Super Bowl LIII Preview: Will Rams-Patriots Deliver a Record TV Audience for CBS?

The NFL’s title game has seen declines each year since its high-water mark in Super Bowl XLIX

Last Updated: February 2, 2019 @ 4:21 PM

Will the NFL end its TV ratings comeback story this season in victory formation, with a record audience for Super Bowl LIII?

CBS will no doubt garner a super-sized audience on Sunday, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots square off against Hollywood’s team — the Los Angeles Rams — on Feb. 3 from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But the NFL’s championship game hasn’t been immune to the league’s ratings troubles of the past few seasons.

Last year’s Super Bowl, which also featured the Patriots, averaged 103.4 million viewers, an 8 percent dip from the previous season. That was despite a game that set multiple offensive records and featured a thrilling back-and-forth contest (eventually won by the Philadelphia Eagles) that wasn’t decided until the game’s final minute. The previous year, Super Bowl LI, which, again, featured the Patriots, made history for becoming the first Super Bowl to need overtime. It also saw the Patriots rally back from a 28-3 deficit in the third quarter to defeat the Atlanta Falcons. Although Super Bowl LI averaged 111.3 million viewers, it was also down from the prior year (111.9 million).

The all-time high for the Super Bowl — which also featured the Patriots — was in February 2015, when the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, a game that was decided in the final minute as well. That contest averaged 114.4 million viewers. Since then, the Super Bowl has seen its audience decline each year.

But the NFL is coming off a strong ratings year, one in which it reversed a two-year audience slide.

While the Super Bowl audience has dwindled, the cost for advertisers has continued to rise. The Super Bowl remains the most expensive ad buy on TV, with last year’s game costing buyers an average of $5.2 million for 30-seconds of airtime, according to data from ad-tracking firm Kantar Media. Overall, NBC brought in $482 million in ad time for last year’s coverage, which included pre- and post-game shows (for the game itself, NBC generated $408 million).

CBS could be looking at a bigger haul: With a little more than 90 percent of its entire ad inventory sold, CBS has commanded between $5.1 and $5.3 million for 30-seconds of airtime, an individual with knowledge of the negotiations tells TheWrap.

Unlike just about every other type of TV programming, networks don’t guarantee a specific audience when selling commercial time for the Super Bowl. The game speaks for itself: It’s by far the most-watched TV program every year, with an audience in the triple digits. The viewership number is more for bragging rights for the NFL. For CBS, its a chance to give a boost to its upcoming talent competition series, “The World’s Best,” which will air directly after the Super Bowl.

But considering the league’s ratings turnaround story this season, the NFL and CBS would surely like to cap that off with a record haul.

Super Bowl LIII airs Sunday, Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT on CBS

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