The cost of a 30-second Super Bowl spot has more than quadrupled since 1989, far outstripping the event’s delivery gains in that same 20-year span.
According to a new report from TNS Media Intelligence, NBC’s presentation of Super Bowl XLIII took in $3 million per 30-second spot, with total ad revenue coming in at $213 million. That marks a 329 percent increase from CBS’ asking price of $700,400 per spot for Super Bowl XXIV, a 55-10 blowout that drew 73.9 million viewers on Jan. 28, 1990.
Last year’s much more competitive Steelers-Cardinals brawl served up 98.7 million total viewers, per Nielsen, notching a 34 percent increase from the delivery of that long-ago 49ers-Broncos yawner. (The lopsided score- — Joe Montana and the 49ers were up 28-3 at the half — had viewers tuning out early. Super Bowl XXIV attracted the smallest audience since Super Bowl X, a classic Steelers-Cowboys battle that drew a mere 57.7 million viewers to CBS on the afternoon of Jan. 18, 1976.)
Per TNS estimates, this year’s Super Bowl ads are pricing between $2.5 million and $2.8 million, a range that includes the average amount Fox charged for time on its broadcast of Super Bowl XLI ($2.7 million). CBS pointedly has not talked up its going rates, stressing that the buys are being made on a client-by-client basis, and that the pricing variables depend on positioning within the game itself.
If those estimates hold up, this year’s game will mark the first time since 1996 that the average price for an ad has dropped from the previous year; per Nielsen data, NBC commanded $1.09 million per spot for time on its Super Bowl XXX broadcast, down 6 percent from the $1.15 million per spot ABC commanded the year before.
In the last 20 years, the top three Super Bowl advertisers have become as much a part of the game as tailgating and office-betting pools. No. 1 Anheuser-Busch has appeared in every big game in the last two decades, spending $311.8 million on airtime, while runner-up PepsiCo has been nearly as committed, investing $254.2 million over the same stretch. Third-ranked GM, which will remain on the sidelines for the second straight year, has spent $80.5 million on Super Bowl ads from 1990-2009.
A-B has been quiet about its plans for Super Bowl XLIV. A year ago, the brewer ponied up for four minutes and 30 seconds worth of airtime. Pepsi is scaling back its visibility, eschewing spots for its flagship beverage brands and pushing products from its Frito-Lay unit (specifically, Doritos). All told, the company has signed on for a triad of 30-second commercials.
While domestic auto marques are unlikely to be represented in this year’s showcase, foreign carmakers once again have stepped up, as Audi of America, Honda, Hyundai and Kia Motors are all suiting up for the Feb. 7 game. Audi has bought a single fourth-quarter spot, marking the third consecutive time the automaker will be featured in the Super Bowl after what has been a hiatus of nearly 20 years. The :30 will highlight the Audi A3 TDI; in keeping with the car’s more eco-friendly profile, the soundtrack will feature rockers Cheap Trick painting a “green” patina on one of their classic singles.
Honda’s in for a second-half :30, Hyundai’s down for two in-game (one in the second quarter and another in the third) and three pre-game ads, and Kia will introduce its 2011 Sorento crossover in a third-quarter spot.
Newcomers are also flooding the zone, as gamer Electronic Arts is in for at least one spot, while online vacation rentals player HomeAway will also run a single :30. Denny’s returns after its debut in last year’s game, making a one-spot buy, while Teleflora is also expected to repeat after bowing in Super Bowl XLIII.
First-time advertisers accounted for 23 percent of the roster of 158 clients that have appeared in Super Bowl games since 2005.
While most viewers would guess that beer, soft drinks and automotive are the most high-profile ad categories, given their near ubiquity in each year’s game, TNS reports that the leader by dollar value is actually the in-house network promo. In a typical Super Bowl, 15 to 20 percent of all commercial time is devoted to plugging the host broadcaster’s own programming.
Last year, NBC’s promos added up to 7 minutes and 5 seconds of airtime, or 16 percent of the total spot load. All told, that inventory added up to $42.5 million, per TNS. That said, the Peacock enjoyed a certain latitude to push its own shows, as its presentation of Super Bowl XLIII featured a record 45 minutes and 5 seconds of total ad time.
“The Super Bowl offers the host network an attractive platform to promote its upcoming programming and try to build an audience,” said Jon Swallen, svp, research at TNS Media Intelligence. “In deciding how much ad time to keep for itself, the network has to assess the trade-off between giving up current revenue in the game versus building future revenue from its other programming.”
All told, the Super Bowl over the last two decades has generated $2.17 billion in network sales, from a total of 210 different advertisers. Since 1990, more than 1,400 spots have run during the NFL’s championship showcase.