Declining viewership for live events, including the Super Bowl, presents concerns for advertisers

Declining viewership for live events, including the Super Bowl, presents concerns for advertisers Declining viewership for live events, including the Super Bowl, presents concerns for advertisers

February 7, 20223 min read
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This year’s NFL Championship, best known as the Super Bowl, will again be one of the most watched events. But public interest in live events appears to be declining, even for the “Big Game,” say two marketing professors at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.


“Live sports events are the last stand for live TV, with the Super Bowl being the biggest spectacle to unite the American audience. Live events like this are languishing. Need proof? Look at record low ratings for award shows,” said Ann Bastianelli, teaching professor of marketing at Kelley, who added that the Super Bowl remains “a rare opportunity to gauge the U.S. cultural consciousness.”


“The early reports and teasers suggest that Super Bowl viewers are in for a smorgasbord of memorable and even humorous commercials, providing some much-needed laughs during the ongoing pandemic. Even so, the Super Bowl isn’t enjoying the same viewership it once had which should prompt changes in marketing decisions,” added Demetra Andrews, clinical associate professor of marketing.


With a television audience of more than 90 million last year, the Super Bowl continues to provide the biggest platform for advertisers. But, according to Andrews, television viewership of the Super Bowl has declined fairly steadily for years and the increase in livestreaming of the game does not account for the decline.


Of note, she said, is a persistent decline in watchers aged 18-49 since 2008, a key component of the Super Bowl audience. According to Morning Consult, 40% of Generation Z-aged American aren’t sports fans, compared to only 24% of Millennials opting out of sports. Gen Z may be more likely to watch and share ads online than during the sporting event.


“Despite this, the price for advertising during the Super Bowl has remained high for a 30-second ad. This is likely to prompt marketing organizations to reexamine the value of the Super Bowl as a promotional platform,” Andrews said.


The cost of a 30-second commercial in the 2022 game is $6.5 million, up significantly from the $5.5 million price tag of just a year ago. “Clearly, the network is not bashful about asking that, even with the misgivings that advertisers have had in the past few years,” Bastianelli said.


Super Bowl parties traditionally have been a big part of the game day experience and something most attractive to advertisers. But with larger gatherings discouraged and even restricted last year, this aspect was greatly diminished for the 55th Super Bowl. More people may gather to watch the game, while others will be hesitant to do so.


“Without Super Bowl parties, brands might not get the same return on investment, because people couldn’t discuss ads in real-time with others, so brands shifted to digital/online advertising to avoid the $5.5 million price tag,” Bastianelli said. They also do this “because spending money online builds reach and frequency and gives brands valuable data to maximize customer engagement much more cost-efficiently.


“The downside is that, while culture spreads at the speed of social, it’s much harder to stand out with sustained hype,” she added.


Reevaluation of the Super Bowl as a promotional platform should include a determination of whether an organizations’ target customer groups are likely to watch or attend a Super Bowl event, Andrews said.


Both professors are available for interviews. Contact George Vlahakis at vlahakis@iu.edu for assistance.


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  • Demetra Andrews
    Demetra Andrews Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing

    Consumer researcher focused on internal and external factors that influence consumer confidence and readiness-to-act.

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