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Super Bowl 50 Matchup: NFL, CBS Settle for the Wrong Cities

Roger Goodell may not have wanted to hand Tom Brady the Vince Lombardi trophy, but at least the Pats would have brought a major TV market with them

By all estimations, Super Bowl 50 will be the most-watched telecast of all time — but in theory, it could have potentially been even better for the NFL and host network CBS.

TheWrap isn’t blaming Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski for missing an extra point on Sunday, opening the door for the Denver Broncos to hold a lead and ultimately advance, but surely some advertisers would have preferred a different outcome. (And not just the subsection that gambles heavily on the side.)

A prominent theory you’ll hear a lot about, including on this website, is that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must be thrilled about the way the highly rated AFC Championship Game played out. After all, the boss has to be a bit relieved he won’t risk handing the Lombardi Trophy off to Tom Brady in a few weeks, after the two sparred over that little Deflategate thing.

But there is another, more practical reason why Goodell might have been OK bestowing Brady with the shiny silver hardware for a fifth time: New England’s Boston locale was the biggest TV market option the league had left last weekend.

Boston is the seventh-largest media market in the United States, which would have been a nice geographical allegiance for one-half of Super Bowl 50. Denver, where the Patriots lost, is 18th. So, quite a downgrade in potential tune-in for the final game of the season. (Not you, previous Pro Bowls. Never you.)

On the NFC side, the worse of two evils — from a pure market-size standpoint — also won out. Charlotte, which is home to the Carolina Panthers, is the 24th biggest media market. Phoenix, which the out-classed Arizona Cardinals call home, is the 12th.

In other words, by sheer market size, Super Bowl 50 will be the worst possible matchup we’ve seen in a while. Last year, the aforementioned Pats topped the Seattle Seahawks, who play in the 14th biggest market. The prior season it was these Broncos falling to the Seahawks — not a great combo, but still better.

Baltimore’s (No. 26) inclusion in 2013 was at least partially offset by the strong San Francisco market (No. 6) of their NFC opponent. Unfortunately, just holding this year’s game in San Fran won’t really help circumstances — and it wasn’t enough back then when the team actually participated, either. Super Bowl XLVII was one of the rare ones that dropped in total viewership from the prior year. To be fair, XLVI was a monster.

In 2012, the NFL had about as close to a dream market matchup as it could have hoped for: New York (Giants) versus New England. The Big Apple is the biggest media market in the country.

Finally, we’ll go back to 2011, where the NFL actually had a worse combination of cities than it has this year: Green Bay (No. 70) beat Pittsburgh (No. 23) back then.

Of course, there are other tune-in factors for a Super Bowl: Anybody who is a football fan is going to watch regardless of who plays; anyone social will likely watch, whether they’re counted or not for viewing from a party or bar; and a growing domestic population almost guarantees a yearly upward tick.

Still, there are the rare coin-tossers who need a little extra motivation to tune in, or are maybe even considering watching the big game for the first time. That’s where the household names of helmetted stars can help: the now stay-at-home Brady is definitely one of those, but so is Peyton Manning. Plus, this year, the Denver QB may be playing in his last game ever — so that’s got to be a can’t-miss for a few casual folks.

Panthers leader Cam Newton has a great smile and a solid spokesperson track record already, but his a comparatively tiny name. We won’t even get into any buzz surrounding defensive standouts Von Miller and Luke Kuechly, because anyone who knows who they are would never miss a Super Bowl anyway.

A close game would help — the Panthers are currently favored by four points. Super Bowl 50 as a milestone provides a nice, round way to incentivize and eventize, and we all know how much CBS and the NFL have marketed the hell out of that landmark.

Ultimately, the final tally will come down to the on-field activity. If the game is good, more people will stay awake and watching. If the halftime show is entertaining, few will flip to the Puppy Bowl.

To set a new TV viewing record, Super Bowl 50 will have to eclipse last year’s 114.4 total viewers, and it probably will. You know, unless all you millennials stream the game instead.

Either way, some final good news for the league office: Next season, Goodell and the guys will finally have a team back in the second-largest U.S. media market, Los Angeles, an upgrade from St Louis’ 21st. And heck, the NFL may even end up with two teams in L.A. by the 2016-2017 season. Some market-based free advice: Make the Chargers move north and keep the Raiders in that Oakland-San Francisco area, turning No. 28 San Diego into a second No. 2.

Super Bowl 50 kicks off Sunday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS.