Personal Finance

50 Years of Super Bowl Ad Pricing in One Chart

Super Bowl LI takes places in Houston. Image source: Visit Houston.

While viewership is down for television overall, the Super Bowl remains a ratings monster that commands staggeringly high ad prices. Last year's game, where the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers, drew 111.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen . That's down fractionally from the year before, but it's good enough to be No. 2 of all time. To put those numbers in perspective, the top-rated regularly scheduled broadcast network shows that are not football games are lucky to get 15 million viewers.

In addition to having a huge audience, the Super Bowl commands high ad rates because, to many of the people watching, its commercials are as important as the game. (Sometimes, they're even more important.) There's no other event that airs on American television where people discuss, dissect, and share every ad. Super Bowl commercials receive an astounding amount of exposure outside of the game, which gives the networks that air them tremendous ad pricing power.

That's why prices have risen from $37,500 for a 30-second ad during Super Bowl I to $5 million per 30 seconds for this year's Super Bowl LI, which takes place February 5, 2017. The big game rotates between the current NFL major package-rights holders Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) (NBC), FOX (NASDAQ: FOX) , and CBS (NYSE: CBS) , but no matter which network airs the game, the prices have steadily gotten higher -- although they haven't increased every year -- as you see on the chart below.

Average price of a 30-Second ad for Super Bowl I to 50

Super Bowl Cost of 30-Second Ad Super Bowl Cost of 30-Second Ad
I 37500/$42,500* XXVI $850,000
II $54,500 XXVII $850,000
III $55,000 XXVIII $900,000
IV $78,200 XXVIX $1.15 million
V $72,500 XXX $1.085 million
VI $86,100 XXXI $1.2 million
VII $88,100 XXXII $1.29 million
VIII $103,500 XXXIII $1.6 million
IX $107,000 XXXIV $2.1 million
X $110,000 XXXV $2.2 million
XI $125,000 XXXVI $2.2 million
XII $162,300 XXXVII $2.2 million
XIII $185,000 XXXVIII $2.3 million
XIV $222,000 XXXIX $2.4 million
XV $275,000 XL $2.5 million
XVI $324,300 XLI $2.38 million
XVII $400,000 XLII $2.69 million
XVIII $368,200 XLIII $2.99 million
XIX $525,000 XLIV $2.95 million
XX $550,000 XLV $3.1 million
XXI $600,000 XLVI $3.5 million
XXII $645,000 XLVII $3.8 million
XXIII $675,000 XLVIII $4 million
XXIV $700,400 XLIX $4.5 million
XXV $800,000 50 $5 million

Data Source: Nielsen. Media Research .

*Super Bowl I aired on both NBC and CBS.

Why are Super Bowl ads getting even more expensive?

The fact that the television world has gotten so splintered has helped CBS, NBC, and FOX increase prices dramatically over the last few years. Final numbers are not in for this year's game, but the average was expected to move higher than last year.

Getting access to the Super Bowl once every three years is a major reason why FOX, CBS, and NBC pay billions collectively for NFL rights. In addition to raking in cash by selling ads, the networks also get key exposure for their own shows and a huge post-game audience to either promote an existing, or new, program.

There's simply no other way to reach that many people all at once, and that allows the networks to pretty much name their prices. In addition, the added exposure for Super Bowl ads has only increased since the internet has become such a powerful force. There might be a ceiling for the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl spot, but numbers should keep going higher as long as the National Football League can keep delivering ratings that no other programs approach.

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