This year’s Super Bowl television ratings were higher than last year’s, generating the first year-over-year increase in five years. Helped by increased sports betting, a close game, and a popular half-time show, the average number of viewers edged up 1.7 percent over last year. But given the favorable conditions, an argument could be made that the ratings should have been higher.

Super Bowl TV Ratings Rise
Super Bowl 2020 had a total audience (including streaming and Fox Deportes) of 102 million, only 0.3 percent higher than 2019. (Image: Getty)

An improvement in Super Bowl 2020’s television ratings was expected. The NFL’s regular-season games enjoyed an average of 16.5 million viewers, up 5 percent over 2018. Ratings for the first two rounds of the playoffs also improved roughly 5 percent. Granted, the conference championship games ratings bombed this year, down 14 percent when compared to 2018. But given the lackluster matchups, a downturn was hardly surprising.

Conference championships aside, NFL ratings leading up to the Super Bowl gave every indication that this year’s viewership would see a bigger bump than it did. And there were other indicators that suggest Super Bowl 2020 didn’t live up to its ratings potential

More Skin in the Game — and Half-Time

Bolstered by the improved regular season ratings, advertisers logically expected improved Super Bowl ratings. Advertisers shelled out $5.6 million for a 30-second ad slot, up 6.7 percent over last year’s price. But for the cost, they didn’t get nearly that many incremental viewers.

Shakira and JLo pull their ratings weight
More people tuned in for the half-time show, featuring Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, than the game. (Image: Rob Carr/Getty)

Meanwhile, both wagers and bettors were expected to be appreciably higher for Super Bowl 2020. An American Gaming Association (AGA) survey predicted 26 million people would bet on this year’s Super Bowl, wagering a total of $6.8 billion in legal and less-than-legal bets. That’s 14.5 percent more bettors, and an increase of 13.5 percent in total bets when compared to the AGA survey for last year’s Super Bowl. In other words, there were a lot more people with skin in this year’s game — but not that many more viewers.

And don’t blame Shakira and J.Lo. They pulled their ratings weight. More people watched the half-time show than the game, although that’s not unusual. More people have watched the half-time show than the game every year for the past nine years. But Shakira and J.Lo’s ratings were 4 percent higher than last year’s performance by Maroon 5.

Have Super Bowl Ratings Peaked?

For all the tailwinds this year, there was one headwind for the Super Bowl. The number of households with access to Fox dropped from roughly 88 percent last year to roughly 83 percent this year. But some of those cord cutters should have found their way to a streaming service.

Overall, it should have been a banner year for Super Bowl ratings. But maybe expectations were too high. The Super Bowl has been a ratings monster for decades. How much more can it grow? It’s possible we’ve reached peak Super Bowl. After all, if we couldn’t top 2015’s 114.4 million viewers with a competitive game, the spread of legalized gambling, and Shakira and J.Lo, what else do we need?

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