• Jim Gagen

Old School – Super Bowl/Super Reach/Super Cost/Super Gamble

Super Bowl Week

It’s Super Bowl week so get ready for the annual media hype. There’s wall to wall coverage everywhere from Radio Row to Primetime Specials on Super Bowl Eve to the six-hour pregame to the game itself.


Super Reach - America Loves its Football

It turns out that the hype is warranted - nine of the most watched 10 broadcast “shows” in television history are Super Bowls. Expanding on this, 29 of the top 30 most watched “shows” in history are Super Bowls. Ten of these games were watched by more than 100 million viewers. These historic ratings were achieved despite the fact that for the most part, the games in the early years were blowouts, so not very entertaining games. However, more recently, the games have become much better, living up to the hype of the match of the two best teams in the NFL.


Super Cost – It’s a Gamble

Along with the super high ratings comes a super high cost. And with what is the most expensive television property from an out-of-pocket standpoint, advertisers have to wrestle with the cost vs. value conundrum, regardless of the year. In the early years, while the games weren’t very competitive, the novelty of the game made it worthwhile for many advertisers. Nowadays, while the cost is astronomical, it’s an advertising event, so there’s just as much focus on the ads as the games themselves.


To illustrate the high costs over the years along with the “gamble”, I’ll compare today’s Super Bowl cost to the cost of spots I bought a number of years ago. The 2022 Super Bowl spots just peaked out at $7 million for a 30-second spot. My first experience with buying the Super Bowl came when the Pontiac Grand Prix won Motor Trend’s 1988 Car of the Year.

Since this award usually assured a successful car launch and the Super Bowl was the biggest platform to publicize the award, we wanted to announce that in the Super Bowl. We bought three 30 second spots for $600,000 each for a total of $1.8 million in Super Bowl XXII featuring the Washington Redskins vs. the Denver Broncos. Pontiac was the automotive sponsor of the third quarter with these three spots and a billboard. My agency hosted a party with the client and together we watched in anticipation for an exciting game and to see the launch of our Car of The Year Campaign. The only problem was MVP Doug Williams threw four touchdown passes in the second quarter when the Redskins scored five touchdowns in 15 minutes to take a 35-10 halftime lead.

While most of the agency felt nervous at the time, with the game getting out of hand right before our spots ran, things worked out okay as the ratings for the third quarter were among the highest in the game. To illustrate how the client thought the gamble paid off, two years later they wanted to sponsor the game again. This time, the gamble didn’t pay off. We paid $650,000 per 30 second spot for a total of $1.95 million and got stuck in the fourth quarter of 55-10 blowout of the Denver Broncos by the San Francisco 49ers and the fourth quarter ratings tanked. To add insult to injury, after publicly stating they would take care of their advertisers, CBS’ offer to make up the audience deficiency was in Major League Baseball and CBS Sports Spectacular months later which sold at a much lower cost than the Super Bowl.


Old School Moral of the Story

Like any gamble, you win some and you lose some.


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