The NFL lost about $4 billion in ticket sales this past season. However, large sponsorships helped fill in the gaps. (And surprises, like the five second Reddit Super Bowl ad also helped).
The games and Super Bowl ad creatives may already be analyzed—but the advertising data on the entire 2020-21 NFL season is finally here.
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The 2020-21 NFL Season Carried On During COVID
In July, the NFL decided to go through with the full season, but unlike the NBA, the WNBA, and the NHL, the league did not require players and other professionals to enter into a protective ‘bubble.’
Throughout the season, the NFL had over 700 positive COVID cases. And the only team to play the season without any cases was the Seattle Seahawks.
Over the course of the season, the pandemic could be felt heavily in the stands. 1.2 million attendees watched their favorite teams compete—well below the typical 17 million. During the Super Bowl, the league allowed 30% full capacity (22,000 seats). 7,500 of these fans were health care workers who were gifted tickets from the NFL.
Super Bowl TV viewing and streaming was less than average—yet it’s likely to be the most watched television program of 2021. 76 of the top 100 most viewed television programs in 2020 were NFL games. And even though the number of households watching the program on TV (38%) was low, no other program has topped that percentage since the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Between people stuck inside alone and the unexciting game, ratings sunk for the Super Bowl. But how did the advertising numbers add up throughout the entire season?
In 2020, we saw 1100 brands spending $4.5B across the same seven networks as the previous year (ABC, CBS, CW, ESPN, Fox, NBC, and NFL Network). To put this in perspective, there were 1226 brands that advertised with the NFL in 2019, and they spent $4.1B across the same networks.
While there were less brands running ads in the 2020-21 NFL season, the data suggests the ad space was more expensive.
The top brands of 2020 were:
- Geico Insurance
- Progressive Insurance
- AT&T Mobility
- Verizon Wireless
Together, their spend accounted for 12% of the total spend in the regular and postgame season.
Super Bowl LV had 96 brands spending $530M on CBS, which is an increase in brands, but a 3% decrease in the amount of ad spend. This could be a symptom of the pandemic, but another possibility is that CBS wasn’t supposed to broadcast the Superbowl this year. It was NBC’s rotation, but the networks switched in 2019.
The top brands advertising during the Super Bowl were:
- Rocket Mortgage
- Verizon Wireless
The NFL, like other professional sports leagues, struggled with low ratings amid the pandemic. But as vaccinations continue being distributed and the economy recovers, sports programming will be a solid choice for advertisers to uplift their brand.
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