The Business of the Super Bowl
by Jake Kemp
The Super Bowl is the pinnacle event in American Football and is widely regarded as one of the biggest sporting events on the planet.
29th January 2020, 14:08

Key Stats 

 

Background 

The very first Super Bowl was played in 1967, and was formed as a merger game between the National Football League (NFL) and American Football League (AFL). Following the creation of the Super Bowl, both the NFL and AFL leagues re-designed their format, to be played as a conference. To date the event pits the two conference winners against one another as a culmination of the regular season. In 1970, the event was officially renamed the Super Bowl following the popular coining of the game by this name by then Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. That year also saw the official renaming of the championship trophy on offer, which became the ‘Vince Lombardi trophy’ following the death of the Green Bay Packers coach, who led the franchise to victory at the first two official Super Bowls.

Since its inception in 1967, the Super Bowl has become a well celebrated tradition in the United States, with the game taking place on the first Sunday in February each year. The popularity of the event has seen the Super Bowl become one of the biggest commercial opportunities for brands and businesses to capitalise on. Its huge following, has also led to the day of the Super Bowl being reported as the second largest day for food consumption in the States, after the Thanksgiving holiday. Today the competition has become much more than just a game of American Football between two teams, with its famous half time show also a big draw for fans, which has seen performances by some of the biggest international singers/bands, including Prince, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Beyoncé and Janet Jackson.

The early years of the Super Bowl were dominated by the Green Bay Packers, before the rise of the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s. The event then became dominated by teams from the NFC across the 1980’s and early 1990’s, before the start of an era of success for QB Tom Brady and the New England Patriots over the past two decades. 


 

Previous Champions 

 

Media Landscape 

No other sporting competition can begin to compete with the riches on offer during Super Bowl season. Each year the event stands as the most watched TV programme in the United States. In 2015, the Super Bowl even became the most-watched American TV programme of all time, attracting an average audience of 114.4 million. The unrivalled audience numbers, and the commercial nature of the sport, means the cost of airtime during the game stands as the most expensive on the market. In 2019, host network provider, CBS charged around $5.25 million per 30-second half time advertising slot, whilst Fox this year sold out its advertising slots, with deals reaching as much as $5.6 million.

Media coverage of the game in Miami will be hoping to achieve better viewing figures Stateside than the this years NFL conference games, which both saw average audience figures drop on the previous year. This years AFC Championship game averaged 41.1 million on CBS, down from the 53.9 million viewers achieved in the game in 2019. The NFC Championships suffered a similar fate, with the 49ers vs Packers averaging 43.56 million, which stands a slight fall from the 44 million viewers the year before. American audiences have also dropped for the Super Bowl over each of the past four years, with the 2019 competition achieving an audience of 98.2 million on CBS, to become the lowest watched Super Bowl since 2008. Whilst the low audience numbers in 2019 could be explained by the low scoring game, a four year continuous slump should remain alarming to the NFL. However, the 2019/20 regular season has seen a 5% year-on-year increase for all national TV games, which averaged 16.5 million. Domestic rights to the Super Bowl continue to be rotated between the three major broadcasters with regular season rights with the NFL – NBC, CBS and Fox, with the latter holding the rights to the 2020 edition. The NFL maximises its media income by splitting the annual rights between a number of broadcasters, with CBS’s five-year deal valued at $1.1 billion, Fox’s at over $1.2 billion and NBC’s nine-year deal at $950 million a year. Outside of these traditional broadcasters, Verizon hold mobile streaming rights, whilst Amazon are also looking to break into the market, having held rights to 11 Thursday night regular season games for the past two seasons.
 
Despite the domestic decline, the Super Bowl still ranks as one of the biggest sporting events in the world, with the showpiece being broadcast in over 130 countries worldwide. In markets like the United Kingdom, the NFL is continuously looking at increasing the games popularity, and as such recent years have seen the Super Bowl broadcast on free-to-air public broadcaster the BBC, as well as pay-tv broadcaster Sky. In 2019, audience figures for the Super Bowl on the BBC peaked in the opening five minutes of the event at 1.3 million.   

Selected Broadcasters:

 

Sponsorship Landscape 

Whilst spend on Super Bowl commercial advertising and media contracts continues to rake in significant funds for the NFL, sponsorship also remains a key driver of revenue for the organisation. Sponsorship of the NFL offers a great platform for a brand to promote its products or services throughout the whole NFL season, with a number of big name brands involved in the organisations portfolio. Anheuser Busch’s current five-year deal with the league stands as the most lucrative partnership, with the deal valued at $230 million a year, giving the brand pouring rights across all 32 team stadiums throughout the NFL season. The brand uses the deal to primarily promote its Bud Light brand which is named as the leagues official beer. On top of this, Anheuser-Busch also holds individual team deals (including the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys), enabling them to use the teams logos on their products cans. Other benefits of this deal see the brand serve as the official presenting partner on Thursday Night Football on CBS.  Next to this, PepsiCo holds rights valued at $100 million, offering more food and beverage selling opportunities throughout the season, whilst deals with brands such as Nike and Oakley ($120 million and $75 million respectively) hold supplier contracts for shirts and eyewear products. 

 

Whilst most of the major sponsorship deals for the Super Bowl are signed with the NFL for rights across the regular season and playoff stages, separate partnerships are also created with the host committee. These deals offer local brands the opportunity to be involved with the event in less costly manner, with opportunities to be involved helping to generate the buzz in the build up to the event.

 

Market Comparison 

 

In terms of television audiences the Super Bowl stands as the most popular annual sporting event in the world, but its following has not translated in the same way to online popularity. Despite the draw of its showpiece event, the NFL holds a smaller social media following than both the Fifa World Cup and National Basketball Association (NBA). The NBA in particular stands out as the most popular sporting organisation in the States, with its combined following in excess of 111 million, almost double that of the NFL’s. The organisation also falls behind in the online media stakes on an individual team basis, with this year’s Super Bowl finalists holding a combined following of 12.31 million, three times smaller than the most recent NBA Finals teams (39.54 million). Despite this, the NFL remains one of the biggest sporting properties in the States, with its online following still ahead of Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Hockey League’s (NHL) following combined.  

Venues 

In total the Super Bowl has been held in 27 different stadiums, of which 12 have acted as the host on multiple occasions. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome stands as the most prominent host venue in the events history, hosting on seven separate occasions, most recently in 2013 and is lined up to stage the 2024 edition of the competition.  

Traditionally the NFL looks to stage the Super Bowl in stadiums of warmer climates, while the host city must also be capable of dealing with the huge influx of visitors. For this reason, the Super Bowl has only been held in Northern states on six occasions, as the warmer climate in the southern states seen as more hospitable in winter time. In total there has been only ten states that have hosted the event, with Florida acting as the most prominent (on 15 occasions).

2020 Venue - Hard Rock Stadium

 

 

Event History 

 

The Super Bowl over its 53 year history has attracted 4,097,790 through its doors, making the average attendance at a Super Bowl, 77,317. The two largest attendances on record were both recorded at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, both holding over 100,000 fans on match day. As proven by the high attendance numbers recorded at each of the past competitions, the Super Bowl has retained its popularity levels throughout its existence. The 2020 Super Bowl has proved just as popular as its predecessors, as the event in Miami quickly sold out upon ticket release. Since then the average resale cost of tickets on ticketing site Seatgeek stands at $6,785, highlighting the games value and demand.

2020 Teams 

 

NFL Standings

 

NFL Partners 

One of the biggest changes to the NFL in the past twelve months has seen the organisation take a more relaxed stance towards partnerships related to brands in the gambling sector, in a move to catch up with the other big American sports leagues . In January 2019, the league announced Caesars Entertainment Corporation as its first ever official casino sponsor, with the deal reported to be worth $30 million a year. The league has previously had a strict no tolerance attitude towards gambling in the sport, with its tough line even seeing it refuse to run commercials by cities where betting was legal during the 2000’s. The NFL stands as the slowest of the major American sports leagues to capitalise on the country’s Supreme Court ruling that scrapped the ban on commercial sports betting. The country’s other major sports leagues, the NBA, MLB and NHL all signed deals with MGM Resorts prior to the NFL’s deal. Despite the legal ruling in the US, the NFL continues not to engage in sports betting, with the deal focused on casinos as entertainment and excludes betting on the sport.

The league introduced new legislation to relax its position on alcohol related product advertising in May. The new guidelines will enable beer brands to use images of players when marketing its products for the first time, although brands are still banned from using the sports stars to ‘endorse’ the products. Spirit and wine brands still face greater restrictions, but will now be able to use team logos and call themselves the ‘official category partner (e.g. Whiskey)’ of a team.

In January, the NFL extended its sponsorship deal with financial services brand Visa until 2025, with the American brand set to remain the official payment services tech partner of the league. As part of the latest renewal between the pair, the partnership has set plans to work on running the first cashless Super Bowl.

Oakley signed a four-year deal, which will see the brand become the official provider of shields and eyewear for all 32 teams.

Bon and Viv, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev announced its new partnership with the league that will see the brand become the official hard seltzer sponsor of the NFL.

As part of its ongoing media strategy, the league partnered with Tik Tok, and will see the NFL set up its own account on the platform to deliver a range of short videos from across the league to fans across the globe.

 

Miami Super Bowl Partners 

Outside of the NFL’s wider sponsorship deals with some of the biggest brands in the world, the Super Bowl hosts have formed a number of partnerships with smaller, more regional businesses, which will work on building the atmosphere outside of the action on the pitch in the weeks of build up leading up to the game. Official Super Bowl events outside the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami run for the two weeks prior to the action and are hosted by the NFL and Miami Super Bowl Host Committee (MSBHC). Activities at these events include community stages, night concerts, water shows, evening parades and fireworks extravaganzas. 

Partners associated with the MSBHC are organised under four different categories: Official Partners, Signature Partners, Founders Council Partners, and Centennial Legacy Partners. These range in size and involvement with the Committee, with official partners more prominently used before running down to centennial legacy partners, which look at promoting local organisations and businesses. Examples of the deals include: Footprint, which serves as the food ware products provider; Delivery Lean, the pre-packaged meals provider to all 10,000 event volunteers; SaferWatch, the official safety app, used by staff and volunteers to monitor events, and aid attendees in reporting crimes; and Perry Ellis serving as the official uniform provider to committee members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In-Game Advertisers 

Whilst the action on the pitch will be fought out between the Chiefs and the 49ers, off it the battle for brand supremacy can be as hotly anticipated as the game itself. For brands in the American market, the Super Bowl has represents the biggest opportunity to promote to millions of fans nationwide and across the globe. Advertising during the Super Bowl for some of the biggest national brands has become an unmissable marketing opportunity, with brands spending heavily to produce an ad that will stand out. With costs ranging from $5-5.6 million per 30 second slot, in-game advertising stands as a substantial revenue stream for the NFL and broadcasters. This year all 77 in-game slots were filled by Thanksgiving, becoming the fastest sell-out of the space since the 2011 Super Bowl. In 2019, ad revenue stood at $382 million from nearly 50 minutes of adverts. This years Super Bowl will once again see some of the biggest brands compete for the attention of millions. Campaigns include: Cheetos partnering with MC Hammer; Olay assembling an all-female cast to promote, to appeal to the huge portion of female fans that watch the game; Facebook signing up Chris Rock and Sylvester Stallone for its first Super Bowl commercial; Pringles promoting its latest Rick & Morty themed product; Porsche highlighting its latest range of all electric vehicles; while Anheuser Busch has snapped up four 60-second slots, to promote four of its different brands. 

 

Commercial Activity

Strategy Breakdown 

 

Of the 27 deals highlighted in this chart, the current average partnership length with the NFL is 8.56 years. The NFL strikes a good balance between existing and new partners, with five partnerships in their debut season with the league bringing in new relationships and revenues, whilst established partners like PepsiCo and Nike continue to work closely with the league.  

Given that the NFL and Super Bowl continues to be played solely by American teams, it comes as little surprise to see the domination of American based brands involved in its sponsorship setup, with only five other countries on display (each with only one deal). 

In total the NFL’s sponsorship portfolio includes brands from 13 different sectors, in which the financial services industry comes out as the most prominent. Given the events historical link to food/snack consumption, it also comes as little surprise to see the food sector standing as the second most involved sponsorship sector.

Portfolio