Big game, Big Apple, big money: NFL continues to be biggest show on Earth
NEW YORK — The Super Bowl may have outgrown its name.
The 48th inception of the National Football League's ultimate game — you know it as Super Bowl XLVIII — will play out Sunday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It's the first time during the Super Bowl era that the league dared to determine its champion in an outdoor, cold-weather venue.
But it's not as if one frosty day will cool the unfathomable growth or relax the unmistakable grip the NFL holds as the country's No. 1 source for entertainment, sports or otherwise.
The NFL is the biggest thing on television, soon to be bigger than movies, the heaviest of the heavy hitters.
“There appears to be an insatiable appetite for the NFL,” said John Ourand, who analyzes NFL trends for Sports Business Journal.
Now that America's super spectacle is finally being played in its biggest city, with Broadway as a backdrop and celebrities seemingly visible on any street corner, even the very name Super Bowl doesn't seem quite superlative enough.
“It's the Big Apple, man; it's the biggest venue you can have it in,” said Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. “That probably magnifies it by 10.”
Baseball is known as the national pastime, but it's the NFL with which Americans pass much of their leisure time.
This Super Bowl — especially if the weather turns nasty and curious non-fans are compelled to watch — could draw more than 115 million viewers. Nothing else since 10-channel cable systems migrated into the 500-channel universe attracts such an audience. The “Seinfeld” finale in 1998 was the last non-NFL show to generate a comparable number of viewers.
Pittsburgh's H.J. Heinz Co. is among advertisers paying a record $4 million for a single 30-second national ad on Fox's telecast.
The NFL accounted for 34 of Nielsen's 35 top-rated shows during the fall TV season, and Pittsburgh ranked sixth in NFL viewership. NBC's Sunday Night Football has been the highest-rated program on TV for four consecutive years.
This season, for the first time, women in the advertiser-desirable 18-to-49 demographic watched the Sunday night game more than any other show.
Massive ratings mean massive revenue. The NFL's TV contracts are worth $43 billion, plus $1 billion from Verizon for smartphone viewership, or $137 for every person in the country.
And 2014 could be the year the NFL produces more revenue than the movie industry does at box offices. The league projects more than $10 billion this year, and Commissioner Roger Goodell predicts that will swell to $25 billion within 13 years.
Domestic box office revenue for the movie industry last year, not counting DVD or foreign income, was about $10.1 billion, based on MPAA estimates of ticket buyers and average ticket cost.
This enormous, never-ending pot of TV gold is one reason that Forbes magazine values the Steelers at $1.1 billion, more than the city's Penguins ($480 million) and Pirates ($479 million) combined.
NFL revenue will increase even more this year when a half-season package of Thursday night games sells to a network or cable channel for an estimated $1 billion. Those games had been on the lower-rated NFL Network.
Sunday night, Monday night and, now, Thursday night — how many more appointment nights can the nation make for the NFL? What is the saturation point?
When does America stop being fixated with what the league likes to call “the ultimate reality show”?
Maybe not soon.
“No matter how much NFL-related programming the league makes available on TV or online, TV ratings for live games continue to rise,” Ourand said.
Harvard University Business School professor Anita Elberse calls it the “Blockbuster Strategy” — highly rated NFL programming helps networks mitigate risks in the rest of their expensive schedules.
“Thus, they will continue to pay a king's ransom for the privilege of broadcasting those games,” said Christopher H. Smith, co-director of Media, Economics and Entrepreneurship at Southern Cal's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
“The networks are smart to continue to auction up the price for football programming, since it's one of the only programming forms out there that guarantees a large and passionate audience,” Smith said.
Former NFL coach Mike Ditka, the one-time University of Pittsburgh and Aliquippa High School star, said the NFL's additional push into network TV illustrates the famous “Show me the money!” line from the movie “Jerry Maguire.”
“You figure it out. Is too much too much?” Ditka said. “I don't know. But why are they doing all of this? Because it's money. ... The league makes a lot of money. There are a lot of people that make great incomes, a great living out of the National Football League, whether it's people covering it, people playing in it, people administering it, coaching it. It's a pretty big business.”
Bigger than super big.
Stupendous Bowl, anyone?