Superbowl Takeaways

Pro Sports, as exemplified by the Superbowl, struggle to avoid political and cultural minefields that might alienate their audience. Meanwhile, TV subscriptions and the cost of tickets are making games unaffordable for all but elite fans.

Superbowl Takeaways
Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

My piece last week focussed on the shade and full-on hate that trolls were throwing at Taylor Swift and her Kansas City Chief boy-toy, Travis Kelce. I wanted to call attention to the constant river of malice that conservatives pour out at... happiness. The trolling is ironically even aimed at "traditional conservative values," you know - the star football player falls in love with the lead cheerleader- they both work hard, make obscene amounts of money, grow the economy, and hold hands in public. (But ooops, they support progressive causes, so, we can't let that happen, now, can we?)

But now that the confetti has cleared, the champagne corks have popped, and winning KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes is off to Disneyland, what did we learn from the over-the-top Superbowl weekend?

The Game

Let's start with the game itself. The "experts" predicted: "2024 Super Bowl to Be Among the Least Popular in History of the Game," "NFL fans collectively groaned about Chiefs-49ers being the Super Bowl 58 matchup no one wanted." "Kansas City-San Francisco Rematch is, well, Boring." The "experts" also predicted terrible TV ratings. "2024 Super Bowl Expected to Be Amongst Lowest Rated in Modern Era."

The odds were very slightly in San Francisco's favor. "San Francisco is a two-point favorite in the latest 49ers vs. Chiefs odds, while the over/under for total points scored is 47.5. San Francisco is a -127 money-line favorite, while Kansas City is a +107 underdog."

So, in reality? "The KC Chiefs defeat 49ers 25-22 in OT thriller. In a back-and-forth affair, the two teams were tied at 19 at the end of regulation. Jake Moody hit a 27-yard field goal in overtime to give the Niners a 22-19 lead. But Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, as he has so many times before, drove the Chiefs down the field, and with 13 seconds left in overtime, connected with receiver Mecole Hardman on a three-yard touchdown pass."

So much for boring.

Nevada's 182 sportsbooks squeaked out a $6.8 million win, according to the figures, with more than $185 million being bet on the game.

Super Bowl 58 was the most-watched television show in history, as an estimated 123.4 million people watched the Kansas City Chiefs whup the San Francisco 49ers. This was up 7% from last year; it was the most streamed Superbowl in history.

So much for ratings.

Takeaway? So much for "experts."

Those Wacky Commercials

A :30 second ad would have run you about $7 mil. to put up during the game. This year, almost all of the ads were for well-known, legacy brands and their products. Oreos, Pringles, Mountain Dew, Doritos, Buick, Google, M&Ms, Tide, and many of the usual suspects were represented. Gone are the days of buzzy hi-tech start-up companies. It doesn't seem that long ago that GoDaddy and Netflix were cutting-edge curiosities. Now their ads appear alongside Buick and Mr. Clean commercials. Even the "new" products were just new lines being promoted by monster brands. "Lifewtr" was just another "premium water" introduced by PepsiCo. Because if there's one thing the public is clamoring for, it's a new premium water. So, so sick and tired of standard water. We need something, uh, wetter.

While there are always lots of A-list actors/celebrities in this kind of high-profile marketing opportunity, this year there seemed to be one and sometimes multiple stars in almost every spot. Christopher Walken, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Tom Brady, Beyoncé, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Quinta Brunson, Jenna Ortega, Kate McKinnon, and Jennifer Aniston (and many more) all came to the party.

Speaking of celebrities, Jesus returned to the game this year through a couple of ads titled "He Gets Us." The seemingly thoughtful ads brought suspicion (and criticism) from both sides of the church aisle. Theological conservatives thought the ads were much too "woke," while progressive Christians are distrustful of the ad campaign's funders. Over a $100 million has been pledged to this multi-year campaign, mostly by groups associated with ultra-right-wing politics. The message in the ads has a very welcoming, "He loves everybody equally" tone, but much of their support has come from wealthy donors like the family that owns Hobby Lobby. (They were the ones that famously won their Supreme Court case that challenged the obligation to cover some birth control for employees on anti-abortion grounds.) And the AP reported that "last year’s ads were overseen by the Servant Foundation, also a donor to Alliance Defending Freedom, a prominent conservative legal organization that helped overturn Roe v. Wade — the ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion — and has represented clients challenging same-sex marriage and transgender rights... The campaign is now under a new charitable organization, Come Near, meaning the Servant Foundation is no longer overseeing it."
 There was also a spot from the Scientologists, and actor Mark Wahlberg starred in a commercial for an app for Catholic prayer.

Jesus had no comment.

The production values were excellent in every spot, obviously, with a ton of Hollywood special FX, animation, CG, and other slick treatments. Maybe we're just spoiled by seeing so much well-produced animation in movies and TV programming, that nothing really stood out as spectacular - we just expect every commercial to be a mini-Hollywood film these days.

Anheuser-Busch InBev was up for the game, spending around $41 million for four minutes+ of ad time. One of their longer ads featured their famous Clydesdales and a cute puppy for the awwww factor. The ads ran without much controversy or outcry. Recall that Bud-Light was beer-ona non-grata for the last several months after Anheuser-Busch gave a free 12-pack and a few bucks to a trans "influencer" to promote the brand. Conservatives led by Trump were incensed and the resulting Bud-Light boycott drove the beer maker's U.S. revenue down 10.5% in the second quarter of '23, and by mid-July, Bud Light’s U.S. retail sales were down 26% compared to the same period from the previous year. It was quite a hit and knocked the beer off of its #1 best-selling pedestal.

As I mentioned last week, a top Republican lobbyist for Anheuser-Busch InBev is set to host a fundraiser for the former president in March, with some tickets going at $10,000 each. So all is magically forgiven... just genuflect, slip a few hundred K into the king's hand, and grovel a little while. What a coincidence, right?

“The Bud Light ad was a mistake of epic proportions, and for that a very big price was paid, but Anheuser-Busch is not a Woke company. Anheuser-Busch is a Great American Brand that perhaps deserves a Second Chance? What do you think? Perhaps, instead, we should be going after those companies that are looking to DESTROY AMERICA!” -The Orange Emporer on Truth Social

Total ad spending on the game came in at around $425 million. There was 51 minutes, 15 seconds of national commercial time from paying sponsors, the NFL, and Fox-owned networks - about ¼ of the broadcast. Just think: for $233,333 per second, you could have bought some air time.

Takeaway? It occurred to me that there were no epic, break-out spots that created a national buzz. Think: Apple's famous spot in 1984 that introduced the Macintosh. The Mean Joe Green Coca Cola spot (1980.) The Budweiser "Frogs" commercial (1995.) Budweiser's "Wassup?" ad (2000.) "Talking Babies" for E*Trade (2008.) How about Larry David's spot for the now disgraced FTX crypto trading company? "Don't Miss Out" (2022.) Some good, clever spots this year to be sure, but nothing that was discussed over and over and over at the mythical water cooler on Monday.

THE couple

As I mentioned earlier, my column last week outlined some of the hostility that music superstar Taylor Swift and her boyfriend, Kansas City Chief tight end Travis Kelce have had to endure in the lead-up to the big game. Ms. Swift, a billionaire, has publicly stated her support for Biden and Democrats - in support of women's rights and other social justice issues. She also encourages her (young, presumably progressive) fans to register to vote. Kelce, (in addition to being a spokesman for Bud-Light,) also appeared in a Pfizer vaccine ad and supported Coin Kaepernick by taking a knee alongside him in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. So, yeah, real MAGA favorites, these two.

Kelce takes a knee in 2017 in support of Kaepernick and BLM. He paid a million-dollar fine.

There was great worry and hand-wringing that Ms. Swift might not make the game on time. She was scheduled to play a concert in Japan the night before. The media timed out her concert, her drive to the airport, her private jet's flight time, and then estimated her ground travel factoring in traffic. It would be close, all agreed.

As game day approached, the MAGA idjuts became... unhinged.

As a post-game analysis, I can report that:

• There was no evidence that the Chiefs' win over the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs was rigged... "All to spread DEMOCRAT PROPAGANDA. Calling it now: KC wins, goes to Super Bowl, Swift comes out at the halftime show and 'endorses' Joe Biden with Kelce at midfield. It's all been an op since day one." -Mike Crispi, pro-Trump podcast host at the Salem Media Group
• There was no "major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall." -former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, pusher of debunked conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6th insurrection, the 2020 election, and 9/11,
• The Pentagon felt compelled to announce (I'm not making this up) that Swift IS NOT a Pentagon "psyop" — an asset used for psychological operations. Fox News host Jesse Watters wanted to know: "Is Swift a front for a covert political agenda?" While admitting that he had absolutely no evidence, he pointed to Swift's endorsement of Biden in 2020.

There was a lot of indignation about the airtime that is usually given to the 34-year-old singer-songwriter during the game (shots of her cheering on her man and celebrating with her entourage in a VIP box.) USA Today broke it down: "But when it comes to TV, Swift was on all of 55 seconds (51 seconds before the game-winning touchdown) out of a broadcast that took about four hours and 18 minutes to complete. This is counting her sightings from kickoff until the game went final." In most of the regular season games, she was shown for less than :30 seconds. Certainly no longer than other shots usually shown of team owners and other star players' families. The big difference that they show her at all? Researchers believe that she brings in the TV ratings and sells tickets. It's called the Swift Effect.

Oddly enough, the folks that have been most shrill about the Swift/Travis romance and the many absurd conspiracy theories surrounding them, seem to be the exact same folks that swore they would never watch another NFL game after Collin Kaepernick took a knee.

After the Chiefs' win, President Biden tweeted, "Just like we drew it up.” The post featured a meme of "Dark Brandon," which depicts Biden with lasers shooting out of his eyes. Who says Sleepy Joe doesn't have a sense of humor?


The average price of a Superbowl game ticket was somewhere between $8600 - 9800 (depending on whom you ask.) This does not include personal jet expenses, the penthouse at the MGM Grand, or gambling money. 882 private planes flew into Vegas, vying for the 500 available parking spots among the 4 airports.

The average price of a regular season 2023 NFL ticket is $377, according to TicketSmarter data. A Chiefs game would usually run you somewhere around $578. The national average for a 16 oz. beer is $9.56. An "average" hot dog is $6.11. The Fan Cost Index (based on the price of four weighted average non-premium tickets, lowest prices for 4 sodas, 4 hot dogs, 2 beers, 2 adjustable team hats, and a parking spot) is $631.63. You gotta wonder if the "average" family can afford to go see a live game anymore.

Sure, the Superbowl is the preeminent sporting event of the year. You'd expect ultra-premium prices for the "world" championship football game. But as listed above, even the regular season is incredibly pricey.

Super Takeaway: Pro sporting events are part of the "panem et circenses" (bread and circuses) that the plebeians and other riff-raff are offered to keep their idle minds busy... You don't want the huddled masses rioting over obvious class differences. Throw them some gladiators on the football field and have a few royals up in the VIP boxes wave at them! But as prices skyrocket, it's pretty silly to think that working mom-and-pop and the kids can drop several hundred bucks to catch a game at the local Coliseum. But hey, they can always stay at home and watch it all from the comfort of their EZ-lounger on the big-screen TV! The only problem is that the major sports leagues continually shift the broadcast rights to the highest bidder. That often means that numerous premium streaming services compete for some or most of the games in any season. Long gone are the days when local TV stations could afford to sell ads and pay for the home team games. Now viewers must pay for an ever-pricier cable or streaming service, and then pay for the particular premium network that will carry your team's games. Sometimes the preseason games are on one service and the postseason on another. The leagues have a variety of blackout rules that might even limit which home games you have access to. The leagues offer their own apps with a variety of pricing plans. Again, this comes with another monthly cost, and not every game you wish to see is available in every market.

For team owners, those broadcast bidding wars are just a portion of their ever-increasing income, (though the largest one.) There are also ticket sales, VIP/luxury boxes, concessions, merch, and the constant appreciation of the team's value. From 1996 to 2004, the average NFL team appreciated 321 percent (the S&P 500, by comparison, appreciated by 97 percent.) The TV money is insane. Disney pays the NFL $2.7 billion a year just for the rights to Monday Night Football and two Super Bowls. (TV revenues are split evenly among the teams in the league.) For every new media-rights contract that is signed, team values jump higher.

Like so many things in our contemporary society, pro sporting events are becoming available only to the elite. Working-class families are being priced out of local games, even from the cheap seats. And it is becoming progressively more difficult to afford the subscriptions required to see a season of games on television. The business model for owners, again, like so many others these days, is not about 'fair value' or 'reasonable return on investment,' it is simply, 'how much can we extract from every customer.' The same algorithms that calculate what you like on Amazon or Netflix and 'suggest' what else you might like to buy, are busy figuring out which concessions you like the best and where they should be placed in the stadium so that your kids will demand them. They'll determine how to price every seat in the stadium for maximum return, and which ads are most effective, either in the stadium or on television. And those few shots of Taylor Swift partying up in the booth? That keeps the youngsters tuned in to the game, where they'll watch more ads and keep the ratings high.

Political divisions have created minefields for any large organization - sports leagues with their nationwide reach are particularly sensitive. They're forced to tip-toe around the cultural/political expectations of their advertisers, fans, and players. But if the masses can no longer even afford to get their 'bread and circuses on TV, and if they start feeling betrayed due to predatory prices, the goose that laid the golden egg is cooked.

Chris Newlin worked around Tee-Vee stations before he went out on his own and continued to work in the world of video and multi-media production. Then came iPhones and YouTube accounts, so now he sits around full of self-pity and too many Keystone Lights. He still enjoys sunsets, long walks on the beach, and a good bowel movement, at least every now and then.