It goes without saying that the television audience of the Super Bowl will be huge—always has been and probably always will be. On Monday, Feb. 3, however, early speculation focused on how low this year’s Super Bowl’s rating would be. After all, if the winner of Super Bowl XLVIII was not a foregone conclusion when Bruno Mars took the stage at halftime, it was pretty much sealed soon thereafter when the Seahawks’ Percy Harvin returned the opening kick of the second half for a touchdown.
Yet, the live-plus-same-day average household rating came in at 46.7, just about 1% higher than last year, when San Francisco and Baltimore battled in a much more competitive game. An additional surprise came from the fact that it was the younger demographic ratings that increased, while the usual 18-49 and A25-54 demo numbers were down slightly. Instead, the teen rating was up 6% over last year, the 12-24 rating climbed 4% and the 18-34 rating of 37.7 was 3% better. So, how can a game that was summed up as a bore post a higher household rating and an increased younger audience?
Answers could be found by taking both a traditional and untraditional look at the numbers.
When it comes to sports, several factors contribute to solid ratings. One of the first does not really come into play for the Super Bowl: the markets of the teams involved. Sure, a match-up between two top-five markets can help inflate the number of viewers, but a “lesser” market match-up does not doom the ratings. People tune into the event, whether it involves a relatively small market such as Seattle or if a team from New York plays in the game.
Second, the competitiveness of the game can set the tone. As we have seen in Super Bowls from the past, ratings can escalate during the fourth quarter if the winner is not yet determined. As we know, this year’s Super Bowl lacked any drama.
Next, the personalities that are playing in the game can generate more interest. That is where Super Bowl XLVIII benefited. Yes, every Super Bowl has hype, but this one piled it on during the two weeks leading up to the game.
It pitted the NFL’s best offense versus the league’s best defense. The Bronco’s offense was being choreographed by Peyton Manning, one of the league’s most popular players. The Seattle defense was anchored by the outspoken Richard Sherman, who made a name for himself spouting off on-camera at the conclusion of the NFC Championship two weeks earlier. Then there was New York and its weather. The first Super Bowl to be held in a cold weather site drew interest from fans that were looking for snow, wind and sub-zero temperatures. For Super Bowl XLVIII, it was more of how it started vs. how it ended.
Typically, eyes focus on the ratings at the end of the game to see how the game itself translated to audience levels. Last year, during a competitive game, the last hour averaged a 42.5 18-49 live-plus-same-day rating. This year, while Denver was being trounced, the final 60 minutes pulled in a 39.6, or 7% lower.
Super Bowl XLVIII was saved, however, by its beginning. The first minute of the game this year had a household rating that was 11% better than the first minute last year. In addition, the first hour of the game pulled in a 35.2 18-49 rating. That compares to a 33.8 last year, meaning this year’s game got off to a 4% better start. Even after the first 90 minutes, this year’s 18-49 audience was 3% higher than a year ago. It appears the hype predicting a competitive game with dynamic players in potentially bad weather peaked interest to start things off. This heightened audience to start the game was just enough to make up for the drop off late.
While many have predicted the demise of TV due to the various other screens occupying our time, social media continuously gives the medium a boost, especially for big events. It is probably not a coincidence that this Super Bowl had increased viewership from young audiences and a larger Twitter audience as well. The number of unique Twitter authors tweeting about the game was 6% higher and these authors had 20% more followers than the authors who tweeted last year.
Old school and new school came together and in the end, the Super Bowl rating was saved.