In a world where most people fast-forward through commercials, the Super Bowl is one event where the advertisements are part of the spectacle. The prices for these spots have skyrocketed in the 45 years since the first Super Bowl—growing even faster than the salaries of the players themselves. Professional football players can afford a lot of things (like $6k meals at T.G.I.Friday’s), but only 10 of the players at this weekend’s Super Bowl XLVII, four Ravens and six 49ers, could foot the bill of one of the ads that airs during the commercial breaks.
We used three data sets: number of viewers (blue bars), ad cost (green line) and average NFL player salary (orange line) to graph how the dynamics have shifted since 1967. For the first part of the Super Bowl’s history, the price tags of players and commercials—both adjusted for inflation—followed at a close trajectory, with both taking off in the ’80s and ’90s. Then the tech boom happened. In the year 2000, ad costs spiked. During that Super Bowl, 19 tech companies aired commercials. Two months later, the bubble burst. Only one of those companies (E-Trade) has advertised during the big game since, and 8 of the 19 no longer exist.
Another overall trend we see is that ad costs haven’t exactly been pegged to ratings. While viewership in the U.S. has doubled since 1967, the price of an ad has increased 13-fold. This speaks volumes about the overall lucrativeness of the NFL and televised sports in general, especially now that live sports are the last bastion of commercials that actually get watched. Yet while ad costs have kept rising, salaries have declined in the wake of the 2011 labor dispute and lockout that resulted in a not-so-player-friendly collective bargaining agreement.
That means that, while the players themselves are often multimillionaires, they’re perhaps not getting as big of a chunk as we think they are. Though, Drew Brees could have bought a couple minutes of airtime with his signing bonus.