Fox Sports CEO Says Super Bowl Ratings Have Become ‘Bulletproof’

Dependent on the matchup, not the quality of the game

While NFL ratings were down across the board this season, the team putting together Super Bowl LI on Fox don't expect any spillover when the game is finally played on Feb. 5.

"The Super Bowl has become a little bit bulletproof," and is more reliant on the star power and matchups rather than the quality of the gameplay itself, Fox Sports president, COO and executive producer Eric Shanks said at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

He noted that when Fox last broadcast the Super Bowl, in 2014, "it was not close from the opening snap." The Seattle Seahawks blew out the Denver Broncos 43-8.

Shanks said he "dreaded" waking up the next morning and seeing the overnight ratings. Instead, "we set a record with that Super Bowl, but it was not close at all." That 2014 telecast was watched by 112.2 million viewers.

Last year's telecast, Super Bowl 50 on CBS, was the third most-watched U.S. telecast of all time, with 111.9 million viewers. The 2015 Super Bowl on NBC drew 114.4 million total viewers.

As for Super Bowl LI ratings, "it's hard to predict. The Super Bowl is now dependent on the playoffs: certain teams and how long it's been since they've been there, that really dictates whether we're at the upper end of the Super Bowl range or the bottom end of the range of modern Super Bowl ratings," Shanks said.

No matter what the final ratings are, well over 100 million viewers will tune in, which means that the pressure is on Shanks to get everything right.

"It's a lot more pressure because you want to make sure that you've planned for everything that could go wrong," like the power outage during the 2013 Super Bowl, said Shanks. "There's a lot of pressure because of the economic impact to Fox on that day and all the things we need to deliver perfectly for the advertisers who are investing in that day. And we also have pressure on ourselves, that we walk away thinking that we told the stories in the right way that we want to tell."

Shanks noted that Fox's NFL ratings were down six percent this season, the second lowest total in recent years behind 2012, which was also an election year. "Clearly, this unique election cycle had an impact," he said.

Fox's innovations for Super Bowl LI include technology that for the first time ever, take fans inside the helmet of any player on the field and show the game from their perspective. The cameras won't actually be affixed to each player's helmet, but Fox's crew will be able to simulate their perspective from cameras around the stadium.

With under a month to go, Fox Sports has a handful of Super Bowl slots left, and is asking north of $5 million for a 30-second spot.