Advertisers are more desperate than ever for the Super Bowl

Last of a dying breed.
Last of a dying breed.
Image: Reuters/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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The 2022 Super Bowl is still seven months away, but advertisers with few other options for reaching such a vast guaranteed audience are locking in commercial time before there’s none left.

NBC, the US broadcast network airing the Super Bowl Feb. 13, announced it has already sold out 85% of the ad slots for the game. That’s the fastest pace of sales in at least a decade. CBS, which aired this year’s game, didn’t sell out its ad inventory until January. In 2019, Fox sold out all of its ad slots in late November.

Slots are selling quickly despite NBC asking for a record-high $6 million per 30 seconds of ad time during the 2022 game, Variety reported, up from $5.6 million this year. The 2021 game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs also garnered the lowest viewership since 2007, continuing a trend of steadily declining TV ratings that started long before the pandemic dampened enthusiasm for the event.

But rising costs and declining viewership have not chilled advertisers’ interest in the Super Bowl. If anything, they underscore the game’s increasingly unique standing in entertainment. As streaming gains more and more momentum, the Super Bowl remains one of the few live broadcasts with a large, captive audience. Viewership might be declining, but the relative value of placing ads in front of that viewership is skyrocketing. (And 96 million viewers, while lower than it used to be, is still a lot.)

Live sports are driving an advertising rebound

NBCUniversal, NBC’s parent company (which itself is owned by Comcast), said in a press release it sold $7 billion worth of total ads across all of its networks and platforms at this year’s TV upfronts, the annual meeting of networks and brands. It also saw “double-digit percent increases” in the amount of ads sold, but did not specify how much. Of that $7 billion, $1.5 billion went to digital platforms, including the company’s streaming service, Peacock.

While the ad market has rebounded since the pandemic, there are still a number of issues with advertising on streaming platforms that brands must contend with, including questions over effectiveness and measurability, among others.

Streaming ads are generally easy to skip or ignore. But a Super Bowl commercial is one of the few ads that marketing executives know will reliably reach an audience.

NBC is asking some Super Bowl advertisers to also commit to airing commercials during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing (which NBC will also broadcast), according to Adweek. Most advertisers shouldn’t have a problem with that, given the Olympics—like the Super Bowl—always have consumer eyeballs on them. Other major media companies, including Disney, have said that increases in ad sales at this year’s upfronts were primarily driven by live sports.

The Super Bowl will air during the Beijing Olympics, in what should be a lucrative month for NBC. But, after that, it won’t air another Super Bowl or Olympic games until the Paris Olympics in 2024. That’s part of the reason Peacock factors so heavily into NBCUniversal’s plans. When the big game is over, the dollars—like everything else—move to streaming.