Sources: Nielsen; TV by the Numbers; Sports Media Watch; Los Angeles Times
There were 99.9 million people who watched Super Bowl 2020. This was slightly up from last year’s 98.2 million. However, this uptick is just small. It doesn’t compare well to 2015’s 114.4 million and even the 111 million recorded in both 2016 and 2017. Also, during the overall 11-year span from 2010 to 2019, the median is 111.3 and the mean is about 108 million. Viewership in the last two years is still far less in comparison. Furthermore, both still rank to be the lowest in that range. The slump is real—but how bad is it?
The numbers are just for television. Keep in mind that there are many alternative viewing channels such as streaming services that carry the NFL and the Super Bowl; many of course are illegal. With this in mind, the recent decline in TV viewership is not as alarming.
To wit, there are also other reasons for such a slump. One major catalyst was Colin Kaepernick’s infamous knee during the national anthem in 2017.
His protest was, arguably, for a good cause. It was against police brutality against people of color. However, the way he went about it did not go well for many people. It caused a big divide. One such offended was President Donald Trump, who called for an NFL boycott in 2017 after the incident. So, that gives it context.
But, football is still a big sport, and Super Bowl, its Everest, is still the biggest sporting event in the land. In 2019, about 67% of US homes with televisions were tuned in to the game.
Also, Super Bowl remains to be very popular on social media. Super Bowl 53 generated 32.3 million social media interactions. There is no denying the supremacy of football in America.
It is not news to sports fans that the football season is shorter and with fewer games than other major sports. Even so, football is still supreme in America, and the NFL is where the most exciting action, the biggest stars, and the most money is. Thus, even with its declining numbers on different fronts, it is still very lucrative. It is even more lucrative than any other popular sports league in America.
Source: Forbes, 2019
However, its dominance is losing steam a bit. Many feel that this is just in the short term because of the aforementioned reasons. Others still, think that this trend will continue in the long run. The declining numbers in three key performance areas seem to point to this. These are its Super Bowl TV ad revenue, its average home attendance, and average TV viewership records through the years.
Source: Kantar Media, 2019
Super Bowl TV ad revenue has been in decline in the last five years. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. In 2010, advertising revenue was just $191 million—counting the inflation rate of 1.78% per year during this time, $191 million in 2010 is equivalent to $223.94 in 2019. This shows a difference of $32.94 million over nine years in figures. But, both values assume the same purchasing power.
Thus, comparing 2010’s figure in today’s valuation to 2019 revenues, there is still a difference of $112.06, reflecting a significant increase of 66.65%. Contrary to the pessimists, the NFL is getting more lucrative.
Source: ESPN.com, 2020
The average home attendance has also been dropping since 2015, with 2016’s record being an anomaly. Since 2005, total home attendance averages only beat the 545,000-mark four times. These years include 2006 (550,185), 2007 (549, 610), 2008 (546, 106), and 2016. For all the other years remaining during the same time span, only 2014’s season hit +542,000. Furthermore, a downward trend is also apparent with TV viewership.
Source: Nielsen, CNBC
For one, declining TV viewership does not really indicate a short-term or long-term slump. Firstly, there are streaming services available already. It is thus expected for people to move towards newer and more convenient channels, and the NFL makes money from these too. Amazon paid the NFL in 2018 around $65 million per year for the simulcast of the next two seasons of Thursday Night Football. The other broadcasting partner is Fox Sports that pays $660 million per year until 2022. More channels mean more reach for the NFL.
Secondly, there are key performance areas that are doing pretty well, as mentioned. For example, the Super Bowl TV ad revenue is actually pretty healthy despite the short term slump; indeed, in the long run, it was really increasing. And a sports league is a long term investment game. It has everything sports fans want: sports action, divisive figures, and narratives surrounding teams, cities, and players.
So, even with the declining numbers, many still remain optimistic about the future of the NFL, particularly the Super Bowl. In fact, prior to Super Bowl 56 this 2020, the National Retail Federation estimated that the number of adults who plan to watch the event would reach 194 million. This is a very high estimate when you take into account the historical data, but, this includes both TV viewers and stream audiences.
And, it is not only the hardcore football purists that participate in the fanfare of the Super Bowl. Music junkies do as well. Furthermore, advertisers, advertising professionals, and the occasional advertising enthusiasts do too.
Source: National Retail Federation
There is only one far second when it comes to having the largest TV audience in the US: the Academy Awards show. NFL’s Super Bowl remains to not only be the largest sporting TV spectacle but also the largest TV spectacle in the country. As such, both of these giant events draw many companies and brands to spread the word about their products and services on their platforms.
Even with the apparent decline in a few key performance areas in the NFL, brands still consider the Super Bowl to be prime advertising real estate bar none.
Sources: Fortune; Forbes; CNBC; Time
The average price for a 30-second ad spot is $5.6 million this 2020. This is an all-time high following the then all-time high of $5.25 million last year. Top brands continue this tradition of investing in Super Bowl ads, and Super Bowl 56 drew in some big spenders.
Source: Kantar; Adweek
Anheuser-Busch InBev remains the top spender this Super Bowl—same as last year. For Super Bowl 56, the company acquired four 60-second spots for four different brands: Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Michelob Ultra Pure Gold, and Budweiser.
PepsiCo, in second, also invested in four spots with three 30-second spots and one long-form one. These are for Pepsi Zero Sugar, Mountain Dew Zero Sugar, SodaStream and Cheetos, and Doritos (60 seconds). In third place came in Proctor and Gamble with a total time of 2:55 for five Tide ads and one 30-second Olay ad.
Also, in fourth place is Amazon spending about 26 million for a total time of 2:30. Lastly, Hyundai ranked fifth spending approximately 22.4 million for three 60-second spots for its Hyundai namesake and the Genesis line. Kia, its affiliate, also placed ads.
Furthermore, here are the top 10 ads and their TV ad impressions.
Source: Ad Age
The total TV ad impressions reached a total of 6.7 billion. Also, they take up a monstrous 37.6% share of the total spending of about $400 million at $150.4 million.
The estimated $400 million ad revenue will likely sweeten future NFL broadcast deals. Today, the league reportedly earns about $5.5 billion a year from broadcasting rights. This is a very lucrative revenue stream for the NFL.
One great thing about advertising on the Super Bowl is that your reach isn’t just contained on television. Your advertisements spill over to digital media as well. For Super Bowl 56, it reached about 4.1 billion impressions. Here are the top 10 ads and the digital reach they gained.
Source: Ad Age
Interestingly, the top 10 ads had more than half of the total share of voice with 50.31% as well.
Source: Ad Age
What’s also great about spilling over to social media is that you’d get more evergreen content. This is in the way of many sites covering Super Bowl TV advertisements. But, let’s get into hypotheticals for a moment: what if you spend $5.6 million purely on social media? Do you wonder how much reach your budget could afford? Here’s an idea.
Source: Digiday 2019, FinancesOnline projections
And, if you go for influencer marketing, you’d get these figures.
Source: Digiday, 2019; FinancesOnline projections
This surely gets you more impressions. However, without the fanfare behind the Super Bowl, it wouldn’t come close to the impact that TV ads have. Also, influencer marketing and even digital ad spending are best done in a calculated and targeted manner. The Super Bowl cuts through different demographics—sports can truly bring people together and big sporting events are a good placement for ads.
It is not only brands, the NFL, and broadcast partners that spend on the Super Bowl. Cities and citizens also join in on the fanfare all around the country. It is a reason to go out (or stay in) and have fun. Here are the percentages of people who planned to throw or join the Super Bowl party from 2013 to 2019.
Source: National Retail Federation
Also, there are many planned purchases whenever the Super Bowl is coming up. This includes expenditures for food, beverages, and decorations. Here are the data from 2013 to 2019.
Source: National Retail Federation
This 2020, the National Retail Federation also did a survey among people who planned to watch the Super Bowl in 2020. The total average spending for a person is $88.65. This is up from 2019’s total average spending of $81.30. Also, the total expected Super Bowl spending for fans would be $17.2 billion this year. That’s $2.4 billion than last year’s.
Source: National Retail Federation
Sports boosters also claim that hosting a Super Bowl brings much value to the city. In fact, this is part of the pitch of the NFL. You may already know that the NFL doesn’t pay a dime for Super-Bowl-worthy stadiums to be built, it is a public effort to do so, and Americans seem to be happy to bring the biggest sports spectacle to their cities.
Of course, this has costs. Taxpayers contribute an average of $250 million to build NFL-worthy stadiums. It is also touted that hosting the Super Bowl would generate about $350 to $400 million for the surrounding areas. In 2017, Super Bowl 52 was pegged by sports boosters to contribute about $343 million to the region, which includes $29 million in tax revenue.
However, this is not a sure thing if you ask sports economists. Some say that the Super Bowl only generates about $30 to $130 million in economic activity. This is far from $350. In fact, experts suggest that the event can cost cities more than they can gain. For example, Glendale spent $1 million more for hosting Super Bowl 42. Moreover, San Francisco had to shell out extra money for a deficit of almost $5 million to cover extra public service for the event.
Source: The NY Times 2018; Business Insider 2019
Sports economists found evidence that hosting the Super Bowl may have little to no effect on the economic activity of the host city. Some suggest that sports boosters don’t distinguish between money spent during the event and money spent because of the event. They just throw out optimistic projects and explain away economic activity using the Super Bowl as the primary reason.
Economists found three sources of sports boosters’ biases that “cloud” their estimations. These are (1) leakages, (2) crowding out, and the (3) substitution effect.
Leakages happen when the money spent because of the game does not stay in the local economy but gets leaked out to national companies. One example involves national fast-food chains. Take for instance a hike in sales during the lead-up and the game day itself. The national company gets more sales, sure; however, the workers get paid the same.
Crowding out is said to occur when locals leave their city to avoid traffic and stress. Also, potential vacationers may also avoid visiting the city. Thus, potential money spent in the local economy is lost.
The substitution effect happens when locals spend their money on the game instead of local shops. This is a loss to the local economy of the host city.
It may be true that these three phenomena cloud the judgment of sports boosters and fans. However, it is not about the immediate economic activity that is the most important for some. NFL Stadiums could be used for many other events that could attract more tourists in the future. It can hold other sporting events like combat sports or even comedy specials and concerts.
Moreover, many feel that this just adds to their city’s prestige, heritage, and a place in sporting history. Some would even contend that economists simply follow the trail of money but forget to observe the happiness that the Super Bowl brings.
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