The pigskin has officially bounced back. After dicey years in 2017 and 2018, when regular-season ratings declined for NFL regular-season telecasts and even the mighty Super Bowl saw flat ad spending, Sunday’s 54th edition of the big game arrives with a new sense of momentum.
Fox sold out its primary ad inventory for the San Francisco 49ers-Kansas City Chiefs matchup last November — the earliest sellout in nearly a decade — with 30 seconds of time commanding as much as $5.6 million. Earlier this week, the network said it would clear out additional “floater” spots, designed for moments when there is an unanticipated break in the action that prompts the network to break away from live coverage. Already, the game has booked 28 ads that Fox classifies as “long-form,” meaning 45 seconds or longer. Many brands are looking to break through the clutter with longer, more narrative messages (think Bud Light’s team-up with HBO for Game of Thrones a year ago).
Categories like technology and insurance are on the rise. (Ironically, streaming has become a growth area for traditional networks on the ad side in general, with several major new services coming online over a half-year span.) Politics is also a new frontier — for better or worse — with Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg each ponying up for time.
A raft of spots with Hollywood ties will unspool — Martin Scorsese hawking a Coca-Cola energy drink, Bill Murray reliving Groundhog Day in a Jeep, Molly Ringwald extolling the taste of avocado, Sylvester Stallone and Chris Rock having a Rocky moment for Facebook. And then, of course, movie ads for upcoming releases like Fast and Furious 9 and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Despite overall erosion of linear ratings and corresponding pressure on ad rates, the Super Bowl remains a spectacle too good to pass up. Many brands push out their spots online in the runup to the game, with the in-game reveal serving as the punctuation mark, a reversal of the longtime world order. Scarcity of spots has helped push rates up nearly 50% since 2014, when a 30-second spot went for $3.9 million, according to data from research firm SQAD.
The Super Bowl years ago stopped being any kind of bellwether for the overall TV ad business — rather, it is the great outlier. Despite which brands, players or teams have a winning Sunday, the business will soon return to the workaday task of wrestling with streaming’s massive disruption and navigating the changes threatening the $70 billion annual TV ad business. Still, beachfront property is still beachfront property.
Michael Priem, Founder and CEO of ad-tech firm Modern Impact and a former media agency exec, calls the Super Bowl “an anomaly” in a fragmented entertainment landscape. “It is a rare occurrence that pulls us all together to view content at the same time in astonishing numbers,” he told Deadline. “It’s become a celebration of present culture as much as it’s a sporting event.”
In 2020, it will also have its closest proximity yet to TV’s No. 2 annual live-viewing event, the Oscars on February 9.
The consecutive Sunday night showcases “make for a pretty promising start to the year, which was already looking strong due to political,” says one veteran media buyer. “There is undoubtedly demand — the question is about the return on that investment for brands. Are viewers going to really connect with those messages? It feels less certain than ever in today’s environment. But TV is still the big tent.”
For Fox, which gets the Super Bowl every three years as part of the NFL rotation, this year’s game finds the company in a transitional phase. Over the past year, the network’s parent company has refocused on live events and sports after selling most of its previous incarnation, 21st Century Fox, to Disney. Fox Corp.’s portfolio includes the broadcast network as well as Fox News and three other cable networks, plus a string of local TV stations.
NFL ratings have risen 5% this season, with Fox a major beneficiary as the network continues in the second year of a long-term deal for Thursday Night Football as well as NFC games on Sunday afternoons. Fox, which no longer has a studio linked to the network to supply scripted shows, has also scored with unscripted hit The Masked Singer. The reality show will have its season premiere after the Super Bowl.
If the commercial breaks on Sunday’s broadcast seem fewer but longer, you’re not imagining things. Fox decided to mix things up this year by coordinating with the NFL and eliminating one break per quarter, going from five to four. The overall volume of ads consistent with years past, and the “floater” time is expected to amount to about two-and-a-half-extra minutes of commercial time.
Lachlan Murdoch, speaking to analysts on the Fox Corp. quarterly earnings call last November, said the company was seeing a much softer ad environment in news than it was in sports. He said the company was “very confident” that pricing for a 30-second spot in Sunday’s game would hit a record. Fox will report its next quarterly earnings, for the period ending December 31, next week.
Jack Abernethy, who runs Fox Television Stations, took note of the NFL’s resurgent ratings during a keynote appearance at last month’s NATPE conference in Miami, also this year’s host city. “This is a good year and the Super Bowl is going to be phenomenal,” he said.
As to which team is better for the bottom line — San Francisco or Kansas City — the executive said, “We’re rooting for the ratings. I used to root against the Patriots all the time, and that didn’t work out too well.”
Even in 2020, some brands are playing their cards close to the vest and banking on a big reveal on or close to game day. But many other brands have already begun to circulate pieces from their campaigns. Here is a representative sample of teasers and some full clips of spots with the strongest Hollywood ties (keep checking back as we add more):
“Typical American,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is tipped to run in the fourth quarter of the game:
MC Hammer goes back ‘Where It All Began”
Sam Elliott is back in the saddle for Cool Ranch chips, this time inspired by Lil Nas X:
The social media giant let word slip a few weeks ago it planned its first Super Bowl presence, with a campaign featuring Sylvester Stallone and Chris Rock.
Here is a 15-second teaser Facebook released this week, showing Rock and an off-screen voice harking back to “Rock” Balboa’s training diet:
Roman Coppola directs “Find the Goodness,” which splits the screen into four simultaneous scenes.
“Smaht Pahk” features notables like Chris Evans and John Krasinski, joined Rachel Dratch and a certain Red Sox designated hitter for a wink at the Boston honk.
The beverage brand’s pitch for a new zero-sugar version will be manna for lovers of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
“Make Space for Women” puts together a crew including Taraji P Henson, Katie Couric, Busy Philipps, Lily Singh and actual astronaut Nicole Stott
A “Road Trip” starring Matt Walsh and Wesley Snipes already has revealed Mr. Peanut’s nutty fate.
Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness “fixes” a pretzel commercial.
The chip brand recruited Pickle Rick from Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty:
Bill Nye explores the science of bubbles, and Mars