Sports

Super Bowl Viewership Poised to Increase This Year Thanks to Gen Zers, Millennials

Share of adults 18-34 who say they expect to watch Bengals-Rams is up 23% from Buccaneers-Chiefs last season

Sixty-seven percent of U.S. adults say they'll watch the Super Bowl this year, up from 61 percent who said they'd do so before last year's big game, according to Morning Consult data. (Mockups Design / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice)

Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams is likely to be the cherry on top of an already stupendous season for the NFL and its broadcast partners. According to a new Morning Consult survey, 2 in 3 U.S. adults expect to watch this year’s championship game.

What the numbers say

  • Sixty-seven percent of U.S. adults said last week that they plan to watch Super Bowl LVI, an increase from the 61 percent of respondents who said they planned to watch last year’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs. According to Nielsen viewership data, Super Bowl LV on CBS produced the smallest total audience for the NFL’s championship game since 2007 and the smallest TV-only audience since 2006. (Nielsen subsequently admitted that it inadvertently underreported out-of-home viewership for live events in 2020 and 2021, but it’s unclear whether or not this impacted the Super Bowl specifically.)
  • Increased Super Bowl viewership would jibe with the recent trend for the NFL, which in 2021 scored its best average regular-season audience since 2015. In addition, all 12 games during this NFL postseason have seen year-over-year viewership increases.
  • While the share of Americans planning to host or attend Super Bowl parties hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, there will be more get-togethers than last year, which may also have a positive impact on viewership. Among adults who said they typically watch with others at a party, 71 percent said they are likely to do so this year, up from 46 percent last year.

More on the numbers

  • Adults ages 44 and under are driving the year-over-year increase in expected viewership for this year’s Super Bowl. Last year, there was little variance between age cohorts in terms of likelihood to watch the Super Bowl. This year, however, adults ages 18-34 (75 percent) and adults ages 35-44 (70 percent) are more likely than adults ages 45-64 (63 percent) and adults ages 65 and older (62 percent) to say they plan to watch the game. While the share of adults in the older cohorts who said they plan to watch this year’s game is about flat year over year, the share of adults 18-34 who expect to watch is up about 23 percent, while the share of adults 35-44 who expect to watch is up about 9 percent.
  • About 4 in 5 likely Super Bowl viewers (81 percent) said they plan to watch on live TV, compared to just 14 percent who plan to watch via a streaming service and 5 percent who plan to watch via a mobile app or other means.

The impact

Even in its worst year, the Super Bowl is the most-watched program on American TV by a large margin, netting a financial windfall for the broadcaster. Still, all signs point to NBC getting the better of CBS in their Super Bowl swap, which resulted in CBS airing Super Bowl LV last year and NBC airing Super Bowl LVI this year in concert with its Winter Olympics coverage.

NBC said it sold its last remaining 30-second Super Bowl commercial spots for as much as $7 million, a new record and up from the $5.8 million to $6.2 million the network was seeking during upfronts in the aftermath of last year’s record-low performance. 

The network’s ability to continue to increase prices is likely a reflection of the NFL’s strong ratings momentum, as well as the belief that this year’s big game is set to deliver a larger audience than last year’s. If the game delivers an average audience of more than 100 million across NBC, Telemundo and digital platforms, Fox, which has already started selling ads for Super Bowl LVII in 2023 for more than $6 million apiece, would have a case to raise rates even more.

While there’s reason for optimism, it’s impossible to account for the entertainment value of the game in viewership projections. The lopsidedness of the Buccaneers’ 2021 victory over the Chiefs, for instance, certainly contributed to the game’s 16-year viewership nadir.

The Jan. 31, 2022, poll was conducted among a representative sample of 2,211 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult