The Super Bowl transcends the boundaries of a traditional sports event, according to Tom Richardson, a former NFL (National Football League) executive who now runs digital marketing agency Convergence Sports & Media.
“NFL’s Super Bowl is more than a sports event, it’s like a winter holiday,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter which teams are competing, it’s a time when families and friends, fans and non-fans, will get together. It’s up there with July 4th (Independence Day) and Thanksgiving.”
While CBS will undoubtedly make a lot of money from Super Bowl 50, this fact needs to be weighed against the huge sums US broadcasters pay for NFL rights. Currently, CBS, Fox and NBC are each paying the NFL about $1bn per year for a package of live game rights covering nine seasons, from 2013-14 to 2021-22. It is worth noting within that package they only get three Super Bowls each (taking it in turns to host broadcast the event).
So is the overall cost of NFL rights worth it in order to secure a Super Bowl payday? CBS corporation president and CEO Les Moonves is in no doubt. “If the incremental (rise in the cost of rights) doesn’t outweigh the amount of money you get per spot…it is very, very worth it,” he said in a recent investor conference call. “You are going to see it in revenue and profit in 2016. We love having it. We’re excited. There’s no downside.”
Moonves’ upbeat assessment is supported by Pilson Communications president Neal Pilson, a leading US sports rights consultant who used to run CBS Sports, during which time he negotiated numerous huge rights deals of his own.
“You can’t measure the importance of NFL and Super Bowl in terms of advertising because there are so many other benefits,” he said. “You can use NFL to help market other shows in the schedule and it does a job keeping your affiliate networks together. You are a stronger enterprise overall if you have NFL. Whether you make a profit on your NFL package is almost irrelevant.”
Producing the Goods
This doesn’t mean Super Bowl is without its challenges, stresses Pilson, with one such challenge being the production itself. “You get a whole day of pre-game programming before the game starts at 6.30pm,” he said. “And then there is an expectation that you will spend an extraordinary amount on the game production itself. It’s part of the tradition that you put on an amazing show.”
When CBS last aired the Super Bowl in 2013, it employed around 500 people on the show and spent in the region of $3m – more than double the budget of a regular-season NFL fixture. All told, it deployed around 60-70 cameras including six 4K cameras. Since then it has seen Fox and NBC up the ante, which means it will be expected to raise the quality and innovation threshold yet again. CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus has further ratcheted up the pressure on himself by billing Super Bowl 50 as “the biggest Super Bowl of all time.”
THE TAILORED APPROACH
Although CBS is yet to release its Super Bowl production plans, it has made heavy investments in its NFL coverage for this season. These include a state-of-the-art production truck for Thursday night NFL coverage and a new studio for its Sunday night coverage.
In addition to this, CBS has also expanded its online streaming coverage so that Super Bowl 50 (and some other fixtures) will also be available for free on platforms such as CBSSports.com, Apple TV, Roku, Xbox One, and Chromecast.
“All NFL fans will have access through their computers, tablets and connected TVs to two regular-season games in addition to all of the American Football Conference (AFC) playoff action, culminating with a truly historic Super Bowl,” said Jeffrey Gerttula, SVP and general manager of CBS Sports Digital.
Compared to his day, Neal Pilson said one of the big differences with the modern Super Bowl is the amount of event coverage across different platforms. The NFL’s own in-house channel NFL Network will spend much of the previous week focusing on the build up to the game, while there will also be access to archive footage of previous Super Bowls.
There will then be wall-to-wall coverage in the hours leading up to the game. And if you miss all that, don’t worry – because NFL Network will then rebroadcast the game – after a day or two’s delay. Down the line, it will then air at least one documentary focusing on the winners (last year it made two with the New England Patriots).
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