On February 2 the San Francisco 49ers meet the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami Gardens, Florida. They’ll play the 54th Super Bowl (or Super Bowl LIV in the league’s signature Roman lettering).
Shakira and Jennifer Lopez will headline the halftime show. Companies have paid $5.6 million just to run a 30-second ad between plays. Fans are shelling out thousands of dollars for seats. This will be, as always, the most expensive Super Bowl ever, no matter which side of the transaction you’re on.
But how much is this game actually worth? How much money does the Super Bowl make?
It depends entirely on who you are.
The National Football League has several sources of revenue from the Super Bowl.
Per our own Scott Van Voorhis, every year the NFL makes tens of millions of dollars in merchandise sales both leading up to and during the game. This is on top of the league’s branded partnerships, which typically take a central position during the Super Bowl. (For example, in 2020 the league announced that Quicken’s Rocket Mortgage had joined as a sponsor for the game.) While the NFL does not, again, release specific numbers on its partnerships, in 2019 the consulting firm IEG estimated that they were worth approximately $1.39 billion.
Tickets will account for many million dollars’ more. While the NFL has not released details, Miami Gardens’ Hard Rock Stadium seats approximately 65,000 people, with standard ticket prices reported to range from $1,000 to $5,000 (not counting the five-figure luxury boxes). Even at the lowest possible range that would make the tickets to this Super Bowl worth $65 million in total.
All of this is an enormous amount of money, but it pales compared to the value of the Super Bowl’s TV rights. Every year Fox, CBS and NBC collectively pay the NFL $3 billion for the rights to broadcast the league’s games. This deal includes the rotating right for one of these three networks to host the Super Bowl. In 2019, CBS broadcast the game. This year Fox will do so.
Networks pay so much money because broadcasting NFL games is worth so much money.
In the era of so-called “cord cutting,” live sports have increasingly become essential to the network television business model. It is one of the few forms of TV that viewers can be counted on to watch in a specific way, at a specific time. As a result, advertisements for popular sports have become both more expensive and more important to the bottom line.
Nowhere is that more true than at the Super Bowl. By November, 2019 Fox announced that it had sold all of its available advertising slots for the 2020 Super Bowl. Each 30-second spot sold for approximately $5.6 million.
While specific numbers have not yet been released at time of writing, in 2019 CBS received $336 million in ad revenue from its airing of the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl’s impact on a local economy is debated.
In the short term, business booms. Hotels raise their rates by anywhere from 50% to 300% during the weekend of the game, netting as much in a few days as they ordinarily might in a month. By one estimate local rooms will average $520 - $540 during the weekend of the game.
Airlines do the same. A brief study by the Miami Herald found that airfare in and out the region has increased by 50% for that weekend as well.
Attending one of the many parties around town, where people go before and after the game, will also cost attendees. Ticket prices have been reported between $350 and $1,000 just to get into the area’s bars and clubs.
But someone has to pick up the tab. Events like a Super Bowl don’t come cheap, and moving the sheer volume of people and material needed for a game like this comes at a particularly high cost. Ordinarily that someone is the local taxpayer.
While the NFL is no longer a tax-exempt organization, it does conduct a competitive bidding process for the cities that want to host the Super Bowl. This tends to draw enormous interests from governments eager to draw in tens of thousands of high-spending tourists, but to do so they need to make very expensive concessions to the league.
In 2019, an investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution found that the city’s successful bid for the Super Bowl cost Atlanta approximately $46 million. This came in the form of sales tax concessions, a hotel-motel tax designated for major events, reimbursement for any state or local taxes connected with the event, and $20 million pledged by local businesses.
This money comes on top of the additional expenses that a city takes on during a major event like the Super Bowl. Although through its tax breaks the NFL did not directly pay for Atlanta’s municipal services, those fire, police and medical personnel still had to keep the city running while serving a significantly larger, more centralized population than usual. A major influx of tourists costs the city additional money in maintenance manpower, public transportation and countless other local expenses that a tax-free event does not pay for.
This is not to say that the Super Bowl isn’t worth it. The most rosy projections of 2019’s event suggest that it brought in 10 times as much revenue as the city spent, making it a very worthwhile expense. It is, however, important to remember that all of this revenue comes at a cost.
Around the Country
Then there’s the spending outside of Florida.
While most fans aren’t willing to drop thousands of dollars just to see the game, that doesn’t mean they’re not excited. According to the National Retail Federation, this year’s Super Bowl is expected to generate roughly $17.2 billion in spending nationwide. The average fan will spend about $88 on food, drinks, decorations and other merchandise to celebrate the game.
In large part this is driven by the fact that almost half of everyone watching the game plans to attend a Super Bowl party, and roughly 80% of them plan to buy at least some food and drinks. Although, while wings and beer might be the most popular item, viewers haven’t forgotten the big ticket stuff either. A full 9% of Super Bowl shoppers plan on buying a new television for the event, and 6% intend to buy new furniture.
This is up somewhat from 2019, when the average consumer spent approximately $81 on the game.