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Volume 26 No. 114
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SBJ Media: Super Bowl Provides Positive Reinforcement

BREAKING NEWS in front of the paywall tonight: we have a report that ESPN will drop a special 96-page magazine on Friday dedicated to Kobe Bryant -- the company's first such special issue since ESPN the Magazine ceased publishing in September.

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SUPER BOWL AUDIENCE FLEXES ITS MUSCLE

  • Of all the numbers floating around about Super Bowl viewership, here are the main ones that matter: game viewership (101.369 million viewers for TV + streaming) is up 1% from last year, marking the game’s first year-over-year increase since 2015. These days, any viewership increase is a cause for celebration. The 99.9 million viewers just on Fox’s broadcast channel will be the biggest TV audience in 2020 by far, continuing to cement the NFL’s position as the media landscape's most valuable source of programming.

  • Here are three numbers that stand out the most to me:

    • The pregame show averaged 21.6 million viewers over 4.5 hours -- a figure that’s up a whopping 26% over last year. The increase rolled over to the game where the viewership at kickoff was 84.3 million, up 3% from last year. The Super Bowl dynamic tends to be that network viewership that is up at kickoff will remain up for the entire game, so that pregame number is especially important.

    • Because of the rabidness of its fans, there was some speculation that Kansas City would set a ratings record for a home market. It came close, posting an 89 share for the entire game, which means that 89% of the TVs in use were tuned to the Super Bowl. During the game’s last 15 minutes, Kansas City’s share climbed to an unheard of 97 share. “We’ve been looking at these numbers for a long time, I can never recall a 97 share for any portion of any event anywhere. It’s almost hard to believe,” Fox’s Mike Mulvihill said.

    • For the ninth straight year, the Super Bowl’s halftime show drew a bigger audience than the game. Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s performance averaged 103 million viewers, which was up 4%. Mulvihill: “It’s good news when you see the halftime show outperform the game. It means that you’re building your reach.”

 

SUPER BOWL VIEWERSHIP TREND
YEAR
NETWORK
MATCHUP
TV-ONLY (000)
TV+STREAMING (000)
2020
Fox
Chiefs-49ers
99,869
101,369
2019
CBS
Patriots-Rams
98,190
100,700
2018
NBC
Eagles-Patriots
103,391
105,411
Download the
Super Bowl Viewership Trend

 

NIELSEN ALLOWED FOX AN EXCLUSIVE WINDOW WITH RATINGS

  • Congratulations to former Cowboys exec Gil Brandt, who unexpectedly broke the Super Bowl viewership news, tweeting the TV-only number out three minutes before Fox Sports PR put the number out on its own Twitter feed. For the past several years, it’s become something of a sport for media reporters -- yeah, like me -- to break Super Bowl numbers before the networks can perfect their spin. This year, Fox asked Nielsen to change the way it reported the numbers, which, save for the legendary Brandt, plugged up all the leaks.

  • Because it was the Super Bowl broadcaster, Fox asked Nielsen that it get the “fast national” number exclusively for one hour, before any of the other networks and agencies could see it -- an hour that allowed Fox to develop more effective spin around the numbers before someone else leaked out the number to a reporter. This almost certainly sets a template for future events, giving networks a way to manage leaks around big events like, say, the Academy Awards. Expect competing networks and agencies to embrace the "exclusive ratings window" idea.
         

 

 

FANS AT HEART

  • One of my favorite parts of attending big sports events is watching well-known sports media execs and producers let their guard down and unleash their fandom, donning the color of their favorite teams or jerseys of their favorite players. That’s what I’ve done -- rocking the red during the Capitals' Stanley Cup run in 2018 and the Nationals' World Series run last October (even though I’m still solidly with the O’s!). While Chiefs fans took over Hard Rock Stadium last night, their supporters among the executive ranks appeared to be in short supply.

  • I spotted ESPN’s Connor Schell before the game with his father -- both wearing red Chiefs t-shirts. Schell grew up as a Chiefs fan, and his family, who also attended the game, stayed in the stadium long after the trophy presentation. Ande Wall, a senior managing producer for Longhorn Network, is another Chiefs fan. She attended the game with her sister, Katy Wortham, and also stayed past the trophy presentation. Wall: “We’ve been going to Chiefs games together since we were kids."

  • There have to be more. I know SI reporter Grant Wahl is a big Chiefs fan, but he told me that he opted to stay home and concentrate on the game rather than travel to Miami. If you work in sports media and attended the Super Bowl, send me your pictures. I’ll include the best ones in Wednesday’s newsletter.

 

Longhorn Network’s Ande Wall (r) and her sister Katy Wortham have been attending Chiefs games since they were kids
Longhorn Network’s Ande Wall (r) and her sister Katy Wortham have been attending Chiefs games since they were kids
Longhorn Network’s Ande Wall (r) and her sister Katy Wortham have been attending Chiefs games since they were kids

 

SPECIAL ESPN MAGAZINE WILL FOCUS ON KOBE

  • When ESPN the Magazine stopped publishing in September, ESPN execs said the company would continue to print a handful of commemorative issues each year. The first of those drops this Friday -- a 96-page issue on Kobe Bryant. The publication will carry the ESPN brand -- not the ESPN the Magazine one. “We specifically limited this to be a test case to do the work, see how the process goes and see if this makes sense,” said ESPN VP/Storytelling & Special Projects Alison Overholt. “We’ll evaluate when and how often it makes sense to do something like this.”

  • These kind of “bookazines,” as Overholt calls them, will hit on popular topics from ESPN the Magazine, such as the Body Issue, Heroes Issue or Photography issue. They will focus on big sporting events, like last night’s Super Bowl. Overholt: “The opportunity is around major event commemorative moments because you know that there is a fan base there that is really excited to absorb everything about their team.” Potential issues will include deaths of notable athletes, ones like Bryant or Muhammad Ali. “Those moments don’t come along very often. You want to be ready when they do because these are the people and personalities that change conversations and cultures.”

  • The Bryant issue will be include photographs, features and essays. Jackie MacMullan, Baxter Holmes and Ramona Shelburne have bylines on features in the Bryant issue. Several well-known ESPN personalities also wrote essays, including Jay Williams, Sarah Spain, Shelley Smith, Stephen A. Smith, Rachel Nichols, Michael Wilbon, Adrian Wojnarowski and Pablo Torre.

 

ESPN will release a commemorative Kobe Bryant magazine on Friday
ESPN will release a commemorative Kobe Bryant magazine on Friday
ESPN will release a commemorative Kobe Bryant magazine on Friday

 


SPEED READS
 

  • WWE shares dropped another 6% today. They have dropped around 26% since Thursday’s shocking announcement that co-presidents Michelle Wilson and George Barrios are leaving the company. The WWE has an earnings call this Thursday that should provide some drama ahead of WrestleMania in April.

  • Overall reactions to Fox’ Super Bowl broadcast were kind, with Joe Buck, in particular, getting singled out for praise. I was in the stadium, so I did not see the commercials. SBD recaps all of the reviews here. It has the story behind Tom Brady’s Hulu spot here; and Google’s "Loretta” spot here.
  • The Ringer graded out the pop culture winners and losers of the Super Bowl, with the "Black Widow" trailer scoring high marks, along with "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Fast 9." My daughter, who has spent a semester in Worcester, Mass., thought the Hyundai ad was hilarious. But The Ringer said the "Smaht Pahk" ad filled with exaggerated accents "unintentionally felt like Boston trying to be the center of attention" in a year where Bill Belichick and the Patriots fell short of the Big Game.
  • In their commercials, streaming services prioritized brand building last night instead of the "more traditional programming-specific commercial," according to Adweek's Kelsey Sutton. Disney+, Hulu and Quibi "centered their messages on general brand-building," while Amazon Studios was the "only one to spotlight a single show" in its ad. 

  • Fox’ game telecast featured 85 national ads (25 promos, 60 national spots) from 55 advertisers (one more than 2019), according to info supplied by iSpot

  • Analytics firm Synthesio told the Wall Street Journal this afternoon that President Trump and Michael Bloomberg's spots "accounted for at least one-third of the total online conversation about Super Bowl ads." Trump's ad "garnered predominantly positive reactions on social media, with roughly twice as many positive mentions of the commercial as negative mentions." Bloomberg’s ad, which tackled gun control, "got a more negative response."

  • ESPN producer Tim Corrigan had been on leave since his dad, former ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan, died Jan. 24. Corrigan came back from his leave on Friday to produce the emotional Blazers-Lakers game, the Lakers first game since Kobe Bryant’s death. It’s no surprise that the telecast was widely praised -- as well as ESPN's second-best NBA regular-season audience on record (4.41 million viewers).

 

  

 

 

 

Enjoying this newsletter? We've got more! Check out SBJ College with Michael Smith on Tuesdays and Thursdays for insights into all the latest news around the world of college sports. Also check out SBJ Football with Ben Fischer on Friday afternoons.

Something on the Media beat catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to either me (jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com) or Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it. Also contributing to this newsletter is Thomas Leary (tleary@sportsbusinessdaily.com).