top of page
  • Writer's pictureAlec Fante

And That's a Wrap

Updated: Feb 3

By: Alec Fante

On Sunday February 7, 2021, Super Bowl LV was played in Tampa and it was certainly unique. Besides the fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs took part in the first Super Bowl played amid a global pandemic, there were many other one-of-a-kind aspects to Super Bowl LV. Let’s run through a few firsts: cashless concessions, partially filled stadium, female game official, female coaches, matchup of two previous winning quarterbacks, oldest starting QB, 7th Super Bowl win for a QB, and first team to play (and win!) the Super Bowl at their home field.[2] This Super Bowl gave fans a dream matchup where they were able to watch the old school champion in Tom Brady versus the emerging superstar in Patrick Mahomes: a spectacle similar to witnessing Michael Jordan match up with Lebron James in an NBA championship. We could go on and on, but you get the picture. This year was DIFFERENT!

There are lots of reasons to use the word “unprecedented” when describing last week’s Super Bowl. Even the delay in getting the viewership numbers from Nielson was in itself unprecedented. This was the first time ever that ratings were not released the following day.[3] Typically always important information for networks, the ratings were even more anticipated than usual considering everything that happened this year. Numbers were finally confirmed two days after the game reporting that this year’s Super Bowl had a total audience of 96.4 million viewers on CBS and a bundle of platforms and outlets.[4] Even though it still ranks as the most watched program of the past year, viewership was down 8% from last year’s game making it the least watched Super Bowl in over a decade.[5] Many viewers likely tuned out early as the outcome of the game became obvious long before the end.

Back in November, a study from sports business intelligence firm Team Marketing Report (TMR) projected the NFL could suffer an estimated $2.7 billion loss from not being able to fill their stadiums with fans this season.[6] In comparison, TMR estimated that the NBA lost approximately $694 million from canceled games, keeping in mind that the bulk of them had already been played when games were halted.[7] The MLB losses were estimated at $5.2 billion, as games were reduced from 162 per team to just 60.[8] TMR notes that the NFL is less reliant on fan-based revenue compared to the NBA and MLB given its relatively few games per season. Instead, the NFL broadcast deals make up much of their revenue accounting for about $6 billion per season.[9]

Despite all the interest in this historical game and the lack of social activity and live sporting events all year, this year’s Super Bowl drew its lowest audience since 2007. Approximately 96.4 million people tuned into watch the Buccaneers, led by ageless Tom Brady, win big over the Chiefs.[10] This was a 5.5% decrease from the 102 million that watched last year’s pre-pandemic matchup.[11] Because of the pandemic, there were far less large gatherings in homes or in bars. This would prove to be a major factor in keeping passive fans, those just interested in beer, wings, and friends, from tuning in. Although the NFL somehow managed to get through the season with rescheduled games instead of cancellations, the regular season audience leading into the Super Bowl was also down about 7%.[12] The league attributed this substantial decline to, among other things, interest in election news, of which there was no shortage this year, as well as COVID-19 protocol, cultural and racial tension, and constantly changing schedules.[13]

On the other hand, a couple constants in this year’s Super Bowl besides the big game, were the halftime show and the several highly anticipated commercials. Considering the financial problems associated with this past COVID-19 filled year, it is no surprise that the money aspect of the Super Bowl was as different behind the scenes as the game itself. It was extremely challenging for businesses trying to financially survive the pandemic to pay big bucks for a Super Bowl ad.[14] Even in these tough times, TV commercials during the big game were going for around $5.5 million per 30 second spot, down only slightly from the $5.6 million average cost[15] Despite several regulars who have opted not to run a commercial this year, a Viacom CBS spokesperson confirmed that all spots had been sold.[16]

Money was just one of several concerns for businesses, especially those industries hit particularly hard. There were many creative challenges as well; companies did not want to run an ad that seemed too carefree or too serious, they worried about whether to address current issues or not, and were concerned about inadvertently offending someone.[17] Still, many companies have used their unique position in our world at this time to jump into Super Bowl advertising including first time ads from Robinhood, DoorDash, Huggies, freelance platform Fiverr, resale ecommerce Mercari, used car company Vroom, and online betting company DraftKings.[18] The stakes are high; brands cannot appear irrelevant and disconnected yet not be so serious they are perceived as depressing.

In keeping with the unique year, Super Bowl commercials changed as companies adjusted their approach and tone in their attempt to read the room and deliver an appropriate message for a difficult year. Social news forum Reddit decided $5.5 million was just a little steep for their budget so they managed with a 5 second spot.[19] Using no celebrities and needing no restrictive filming, their iconic message board became one of the most talked about spots of the day.[20] The Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review ranked Reddit’s commercial as one of the most effective commercials of the broadcast measuring its execution, quality of attention generated, and memorability.[21] Sunday night after the game the “Wow, this actually worked.” text was among the most searched Super Bowl commercial on Google.[22]

Despite lower numbers, the Super Bowl was still the most watched television event of the year giving advertisers a rare chance to reach a mass audience in a fragmented media world. [23] Last year’s Super Bowl set an advertising record for the big game but this year, veteran companies like Budweiser and Coke decided to sit out. [24] At $5.5 million per 30 second spot, advertisers were wary about the messages they could deliver and were afraid of potential backlash from their customers. [25] PepsiCo, another big brand veteran, did not have a Super Bowl ad for their soda, however, it did have a spot for their Mountain Dew and Frito Lay brands. Besides that, it also sponsored the much anticipated Pepsi Halftime Show featuring The Weeknd. [26] While every Super Bowl halftime performer essentially works for free, though payment comes in recognition leading to huge spikes in sales and streams, The Weeknd reportedly dished out $7 million of his own money to make the show how he wanted it. [27] With many performers postponing their tours now until 2022, he may have to wait to get his money back.[28]

At the Super Bowl, Coke and Pepsi did not advertise their namesake sodas despite the continuing rivalry fans have come to know. Pepsi instead opted for a new campaign to lead into its halftime show, which is the 10th one they have sponsored. [29] Coke decided to sit the game out but spokesperson Kate Harman commented, “this difficult choice was made to ensure we are investing in the right resources during these unprecedented times.”[30] Coke’s revenue fell 13% during the pandemic missing out on sales from restaurants, gas stations, and office buildings as well as in person events.[31]

For the first time since 1983, Budweiser did not appear in a Super Bowl commercial, sitting this year out on the sidelines along with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev says it will donate the money it would have spent on the ad toward COVID-19 vaccine awareness efforts.[32] That seems very noble but it also may be the best ad plan yet. While Budweiser won’t appear in a commercial, other Anheuser-Busch brands will including Bud Light, Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, Michelob Ultra, and Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer.[33] A limited number of cities also saw the Sam Adams commercial which showcased the famous Clydesdale horses and drew attention to the new Wicked Hazy IPA.[34] Bill Wise, CEO of advertising company Mediaocean, observes that the headlines companies create about sitting out this game don’t tell the whole story. He continues by saying that, “Budweiser, for example, is getting plenty of attention for not running an ad…as well as upping its spending on surrounding media types. One could argue Budweiser is actually executing an omni channel campaign better than anyone right now.”[35]

Besides advertising, there were several other financial differences in the televised game this year including attendance, tickets, and betting. Attendance was limited to 38% of the stadium’s capacity making the number of cardboard cutouts larger that the number of actual fans. Of the approximately 25K fans, 7500 of them were vaccinated healthcare workers treated to an expense paid trip.[36] Ticket prices, even with the limited capacity, did not skyrocket and remained relatively close to last year’s prices.[37] But while ads, attendance and tickets were down, one industry was up – the sports gambling industry. In the 26 states that have launched legal sports betting and the 12 states that have legalized mobile sports betting, the American Gaming Association projected 23.2 million Americans would bet a collective $4.3 billion on this year’s game.[38]About 7.6 million would bet with online sportsbooks representing a 63% increase from last year.[39] As of this blog, several states have yet to report official numbers but even without a final tally, Super Bowl LV betting has already topped the 2020 total.[40]

While CBS hoped that Super Bowl LV would be an evenly matched game with down-to-the-wire excitement, it turned out to be an early- to-predict lopsided victory for the Buccaneers resulting in the smallest overall Super Bowl audience in 14 years.[41] Still, bets were placed, wings and beer were consumed, and Tom Brady proved he really is the GOAT. That’s a wrap for the first ever, and hopefully last, Super Bowl played during a pandemic.


[2] Brenton Burkett, Super Bowl LV: 10 Unique Facts about the Game Being Played During a Pandemic, CBS19, (February 2, 2021),

[3] Dominic Patten, Super Bowl Viewership Drops to Multi-Decade Low for NFL; Most Streamed Game Ever, Deadline, (February 9, 2021),

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Ed Dixon, Study: NFL Facing US $2.7 bn Deficit Due to Reduced Fan Attendance, Sports Pro Media, (November 6, 2020),

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Zlati Meyers, How Much Does a Super Bowl Ad Cost? Here’s How 2021 Compares, Fast Company, (February 7, 2021),,2016%2C%202017%2C%20and%202018.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Megan Graham, Super Bowl will welcome some new advertisers that had a great year during COVID pandemic, CNBC, (February 4. 2021),

[19] Tiffany Hsu, Reddit’s 5-Second Ad was an Unlikely Super Bowl Winner, New York Times, (February 8, 2021),

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Gerry Smith, Super Bowl Ad Challenge: Get Noticed, Avoid Irking Viewers, Bloomberg, (February 2, 2021),

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Lauren Steussy, Did The Weeknd get paid for Super Bowl 2021 halftime show?, NY Post, (February 8, 2021),

[28] Id.

[29] Amelia Lucas, Coca-Cola and Pepsi Won’t be advertising their Namesake Sodas during the Super Bowl, CNBC, (January 15, 2021),

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Megan Graham, Super Bowl will welcome some new advertisers that had a great year during COVID pandemic, CNBC, (February 4. 2021),

[33] Id.

[34] Geoff Herbert, No Budweiser? Clydesdales will be in a Super Bowl ad, but for a different beer,, (January 27, 2021),

[35]Megan Graham, Super Bowl will welcome some new advertisers that had a great year during COVID pandemic, CNBC, (February 4, 2021),

[36] Kristi Dosh, Super Bowl LV Looks Different Financially From Attendance and Tickets to Ads and Betting, Forbes, (February 7, 2021),

[37] Id.

[38] Cait DeBaun, 23.2 Million Americans to Wager on Super Bowl LV, American Gaming, (February 2, 2021),

[39] Id.

[40] Matthew Waters, Legal Super Bowl Betting Handle Already Tops Last Year’s Total, Legal Sports Report, (February 11, 2021),

[41] Jason Lynch, Super Bowl 55 Ratings Fall 15% to 96.4 Million Multiplatform Viewers, AdWeek, (February 9, 2021),

Recent Posts

See All

Florida State Fights for Freedom from ACC

On December 22nd, only a few weeks after missing the College Football Playoff, Florida State filed suit against the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in Leon County, Florida.[1] The decision to sue the


bottom of page