The Numbers Behind The Superbowl

The annual NFL spectacle broke records, again


You only have to tune into the Super Bowl for a handful of minutes to realize that it is about far more than 22 burly players flinging a ball 50 yards at a time. As well as the obvious draw of a competition-deciding game, the fanfare that surrounds the four hour contest is hyper-commercial, with the half-time show taking centre-stage as a selection of the world’s biggest performers adorn the pitch for 30 minutes.

The Super Bowl consistently registers as one of the most-watched sporting events of the year, behind soccer’s biggest finals - World Cup, Euros and Champions League - the Olympics and the Cricket World Cup final, an impressive draw given the sport’s relatively limited global spread.

And this year was no exception, drawing the third largest audience in Super Bowl history 111.9 million people watched the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers by 24-10, with ESPN Deportes adding a further 472,000 viewers. Outside of TV broadcasts, viewers consumed more than 315 million minutes of coverage across laptops, desktops and other devices. With 167 million people watching at least 6 minutes of the competition - and 115.5 million tuning into the half time show - the opportunity to maximize advertising profits was obviously there, and CBS took full advantage of a trend of year-on-year increasing ad slot prices, factoring in a staggering 49 minutes and 35 minutes of advertising and promos across the four-hour spectacle.

Advertising costs for the Super Bowl are astronomical. A 30 second ad cost companies between $4.6 and $5 million, a total that has risen an average of 11.1% each year over the past five seasons - meaning that in all likelihood next years prices could be as high as $5.5 million. The outlay is difficult to justify too, with many of the ads falling into the category of ‘unmemorable’ and a largely negative online reaction to the memorable ones calls into question the outlay. Since 1967, though, the Super Bowl has drawn $5.9 billion in inflation-adjusted spending and, if trends in European football are to be repeated in the US, other revenue streams like TV rights are likely to balloon in the coming years.

Interestingly, software company Lucid and insights platform Qualtrics, rather than enjoying the spectacle, set about determining which of the expensively - and carefully - place ads were the most engaging. Using Realeyes emotion measurement technology, the companies determined that Doritos’ 30 second ‘Ultrasound’ commercial was the most engaging spot, scoring 99.2% higher than any ad ever measured by the technology, earning a clear 10 out of 10 in impact and retention. Its influence was widespread, too, but perhaps not for the right reasons as many slammed it online over its perceived allusion to premature birth and even abortion.

But the real winners on the night were the NFL. The league itself generated $12.4 billion in revenue this season, nearly $400 million per team, and it is difficult to imagine a more high-profile showcase for a sport than the ostentatious sense of occasion that comes with the Super Bowl. The NFL have set the ambitious target for 2027 of $25 billion in overall revenue and an increased digital presence is set to help them achieve that goal. Over the season, they made two regular games, four playoff games and Super Bowl 50 available to stream without subscription in an effort to expand their viewership, with promising viewer numbers.

Las Vegas, too, exploited the Super Bowl with almighty effect. Only losing money on the game twice in the past 26 years, Vegas saw a record-breaking $132.5 million wagered on the contest. Early betting largely backed the now-defeated Panthers and though late bets for the Broncos did come in, they were not enough to push Vegas into the red for the night. The low-scoring, defensive nature of the game would’ve suited the bookmakers and Wynn Las Vegas executive director Johnny Avello described it as ‘a very good day’ during an interview with the Associated Press, a restrained response to a day that would have seen his company bank millions.

The actual playing time across a game of football is roughly 11 minutes making the sport, per minute of play, one of the world’s most profitable. If, as predicted, ad revenue continues to grow, sponsorships continue to flood in and TV rights deals continue to balloon, the yearly spectacle of the Super Bowl will build on its already monumental value. 

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