing and reimagining how brands engage with fans virtually, or digitally."