The NFL Super Bowl – the biggest game of the biggest US sporting competition – saw the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday with domestic viewership reaching 113 million, a near-record figure. But the Super Bowl also attracts interest outside the United States, despite the time differences and the relative lower popularity of American Football compared to other sports.
According to Ampere Sports – Media Rights data, the NFL had 213 broadcast partnerships for the live telecast of Super Bowl LVII, covering 168 territories. The majority of broadcast partnerships are with pay TV and premium channel partners (88%), but the Super Bowl, as a marquee event, has greater free-to-air reach than the regular season: this year’s event had 28 free-to-air partners compared to the regular season’s 18.
The most significant difference, however, is the scale of the territories where the event is available free-to-air: the Super Bowl is broadcast free-to-air to a population of 2.8 billion compared to 870 million for the regular NFL season, with free-to-air distribution in China a key factor.
Besides its extensive broadcast partnership portfolio, the NFL enjoys near-global coverage - in large part thanks to its own direct-to-consumer service, the NFL Game Pass, which is available in all but a few markets (most notably Russia and China). The Super Bowl has been a particular promotional tool for this service, which has been typically offered in a promotional Super Bowl pass for €0.99 (or local equivalent).
● A SHIFT TO STREAMING
According to Nielsen, last year’s Super Bowl attracted more than 101 million viewers, cementing viewership of 100 million-plus for 11 of the past 12 years. For context, the most watched new primetime program in the fall 2022 television season attracted a viewership of 5.8 million.
The widespread appeal of the NFL content, coupled with the growing variety of ways in which audiences engage with it, illuminates the shift to streaming that is starting to take place in sports programming – a shift that Nielsen has tracked across other program genres in the nearly two years since it launched The Gauge. In December 2022, for example, streaming had grown to account for more than 38% of total TV usage.
Sports programming remains a fixture within the broadcast television world, yet rights deals are increasingly moving lucrative programming – including the NFL’s Thursday Night Football and all matches in the upcoming MLS season – to streaming services. But on Super Bowl Sunday, the TV industry’s biggest day of the year, audience access is not limited to a single platform or technology. In fact, the magnitude of the event dictates that it is available to audiences regardless of how they typically watch TV. Outside of the Super Bowl, however, Nielsen can see the tides are shifting, as audiences are steadily switching to smart TVs and internet-connected devices for regular season games. This will likely accelerate next season when the NFL Sunday Ticket hits YouTube TV, Nielsen noted.
“Viewing behaviors and levels of fandom aside, NFL content, particularly the Super Bowl, is among the top-performing programming on TV. And as sports begin to transition to new platforms and services, the audience numbers – across devices and platforms – serve as evidence the viewership will follow,” Nielsen concluded.