The Super Bowl has evolved far beyond a mere football championship.
It's morphed into a pop-culture extravaganza where the game itself shares the spotlight with its iconic commercials.
The Big Game has always been one of the most watched annual and highly rated events on TV since its first championship game in 1967.
In 2010, Game Day viewership reached over 100 million, and it continued to rise until 2015’s all-time high of 114.4 million. Although viewership dwindled in the following years, this record was finally broken last year with 115.1 million people tuning in to the Big Game.
Anticipation for this year is high, and Super Bowl advertisers are capitalizing on it with teasers and trailers being released pre-Game Day.
And now that Super Bowl LVIII hype is on, it’s the perfect time to reflect a bit on its history and what made it a billion-dollar advertising business.
The Super Bowl and Its Commercial Legacy
The inaugural Super Bowl in 1967 was a humble affair, with regional broadcasts and commercials costing a mere $40,000.
Yet, the seeds of its future potential were sown.
Early ads, like Pepsi's "Hi Mom" featuring Joe Namath predicting his win, captured the public imagination. By the 1970s, national broadcasts and rising viewership cemented the Super Bowl's place in American living rooms.
The 1980s and 90s witnessed the rise of the mega-commercial.
Apple's 1984 Macintosh ad, with its dystopian imagery and Orwellian message, redefined television advertising. Others aimed for humor, like Budweiser's iconic "Wassup" campaign, becoming cultural touchstones in their own right.
The effects of this cultural phenomenon reached far beyond entertainment. Super Bowl Sunday transcended football, becoming a day for families to gather, share snacks, and anticipate the next commercial masterpiece.
Advertisers now see the Super Bowl as a launchpad for new products and campaigns, spending millions to secure coveted slots. This is fueling a consumerist frenzy, with viewers eagerly anticipating the newest gadgets, trends, and celebrities featured in the ads.
The question that begs to ask now is, how much does it cost to air a commercial during America’s biggest game of the year?
The Price of Super Bowl Spots Over the Decades
Ad spots during Game Day are known to be highly coveted and very expensive, which accounts for why it is dominated by big brands. A company has to be prepared to spend millions before it can even dream of gracing the Super Bowl.
And the cost continues to climb, as seen by the price tracker compiled by USA TODAY of 30-seconders aired during the Big Game over the decades.
- 1967: $37,500
- 1974: $103,500
- 1984: $368,200
- 1995: $1.15 million
- 2004: $2.3 million
- 2014: $4 million
- 2023: $6.5 million
This year, a 30-second spot is fetching a record-breaking $7 million.
This marks a significant increase from last year's price tag of $6.5 million and represents a staggering 200% increase from the $2.3 million cost of a Super Bowl ad in 2004.
Even compared to a decade ago, the price hike is substantial, with a 75% increase from the $4 million cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad in 2014. The limited number of ad slots naturally drives prices upwards.
Why Brands Spend Big on the Super Bowl
Despite the high cost, demand for Super Bowl advertising remains strong due to its massive and engaged audience. According to a 2022 survey, 42% of Super Bowl viewers tune in for the ads, and 50% have bought something inspired by a commercial.
Still, companies that seek to make their brands known put this exorbitant amount in their advertising budgets because it is worth the spend.
Super Bowl ads increasingly become more attractive to advertisers over the years.
It started after Apple increased its computer sales after airing “1984,” laying down its foundations as the tech giant it is now.
As of 2021, the beer giant spent the most in Super Bowl advertising since 1967 with a total of $470.5 million. Budweiser is followed by Pepsi with $320.36 million and Coca-Cola with $202.44 million.
According to a 2015 study, Budweiser earns about $96 million from their Big Game ads, which is a 172% return on investment (ROI). So, spending big may be the key to earning big.
And how is this possible?
The championship game has consistently topped TV ratings, making it one of the best shows for brands to ensure that their ads are being seen. Since 1972, the Super Bowl has almost always gone over 40 in TV ratings, with a record-high of 49.1 in 1982.
Super Bowl Advertising This Year
With Super Bowl 2024’s highly anticipated match-up between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers, as well as a halftime performance by Usher, it is expected to attract even more viewers than usual, potentially contributing to the $7 million record-breaking spot price.
And with cord-cutting and streaming services on the rise, live events like the Super Bowl offer one of the few opportunities to reach a large, captive audience across generations, making it even more valuable for brands.
Super Bowl LVIII will be held at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada. The game will air live on CBS and Nickelodeon on February 11 at 6:30 p.m. ET.
CBS Sports chair Sean McManus, on a media call now, says CBS and Nickelodeon Super Bowl ad inventory is sold out. "I'm happy to report today that we are officially sold out for both the game on CBS and the Nickelodeon side-by-side."— Andrew Bucholtz (@AndrewBucholtz) February 1, 2024
CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus said in a media call that both networks have sold out their Game Day ad inventory, showing that no matter the cost, brands continue to believe that Super Bowl advertising is worth it.