Since 1972, the Super Bowl has consistently commanded at least 80 million viewers and 61% of all U.S. television households per game. The 1982 matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals, was the fourth most watched program in television history, preceded only by the final episodes of M*A*S*H, and Roots, as well as the episode that resolved the “Who Shot J.R” mystery on Dallas.
Last year’s Indianapolis Colts-Chicago Bears showdown, which marked for the first time two black coaches contending for the title, was watched by 10.1 million blacks, slightly more than the 9.7 that watched the year before.
This kind of track record makes the Super Bowl a low-risk cash cow for any network that airs the game. This year Fox has the honors and will broadcast in 232 countries and territories, in 33 languages.
The rights were secured through a $3.6 billion package deal that also allows Fox to run the National Football Conference (NFC) regular and post-season games from 2006–2011. CBS has claim to the American Football Conference (AFC) games but both networks must make exceptions to two wildcard and all Sunday primetime matches, which go to NBC; Monday Night Football, which is contracted to ESPN, and eight predetermined games, which can only be viewed on the NFL Network. The three major broadcasters alternate Super Bowl privileges every three years.
Lou D’Ermilio, Fox Sport’s senior vice president of media relations says, “This is our third contract with the NFL and we typically begin negations with the league two years before each one expires. We chose the NFC because the markets,” which include New York (Giants), Atlanta (Falcons), and Philadelphia (Eagles), “are bigger and have several of our owned-and-operated [local] stations.”
This translates to dollar and cents for Fox’s bottom line. The network will retain 100% of the $2.7 million generated from each of the 63 30-second spots shown during the Super Bowl. Eleven additional spots, three during the game and eight in half time, are designated for local avails or commercials for small businesses that can only be seen in their respective city or region and are less expensive in price.
D’Ermilio says, “This deal makes good sense for us” for several reasons. First off, emerging forms of technology such as the Nintendo Wii and the iPod are pulling eyeballs away from television sets and increasing numbers of cable channels, are segmenting viewing audiences. This makes it difficult to reach large groups of the coveted 18–49 demographic at one source. As a result, advertisers are going to the Internet and other outlets with their spending dollars.
The Super Bowl is the answer to this problem. Last year’s game had a 42.6 average household rating compared to the 17.3 rating of American Idol, TV’s top-rated regular series show. Advertisers are willing to pay the premium price to expose their products to audiences of such magnitude.
The Super Bowl is also one of the few events that retains 99.6% of its audience during commercials. Last year’s highest-rated advertising spot was the 9:25 p.m.