The Super Bowl Is Officially Hot Again

Why Commercials for the Big Game Sold Out Early This Year

Dec 12, 2019

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  Brands still on the fence about whether to buy Super Bowl air time may just have to hope for better luck next year.

That’s because Fox Sports is reporting that for the first time in five years, Super Bowl ad spots have sold out completely, and well ahead of the February game. It bucks a trend that has set in over recent years, when networks like CBS waited as late as hours before kickoff to fill up commercial breaks.

Now, it seems that advertisers have rediscovered their appetite for live sports, says Maryland Smith marketing professor Henry C. Boyd III.

“The saving grace of sports, in the classic sense, is that it is scheduled at specific times for viewership and brings people together,” says Boyd, a clinical professor of marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “It’s helping the NFL make a comeback in a time when traditional and reality TV are struggling to keep up.”

Fox Sports has said the strong economy and compelling regular season narratives are helping to drive interest in this year’s matchup.

Boyd agrees and says that young superstar players, such as QBs Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, also are contributing to the excitement.

“If we look at the nature of the game, especially the offensive side of it, we have rising stars that are making it thrilling to watch football right now,” says Boyd. “From that standpoint, if there is more scoring then more people are going to get involved, including advertisers.”

Declining Super Bowl viewership, including a 5% drop last year, may have discouraged advertisers in the past. But Boyd says brands shouldn’t balk at getting in the game because of it. The Super Bowl is still, by far, the largest television event of the year.

“From an advertising standpoint, it's one of those rare, poignant opportunities when you can get a large audience out there clustered around the TV. There aren’t many platforms that can do that now,” says Boyd. “We’re so fragmented and accustomed to using different devices now that when you can get all of these different demographics and age groups together, that is the moment to go all in.”

Make the most of the moment

This year, advertisers are spending as much as $5.6 million for a 30-second spot, up from $2.7 million in 2008. To make the most of their moment, Boyd says, brands should stick to drama-focused advertisements and aim to spark conversation on social media. These ads could be riskier for brands, he says, but the Super Bowl offers the ideal venue to do it.

“You have all of these eyes and can take a chance to do something that is going to break through the typical clutter and everything we’ve seen before. Skip the lecture ads, and go with something that draws audiences in and is not so explicit about the product in order to let people draw their own conclusions,” says Boyd. “That can be very powerful, especially if a company does it the right way. A good drama not only conveys a story, but elicits and calls for certain emotions as well.”

As media offerings become increasingly fragmented, Boyd says brands should strategizing creative ways to capture broad consumer attention on newer platforms.

“We’ve trained generations to actively watch and engage with these commercials – it’s the Oscars of ads. And when we think of linear programming and television, that model still works,” says Boyd. “But with younger generations, this idea of watching and streaming on different platforms is going to keep shaping what we watch and how we watch it.”



About the Expert(s)

Hank Boyd is a Clinical Professor in the Marketing Department at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is also a managing director and principal at Ombudsman LLC, a diversified consultancy. He is licensed to practice law in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin. Hank received his Ph.D. in Marketing from Duke University (with an emphasis in Consumer Behavior) and his J.D. in Intellectual Property from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At the age of 24, he received his MBA in Marketing from the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to graduate study, he obtained his A.B. in Chemistry (with an emphasis in Biophysics) from Princeton University. Hank’s opinions have appeared in The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Washington Business Journal, Wisconsin State Journal, Sports Illustrated, Crain's Chicago Business, Morning Consult and CNBC. He has participated in live interviews on Maryland Public Television, NBC News (local affiliate WMTV Channel 15 News), CBS News (local affiliate WISC-TV Channel 3 News), WTOP, WMAL, WIBA and Knowledge @ Wharton.

More In


Super Bowl Ads That Scored—Even When the Game Didn’t

Which commercials from the Big Game flopped, flourished or found the right tone?

Feb 08, 2021
A Pandemic Playbook for Super Bowl Advertisers

With the Super Bowl less than two weeks away, marketers are gearing up for this year's latest batch of advertisements. But after such a tumultuous year, what's the right tone for advertisers to strike?

Jan 26, 2021
Why Brands Are Rethinking Their Political Giving

Several corporations say they're halting or suspending donations to the 147 lawmakers who voted against certifying the election.

Jan 13, 2021
Robert H. Smith School of Business
Map of Robert H. Smith School of Business
University of Maryland
Robert H. Smith School of Business
Van Munching Hall
College Park MD 20742