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Kantar Media: Super Bowl ad spend rockets

January 15, 2019

While the 2017-2018 season may have been a rocky one for the NFL, the league’s signature event still continues to shine: The average cost of a 30 second ad in Super Bowl LII climbed to a record $5.235 million (€4.58m), with overall spend totaling $482 million, second only to the previous year’s game which went into overtime.

Kantar Media’s analysis of its data shows that the Super Bowl remains the preeminent live television event. However, there have been some changes in advertiser strategies, including experimenting with shorter ad lengths and leveraging social media to get the most from their campaigns.

Price of Advertising Continues to Climb 

The average rate for a 30-second advertisement in the Super Bowl game increased by 96 per cent during the past decade and reached $5.24 million in 2018. By comparison, during that same period average primetime ad rates fell by 12 per cent, indicating the enduring appeal of the Super Bowl – it’s the most expensive commercial time on television by far. (The nearest contenders in 2018 were the NFC Championship Game at $3.15 million and the Academy Awards at $2.07 million).

Super Bowl ad rates typically far exceed those for ads in NFL regular season games, which have also experienced steep climbs. From 2008 to 2018, the 96 percent increase in Super Bowl pricing tracks with the 119 per cent price hike for spots in the regular season. For most of this period the average price of a Super Bowl spot was reliably 9.0-9.5 times the cost of a regular season commercial. But last year the ratio dipped to 8.4, meaning Super Bowl prices increased at a slower rate than the NFL regular season. It remains to be seen whether the decline was a one-year blip or the onset of a recalibration in the Super Bowl’s value.

Average Price of an In-Game 30 Second Commercial:

Super Bowl vs NFL Regular Season

(in thousands)

Super Bowl NFL Regular Season  
Time Period Avg Price Time Period Avg Price SB Ratio vs Reg Season
Feb 2008 $2,700 Sep-Dec 2007 $286 9.4
Feb 2009 $3,000 Sep-Dec 2008 $313 9.6
Feb 2010 $2,974 Sep-Dec 2009 $325 9.2
Feb 2011 $3,100 Sep-Dec 2010 $359 8.6
Feb 2012 $3,500 Sep-Dec 2011 $384 9.1
Feb 2013 $4,000 Sep-Dec 2012 $423 9.5
Feb 2014 $4,200 Sep-Dec 2013 $456 9.2
Feb 2015 $4,400 Sep-Dec 2014 $487 9.0
Feb 2016 $4,800 Sep-Dec 2015 $522 9.2
Feb 2017 $5,050 Sep-Dec 2016 $550 9.2
Feb 2018 $5,235 Sep-Dec 2017 $625 8.4

Source: Kantar Media

Second-highest revenues seen in 2018

Higher ad prices haves led to more revenue and the Super Bowl generates some staggering figures. In 2018 marketers spent $408 million for in-game messages. When pre-and post-game programming is included the total investment rises to $482 million. The 2017 Super Bowl still holds the records for in-game ad spending ($419 million) and total ad spending ($534 million) due to an overtime period that led to additional commercial airings and revenue.

Super Bowl Ad Revenue

(in millions)

  2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
In-Game $213 $205 $228 $263 $292 $332 $345 $370 $419 $408
Pre/Post Game $48 $50 $76 $56 $52 $99 $71 $75 $115 $74
Grand Total $261 $255 $304 $319 $344 $431 $416 $445 $534 $482

Source: Kantar Media

Commercial Time Has Expanded

Ad revenue growth has also been aided by a relentless expansion of commercial inventory. The past ten Super Bowls have been the most ad-saturated in the 52-year history of the event. The 2018 game contained 51 minutes, 20 seconds of ad messages between the opening kickoff and final whistle, the third highest total ever. (This includes network promos for their own shows, which typically account for about 15 per cent of total ad time and 25-30 per cent of all spots in the game.)

Network TV Commercial Time in the Super Bowl Game

  2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Ad Time (mm:ss) 45:10 47:50 48:10 47:25 51:40 49:15 48:05 49:35 51:30 51:20
# Spots 84 104 96 78 97 83 82 96 102 86

Source: Kantar Media; includes network promo ads

The Super Bowl now contains 20 percent more commercial time than a regular season NFL game and the gap has been creeping upwards over the past decade. In 2008 the Super Bowl contained about 3 more minutes of ad time than a regular season game. In 2018 the comparable difference was exactly 9 minutes. The regular season ad load per game has remained relatively flat during this period. It’s the Super Bowl which has become more bloated.

Longer and Shorter Commercials

The ad lengths seen during in-game ads are becoming increasingly varied. While 30-second ads remain the most common, some marketers do opt to spend more on longer commercials that tell a deeper story. This tactic reached a peak in 2014-2015 before ebbing a bit in recent years. Meanwhile, in 2017 and 2018 ads that are shorter than 15 seconds leapt to more than 10 percent of paid units, the first time this has happened in consecutive Super Bowls. While shorter attention spans have encouraged advertisers to experiment with new formats like 6-second ads, the increased use of shorter spots during the Super Bowl is likely a reaction to increasing ad time cost.

Length of Ad Messages in the Super Bowl*
2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
All Messages 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
15 Seconds or Less 5% 5% 3% 15% 11%
30 Seconds 52% 54% 68% 63% 51%
60 Seconds or More 41% 38% 26% 19% 31%
Other Lengths 2% 4% 3% 3% 7%
*Note: Promotional ads from the networks and NFL are not included in these figures. Columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.
Source:  Kantar Media

 Anheuser stays on top; Amazon joins the leaders

The largest advertising positions in the Super Bowl tend to be held by well-known marketers. In a typical year, the top five spenders account for about 30 percent of total ad revenue even as the makeup of the group changes.

Anheuser-Busch In Bev and Fiat Chrysler tied as the largest advertiser in 2018, each spending $42 million. It’s a familiar position for A-B InBev which has placed in the top two of the annual rankings for at least 37 consecutive years. Meanwhile, with total spend of $26 million Amazon cracked the top five for the first time; the ecommerce giant only started advertising during the Super Bowl in 2016.

Top 5 Spenders – 2018   Top 5 Spenders – 2017
Rank Parent Company Ad Spend (million)   Rank Parent Company Ad Spend (million)
1 (tie) Anheuser-Busch InBev $42 1 Anheuser-Busch InBev $35
1 (tie) Fiat Chrysler $42 2 Deutsche Telekom $30
3 Toyota Motor $31 3 Procter & Gamble $25
4 $26 4 Fiat Chrysler $20
5 Procter & Gamble $21 5 (tie) 21st Century Fox $15

Source: Kantar Media

First-Time Advertisers

The year-to-year turnover rate among Super Bowl advertisers has averaged 45 percent over the past decade. For example, there were 49 different marketers in the 2017 game and 22 of these did not show up in 2018. The churn creates opportunity and the replacement pipeline has historically delivered a steady flow of first-time participants who believe they can create and execute a successful strategy for their brands. However, the stream unexpectedly turned to a trickle in 2018 when only three rookie advertisers (Australia Tourism, Blacture and Monster) appeared.

# of First Time Advertisers in the Super Bowl
2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
9 11 10 10 3

Source: Kantar Media

Auto Remains the Top Super Bowl Advertising Category

In recent years the Super Bowl has been a regular destination for a number of different automotive, movie studio and food companies, making these the most competitive ad categories.

Leading Advertising Categories in The Super Bowl
Category 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Auto Manufacturers
·   # of Auto Makes 11 9 9 7 6
·    Total Ad $ (millions) $113.4 $96.8 $86.4 $70.7 $94.2
Motion Pictures
·   # of Film Titles 3 7 6 6 4
·    Total Ad $ (millions) $12.6 $35.2 $28.8 $37.9 $26.2
Food (excluding candy)
·   # of Brands 6 2 3 3 4
·   Total Ad $ (millions) $33.6 $13.2 $19.2 $12.6 $26.2
Source: Kantar Media

Auto manufacturers have had the largest footprint every year since 2011. Last year six auto makers ran ads and accounted for 23 per cent of all expenditures.

Movie studios use the Super Bowl to promote upcoming theatrical releases that have strong box office potential, thus justifying the high price of commercial time. The volume of advertising in this category can swing sharply from year-to-year because of its dependency on studio’s release schedules. In 2018 four different film titles were promoted.

Food manufacturers had a regular and significant presence in the Super Bowl during the 1980s and 1990s before receding at the turn of the century when a focus on CPM efficiency took hold.  The category has rebounded in the current decade with representation from a diverse array of brands. In the 2018 game the category contributed $26 million and a 6 per cent share of total ad investments.

How Large Is the Super Bowl Versus Other Sport Franchises?

Despite the handicap of being a single-game event, the Super Bowl holds its own against the multi-game championship series of other professional sports leagues when it comes to TV ad expenditures. In most years, ad spending in the MLB World Series and the NBA Finals significantly lags the Super Bowl’s haul. Only a maximum, seven-game World Series has been able to keep pace with the football game in recent years.


The combined total ad revenue of these three championship events surpassed $1 billion in 2016 and 2017. While that’s an impressive amount it’s dwarfed by the nearly $2 billion of TV ad money generated by the 2016 Summer Olympics and comparable to the $961 million earned by the 2018 Winter Games.


Major Sporting Events: National TV Ad Expenditures


Year Super Bowl Game World Series    (# games) NBA Finals     (# games) Olympic Games           (# days)
2014 $332 $257 (7) $183 (5) $977 (18)
2015 $345 $238 (5) $251 (6)
2016 $370 $394 (7) $303 (7) $1,965 (17)
2017 $419 $414 (7) $208 (5)
2018 $408 $305 (5) $208 (5) $961 (17)

Source: Kantar Media

Paid Social Advertising

Brands often seek to amplify their investment in high-profile events like the Super Bowl through earned media. One popular tactic Super Bowl advertisers use is distributing their commercials a few days early via social media, where consumers can comment and/or share the ad with others. Some brands lead with a teaser campaign that culminates in the reveal. Others start with the reveal and then immediately follow with a short-burst social marketing effort to drive views and build hype prior to the commercial’s airing in the Super Bowl.

Each of these variants was used during the 2018 Super Bowl. A proprietary joint analysis by Kantar Media using data from our partner Pathmatics identified brands using paid social ad campaigns on Facebook to help boost their in-game TV spots. Two brands in particular – Bud Light and Amazon Echo – illustrate how it’s done.

Categories: Advertising, Articles, Research