NFL

Media coverage of the Super Bowl on network TV has changed through the years; It’s turned negative 

 

Many Marketing Experts Believe TV Commercials Are Not Worth The Cost

 

Arthur Solomon

This year’s Super Bowl will feature the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. But despite the best efforts of the PR arms of the NFL, the competing teams, sports marketers and CBS, the network that will televise the game on Feb 11, much of the coverage until the first snap of the ball will not be about the game. And most of it will probably be negative. 

Because as media watchers know for a number of years pre-game coverage of the Super Bowl in major pubs are about issues surrounding the game, not about the teams or game itself. This is a 180 degree pivot from the early days of the Big Game, when media coverage was always positive.

Nevertheless, the negative press converge hasn’t stopped brand sports marketing advertisers from spending millions of dollars for a TV spot, even though many marketing professionals feel that the commercials do not produce the desired affects that marketers want. (More on this later.).

Still CBS reported in early November that ad inventory was virtually sold out for this year’s game at Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas. It cost about $7 million for a 30-second spot, similar to the 2023 game, not including production costs which can add millions of dollars more.

Pre-game coverage of the Super Bowl has dramatically changed with negative coverage overtaking the positive coverage that the game received in its infancy. The great majority of the coverage now is about the adverse health affects on football players, the cost and efficacy of the commercials, and articles about at home betting, with the quality of the competing teams bringing up the rear. And this year the relationship between pop star Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce, the Kansas City tight end, and the attacks on Ms. Swift by Fox political commentators upstaged the coverage of the game.

Case in point: Before last year’s game, in its Feb. 4-5, 2023 edition the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had four Super Bowl-related articles – one about the use of twitter advertising, another detailing the use of Stikum by players, a column about trash talk and one about Super Bowl parties. Stories about the teams were nonexistent. And the New York Times (NYT) Feb. 5 Sunday edition also was devoid of team stories.

Even more telling was that both the WSJ and NYT didn’t publish Super Bowl articles on Feb 6, less than one week before last year’s game, certainly a disappointment for sports marketers and their PR

people. Both publications finally did on Feb. 7, but the WSJ article wasn’t about the teams. It was a feature about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts’ weightlifting prowess. A NYT article that day also wasn’t about the teams. It was about prop betting.

In its Feb 8, 2023 business section, the WSJ reported a story headlined “Super Bowl Bets Seen Doubling to $16 Billion.” A feature about the Kelce brothers playing on the opposing teams was reported in the sports section. The lead story in that day’s NYT sports section covered two full pages, but it was not about the game. It was about the “N.F.L.’s Precarious Diversity” problems.

In their Feb. 9 2023 editions the WSJ Super Bowl story was headlined, “A Rocky Season Reaches The Super Bowl,” detailing how scandal and an increase in concussions rocked the league. The NYT ran a feature about the Kelce brothers playing on opposing teams. But a six page take-out about basketball stars LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was dominant.

Finally two days prior to last year’s Feb 10 Super Bowl, the NYT loaded it sports section with three pages of football stories, including one about players suing the N.F.L. But the WSJ led its two-story sports section with a basketball article. Gone are the days when sports marketers could hire former football players knowing that their P.R. arms could deliver substantial major earned media coverage by arranging interviews with football writers.

The change in sports media coverage of the Super Bowl over the years is evident to anyone who follows football. Not so evident to the general public is the difference of opinions of marketing professionals, many

of whom believe the cost of advertising on the Super Bowl is not worth the price. These types of stories receive minimal coverage in main stream publications.

A few partial pro and negative opinions from marketing experts:

  • “Most people tend to run in the opposite direction of advertising, but [the] Super Bowl remains the one day where they don’t,” said Joe Glennon, an associate professor in the Department of Advertising at Temple University’s Lew Klein College of Media and Communication, last year. “There’s still no better way to reach 70, 80 or 90 million people all at once than the Super Bowl….”
  • A survey by the behavioral research company Veylinx, which analyzed the behavior of 1,610 U.S. consumers pre- and post-Super Bowl LVII, found an increase in product demand among viewers by 6.4%, but the poll’s findings also had some doubts about the efficacy of advertising on the game. “The overall increase in consumer demand was driven by women, who accounted for a 21% increase in demand growth. The commercials had minimal impact on men, yielding just 1% demand growth for the brands tested…”
  • Robert Thompson, of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, was also dubious about the effectiveness of Super Bowl advertising. He said, in part, in a Feb.7 2023 interview with TribLive, a regional publication serving Western Pennsylvania, “that additional viewing probably helps today’s Super Bowl commercials better serve their intended purpose – to sell products and services – but he also feels that some of the cultural cachet Super Bowl ads once had has been lost. “How many times have you heard people say, I used to go to the bathroom during the commercials but now I go to the bathroom during the
    game? That became a cliché,” Thompson said. “But I think the smoke has cleared and we begin to see more clearly that yeah, they’re better than the rest of the commercials, but they aren’t all that memorable…”
  • Another less than positive view of Super Bowl advertising was a survey released last February by Mitto, a leading provider of global omnichannel communications solutions. The survey found a significant discrepancy in the power of a Super Bowl ad to drive purchases compared to ongoing personalized communications. While large campaigns think a Super Bowl ad may increase overall brand awareness, almost half of consumers (41%) reported they were more likely to purchase from a brand that communicates with them in an ongoing and personalized way. The findings suggest the millions of dollars brands spend for a single Super Bowl ad may not be the most effective approach to driving purchasing behavior, said a news release in part.
  • Bob Kent, an associate professor of marketing at the Lerner College of the University of Delaware, also isn’t certain that the Super Bowl commercials are effective. “Just spending money doesn’t mean you get results,” he said last year. “The problem is that companies are competing for attention, often with other similar products – like cellphones and soda… “How are you going to have a standout ad?”

And that, along with minimal opportunities for earned publicity, is an on-going problem for marketers spending millions of dollars for a :30 spot.

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Arthur Solomon

Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications and consults on public relations projects. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.

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