It took nearly three decades to unseat the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H as America’s most viewed TV program. But the new record, just a year old and set by the 2010 Super Bowl, could be toppled by Sunday’s telecast of the Big Game on Fox. It’s estimated that 110 million viewers could tune in to Super Bowl XLV. That’s 3.5 million more viewers than watched last year’s record-setting telecast.
The combination of two storied franchises, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, both with fan bases that spread well beyond their home markets and a contest that is expected to be close, are driving the estimates of another record audience. Also, the NFL continues to be the hottest programming franchise on TV. Both the AFC and NFC Conference Championship telecasts set high-water marks on Jan. 23, just two weeks before the Super Bowl.
“The chances are excellent” that the game will shatter the previous audience record, said TV research veteran Steve Sternberg. “The spread is only two-and-a-half points, so people expect a close game and there are lots of good story lines,” he said, referring to the Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers, who proved this season to be a more-than-worthy successor to the legendary Brett Favre, and troubled Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended for four games this season after dodging charges of alleged sexual assault.
Other researchers agree. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s another record,” said Brad Adgate, svp, director of research, Horizon Media. “It’s a marquee matchup, the ratings are on the upswing and the recent games have been good,” he said. And while both teams in the game this year are in markets outside the top 10, that shouldn’t deflect interest in the game, said Adgate. “Look at New Orleans last year,” he said. “That’s market 51.”
Even Fox competitors acknowledge that this year’s game audience is likely to be a record breaker. “I’ll be surprised if it isn’t,” said a research executive at one competing network. “The NFL is just on fire as an audience draw.” The only way it won’t break the record, the executive asserted, “is if it’s a huge blowout and the odds of that happening aren’t very good.”