By Sam Mamudi, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Regardless who triumphs in this year’s Super Bowl, the night’s biggest winner could well be broadcaster NBC Universal.
Last year’s game, broadcast over the Fox network, was the most-watched program in U.S. television history and saw advertisers spend $228 million. It’s likely this year’s audience will be of a comparable size, adding to the cumulative $1.72 billion that advertisers have spent on Super Bowls over the past 10 years.
Last year’s revenue was up from $205 million in 2010 and $213 million in 2009, according to a study released Tuesday by Kantar Media. By contrast, the five-game World Series in 2010 brought in $191 million, while last season’s seven-game Series saw $269 million in TV ad spend.
For all the revenue the National Football League’s championship game generates, it’s notable that more than a third of the ad spend in the past decade has come from just five companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev /quotes/zigman/558553/delayed/quotes/nls/bud BUD +0.98% ($239 million), Pepsico Inc. /quotes/zigman/238082/delayed/quotes/nls/pep PEP +0.27% ($174 million), General Motors Co. /quotes/zigman/1466682/delayed/quotes/nls/gm GM +0.05% ($83 million), Walt Disney Co. /quotes/zigman/245568/delayed/quotes/nls/dis DIS +0.80% ($74 million) and Coca-Cola Co. /quotes/zigman/222647/delayed/quotes/nls/ko KO +0.31% ($67 million).
“You have this handful of advertisers in the game year after year, buying several minutes of ad time,” said Jon Swallen, senior vice president of research at Kantar Media. “Clearly they think that it’s worth it.”
That cost is higher than ever, with Sports Business Journal reporting that NBC /quotes/zigman/89307/delayed/quotes/nls/cmcsa CMCSA +0.42% /quotes/zigman/89420/delayed/quotes/nls/cmcsk CMCSK +0.68% was averaging $3.5 million for a 30-second ad spot for this year’s game, on Feb. 5. Some spots even reached $4 million, it said.
By comparison, Fox /quotes/zigman/18008448/delayed/quotes/nls/nws NWS -0.17% /quotes/zigman/18008449/delayed/quotes/nls/nwsa NWSA -0.11% earned about $3 million for each spot for last year’s game, which drew 111 million viewers. (The Fox network is owned by News Corp., also the owner of the publisher of this report.) See Nielsen Co.’s list of most-watched TV programs of all time.
This year’s game may or may not reach that high, though ratings for the playoffs so far suggest an even bigger audience could indeed be in the cards.
The past weekend’s games were the most-watched NFL divisional playoff round ever, with the four match-ups averaging 36.6 million viewers, up from last year’s record 35.1 million. The New York Giants game at the Green Bay Packers averaged 45.1 million viewers — a record for a divisional playoff game, and the most-watched TV program since the Super Bowl.
Despite the water-cooler potential of any Super Bowl ad, Swallen said the biggest spenders are simply looking for the best and biggest reach for their branding.
“Those five companies are all mass-market advertisers who advertise during football through the year; they’re going for the big audience and core demographics,” said Swallen.
Anheuser-Busch’s Super Bowl spending in the past 10 years accounts for only 4.5% of its media advertising in that period, while Pepsi’s $174 million is just 2.1% of its total spending, added Swallen.
There are, of course, companies that advertise during the game looking for their water-cooler moment, hoping an ad will bring outsized exposure: Close to one-third of advertisers spend more than 10% of their budgets on the Super Bowl.
Kantar estimated that last year, for example, Careerbuilder.com’s total ad spend was $9.8 million, $3.1 million of which it spent during the Super Bowl. The CareerBuilder jobs site is jointly owned by Gannett Co. /quotes/zigman/227199/delayed/quotes/nls/gci GCI +0.24% , McClatchy Co. /quotes/zigman/233294/delayed/quotes/nls/mni MNI -1.22% and Tribune Co.
“For companies like that, Super Bowl advertising is about looking for their turn in the spotlight,” said Swallen.