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What Are Consumers Not Doing During the Big Game? Shopping Online

Sales down for online retailers
  • January 29, 2015, 6:00 AM EST
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Illustration: Alex Eben Meyer

In a world of second screens, you might think the biggest day in American sports and television viewing would create an online buying frenzy. But you'd be wrong.

As new research about the 2014 Big Game provided by Adobe Digital Index (ADI) shows, websites in some key categories see less traffic, revenue and ad spend than they do on a normal Sunday. Could it be that people are watching football, and not just the ads, after all?

Well, yes and no. A record 114.5 million people watched last year's game—80 million more than the number who saw the highest-rated regular season matchup—but many of them didn't do so for the action on the field. The rest probably were watching for the ads, those 30-second spots that are going for a record $4.5 million a pop this year.

The Big Game is an event steeped in consumerism. Yet websites for retail and travel brands saw surprising decreases in activity and spending last year, ADI data shows. The real winner of the evening: automobile brands and sports networks. 

1. It's not a good day for online retailers
The biggest decrease came in online retail sales where brands saw a revenue decrease of 24 percent on the Sunday of the Big Game compared with an average Sunday, according to ADI (see graph below). That's a pretty remarkable drop-off, especially when you consider that the overall decrease in website visits to the same retailer wasn't nearly as significant—only 9 percent. Digital ad spend by individual retailers fell by an average of 9 percent as well. Retail doesn't just suffer on brand websites, either. Facebook post impressions in the category fell by a whopping 22 percent. 

2. No traveling for the couch-bound
Travel is another category that takes a hit, according to ADI, and it seems that marketers and consumers both are staying away from it—last year website visits fell 18 percent (see graph below) and digital ad spend plummeted 21 percent. Perhaps this makes intuitive sense. During the most-watched sporting event of the year, many Americans gather with friends and family to share an afternoon and evening together. To borrow a tagline: "Wanna get away?" Well, no, actually. I'm just fine where I am, thank you very much.

3. The cars are always winning
If there's a winner during the contest—other than the victorious team, of course—it's the automotive brands that see their numbers jump across the board. Facebook post interactions and impressions soar 60 percent and 45 percent, respectively, while website visits jump 24 percent. That's because, no secret, automotive is the biggest advertising category for TV ads—nearly $100 million last year—and that kind of spend gets results, period. It will be interesting to see what happens this Sunday as some automotive advertisers are pulling out.

4. We still love to watch our sports
The day of the football championship might not be a good one for most TV shows—according to ADI's data, consumption of TV everywhere drops 15 percent when compared to the average Sunday. Yet sports channels see viewership leap on the day of the Big Game by an average of 28 percent. Fans have games on the brain, it seems. It's the sports networks' world; the rest of us are just watching it.