Television’s annual premier event, the Super Bowl, arrives once more on Sunday, February 12.
Of course, you’d expect the championship game of the long-dominant league in American sports to assume that title. But 18 months ago, there actually was concern its massive potency might start to decrease in value.
Super Bowl LV had aired on CBS at this time two years ago. While it took place on-schedule, that NFL season was anything but regular due to the complications from the COVID pandemic. Empty stadiums, infected players, and several rescheduled dates affected the proceedings. There’d be no doubt the Big Game would tower over all telecasts especially a game that featured perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time (Tom Brady) leading his new Tampa team to a title over Kansas City with arguably the league’s top current QB (Patrick Mahomes).
But then, its final figures were released soon thereafter: a “mere” 96.4 million viewers, a 14-year low. Did cord-cutting and accelerated trends of declining levels of live TV watching finally reach the Super Bowl? Spoiler alert: an emphatic “No!” But at the time, the Fox network made the unprecedented move to sell advertising for LVII beginning in the summer of 2021. They were selling for their Big Game before NBC began selling for their Big Game (in the midst of the Winter Olympics) of 2022.
Then, near Christmas Day 2021, the actual culprit for the Super blip was revealed — the Nielsen company admitted that a “software issue” caused an undercount of out-of-home audiences (e.g. those viewing in restaurants and sports bars) since Sep. 2020.
All in all, it’s business as usual for the Big Game. Its 100+ million-viewer level seems to remain afloat while almost everything else on linear and live television is becoming more and more scarcely sampled.
Why would anyone expect anything different? The NFL is still quite robust. It accounted for a whopping 82 of the top 100 most-watched TV shows of 2022 Fox averaged 19.4 million viewers per window in the 2022 regular season; CBS did 18.5 million — both networks’ respective bests in six years. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” drew 18.7 million which is its best mark since pre-pandemic. And, at 53+ million, the Chiefs-Bengals AFC Championship delivered the largest conference title game audience on any network in five years.
This year’s Big Game is at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Formerly known as University of Phoenix Stadium, it was the same venue that hosted the Super Bowl classic of 2008 where the New York Giants denied the New England Patriots of an undefeated season. This Sunday, it’ll be the Giants’ bitter division rival Philadelphia Eagles as the NFC representative. Topping the conference since the start of the season, the Eagles have lost just one game when league MVP contender Jalen Hurts played as their quarterback.
Their opponents are the Kansas City Chiefs. For quarterbacks that have defined the decades: the ’80s belonged to Joe Montana. The ’90s, Troy Aikman. The ’00s and ’10s, Tom Brady. The 2020’s are still young, but already, Patrick Mahomes has taken charge. He helped bring the Chiefs franchise its first championship in 50 years back in 2020. LVII will be his third Super Bowl appearance in four seasons.
Manhomes and Hurts make Super Bowl history on two fronts: the first Super Bowl to feature two Black starting quarterbacks facing off — it was 1988 (35 years ago) when Washington’s Doug Williams became the first Black starting quarterback in a Super Bowl; and, it’s the youngest Super Bowl quarterback combo ever, at a combined age of 51 years-337 days, beating the previous record (Joe Montana-Dan Marino for XIX in 1985) by just 13 days.
Both Manhomes and Hurts enter Super Bowl LVII with some injury concerns, although barring catastrophe, they’re expected to play: Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain in the Divisional playoff win over Jacksonville on Jan. 21; Hurts’ right shoulder issues caused him to miss games in late December.
Other Big Game storylines include the “Andy Reid Bowl” referring to the Kansas City Chiefs head coach since 2013 who was the Philadelphia Eagles head coach from 1999-2012 (he too led Philadelphia to five conference title game appearances and one Super Bowl appearance in 2005); and, the “Kelce Bowl” — the first time brothers will be playing against each other in a Super Bowl; they are Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and older brother Eagles center Jason Kelce.
On the broadcasting side, Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen — both, New Jersey’s own — will be on the call for Fox. They were the network’s B-team in their first year as a duo in 2021. Following the departures of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ESPN last year, Burkhardt and Olsen ascended to the A-team And now, the guys will be announcing their first Super Bowl with Olsen earning critical praise for his in-game analysis especially in these playoffs. The positive feedback for Olsen is bittersweet, though, considering what is looming soon ahead: the just-retired Tom Brady beginning his 10-year, $375 million deal with Fox Sports to become their top NFL broadcaster despite not one millisecond of football analysis. Reports indicate Brady won’t be joining the Burkhardt-Olsen broadcast booth for the Super Bowl, but he’ll likely be part of the network’s pre-game coverage that afternoon.
Music superstar Rihanna will finally perform on the Super Bowl halftime stage. Why “finally”? Because she turned down the offer to perform back in 2019 due to the league’s blackballing of Colin Kaepernick, the Black quarterback formerly of the San Franchise 49ers who knelt down on the field during the national anthem before a game in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice. In August 2019, the NFL partnered with Roc Nation, the entertainment company founded by rapper Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, to consult on acts for the Super Bowl as well as to help promote social and racial justice. Rihanna was one of Jay-Z’s discoveries for Def Jam in 2005.
The Super Bowl ad rate sets a record each and every year. This year’s 30-second spot costs $7 million to advertisers, up from NBC’s $6.5 million last year. Among the notable commercials are: “SNL” alum Maya Rudolph rebranding the candy M&Ms, former NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski attempting to kick a field goal for daily fantasy sports portal FanDuel, Michelob Ultra’s remake of “Caddyshack” (with Serena Williams, Brian Cox and Tony Romo), Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul reprising their “Breaking Bad” characters for PopCorners, Alicia Silverstone reviving her “Clueless” role for the rewards portal Rakuten, former “Mom” star Anna Faris as Eve (as in, Adam and Eve) for Avocados from Mexico, and clssshc rockers Ozzy Osbourne and Joan Jett for Workdsy.
Witt the involvement of Philadelphia, the fourth biggest TV market in the country, and perennial title contender Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LVII should improve upon at least the two most recent tilts. The inclusion of Rihanna, one of pop radio’s most widely-played artists of the past two decades, should highly boost interest — perhaps even top Katy Perry’s 2015 spot for most watched halftime performance. The all-time TV viewership record, though, will not be touched — I still contend XLIX is tops if the out-of-home crowd was factored in. While CBS and NBC each had subscription services as the streaming platforms for their Big Games (CBS All Access turned Paramount+ and Peacock), Fox merely has the Fox Sports app to stream which may limit those viewing online. And, Spanish language outlet Fox Deportes has less than half the reach than NBC’s Telemundo. It’ll hit the viewer mark of 113.2 million.
I inquired with professionals in the media industry to provide their ratings prognostications for Super Bowl LVII. Here is their analysis — you may also observe their guesses in numerical order:
Marc Berman, Editor-in-Chief of Programming Insider
Despite the pattern of erosion across all media platforms, sports is still the go to destination, particularly The Super Bowl. And I am optimistically predicting 114.1 million viewers for the Philadelphia Eagles versus the Kansas City Chiefs (not to mention Rihanna in the Half-Time show) on Fox.
Mark Cuban, “Shark Tank” entrepreneur/Dallas Mavericks owner
Including OOH 118 [million]
Jon Zaghloul, TV & radio host of “Sports Talk Chicago”
Philadelphia vs. KC. Two historic franchises, two hungry fanbases, and huge name recognition. Viewership will most definitely be up, especially when factoring in streaming numbers, as well.
Justin Walters, WPIX-TV (New York) sports anchor/reporter and CBS Sports announcer/sideline reporter
Two very passionate fan bases with a lot of interesting storylines like the two black starting quarterbacks will produce a strong viewership.
Jon Lewis, Sports Media Watch
Out-of-home viewing should lift linear Super Bowl viewership past the 100 million mark again this year, especially if it’s a close game. The combination of a big-market team in the Eagles and a familiar star QB in the Chiefs’ Mahomes already makes for a more appetizing matchup than Rams-Bengals last year. My thought is 103.8 million, not including streaming or Spanish-language coverage on Fox Deportes.