Big Money on Big Game Ads – But How Big Is the Impact?

Big Money on Big Game Ads – But How Big Is the Impact?

The “big game” is just around the corner, one of the most expensive and creative advertising days of the year. For those of us who work in the world of marketing and advertising, watching the new commercials and unique approaches that are tried are often as fun to watch as the contest itself – and sometimes even more entertaining.

As one of the most watched television events of the year, airtime during commercial breaks during the big game come with a pretty hefty price tag. According to The Motley Fool, commercial time for the 2019 game commands $5.1 to $5.3 million for a 30-second spot. With a huge audience watching – some 103.4 million last year, says Motley Fool – it can be a real opportunity for a growing business to gain some serious national attention. But is it really the best option to reach the broadest audience? We thought we’d take a look and see how that kind of a budget could work on some other media platforms – both traditional and digital.

A Quick Note on Our Comparisons

Before we dive in, we wanted to point out that in all of the following calculations, we look only at the cost for the media on each platform. This excludes the cost of production which can vary quite a bit depending on the approach. Television ads and banner ads have dramatically different expenses involved, making that cost another factor that should be considered when evaluating each of the different platforms available.

Off-Peak Television

Television Advertising During FootballWe know that big game advertising costs big bucks, but what if you wanted to run an ad on national networks at other times during the year? It turns out that it’s more affordable than you might expect and can still offer a pretty high number of viewers. SiteAdWiki, citing Nielsen Media Research data, says that in 2017, the average cost per 1,000 homes was $42.90 across regular programming and specials. That means that with a similar budget to what a big game ad costs – $5.2 million – your off-peak television reach could be 121,212,000 homes.

However, that’s looking at a national audience. For those looking to run a television campaign locally, costs can be lower for ads placed on national programs. Depending on the market, program and time slot, the costs can drop to $25 per 1,000 homes or lower, but the impact may not be the same on middle-of-the-night or locally produced programming.


Radio continues to be a popular platform for advertising. Stations are played in offices, on public transit, in commuter vehicles and streamed online, making radio an avenue to reach a broad audience in any geographic region. While costs for radio can vary dramatically based on the time of day, station popularity, geography and more, FitSmallBusiness suggests some average CPM rates – cost per one thousand impressions – for a one-minute radio spot averaging these factors.

For a daytime ad targeted to ages 18 to 49, the CPM is approximately $12 to $16. Targeting an older demographic? Audiences of listeners age 50 and older average a CPM of $8 to $12. Taking the high figures from each range, that means you could potentially have a reach of 325 million listeners in the 18 to 49 demographic, or 433.3 million people for the 50-plus audience. That’s enough airtime to reach the entire population of the United States at least once and more than three times the reach of a single commercial during the big game – not too shabby.

Print Advertising

The OG of advertising media, print ads in newspapers and magazine are still available, but offer more relevance for audiences within a given area or topic concentration. For example, if you’re looking for exposure within a specific metro area or want to reach audiences who read publications covering only business or sports, ads placed in a large city newspaper or a trade or industry magazine can be the perfect choice. Print ads also offer the advantage of being static, allowing for ads to include more information than a radio or television ad running in real time to audiences for a limited time. So, is newspaper or magazine advertising an effective choice?

Advertising Media SignpostNewspapers

Newspapers can offer both national appeal for ads placed in the largest publications circulated broadly around the country or regional appeal for the major outlets in the big cities and surrounding suburbs. According to information from Gaebler, a full-page black and white ad in The Wall Street Journal’s national edition costs $164,300. That means for the cost of a TV spot during the big game, you could run a full month’s worth of full-page ads, reaching a circulation of 1,321,827 every day, using numbers reported by WSJ. That’s a net reach of more than 40.98 million added up – less than just a single ad in the big game, but offering repetition to the target audience.

If you choose something more local, you’ll reach the smaller audience for the region, but pay a lower cost. Gaebler offers the examples of the Los Angeles Times and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at $70,000 and $15,000 per full-page ad, respectively. If we take those costs and assume an average cost of $40,000 for a typical mid-sized market newspaper, that means the budget for a big game ad could fund approximately 130 days in print, reaching the audience in the designated market area (DMA) with a consistent branding or messaging campaign. Calculating a comparable CPM rate is much more difficult to provide, however, as it will vary significantly by publication reach and specific rates.


Magazines offer an alternative to newspapers and typically have a broader audience that reaches nationwide. Your choice of outlet can be on reach, with publications like ESPN The Magazine having some of the greatest reach across all channels – 102,245 readers, according to MPA – The Association of Magazine Media. Or it can be on topic, targeting a specific fashion audience with something like Cosmopolitan or a business audience with Forbes.

WebFX reports an average cost for a full-page ad in these national-level magazines runs about $250,000 average. On a $5.2 million budget, that would mean about 21 issues – or almost a year of full-page placements in a biweekly publication. Assuming a mid-range circulation of 50,000 readers across the top 10 publications across printed and digital platforms – taken from the midpoint of MPA’s top 10 circulation figures – a magazine campaign would reach about 1.05 million readers – significantly less than a commercial in the big game.

Social Media 

The poster child of modern media, advertising on social networks like Facebook has surged in recent years. Offering a significantly lower cost on average, social media offers the additional advantage of targeting advertising to a specific demographic. That can be a geographic audience, users of a specific age range or gender, and even individuals with particular interests. This targeting can ensure a more impactful campaign and make it easier to reach the right audience with every view of your ad.

Now, there are many ways to structure purchasing for a Facebook marketing campaign, but for the sake of making more direct comparisons to other media platforms, let’s look at the CPM. AdEspresso reports in its review of 2016 data that the average CPM for all objectives – website clicks, conversions, app downloads and more – was $7.34. That means that, speaking broadly, the $5.2 million spend for the big game could reach an astounding 708,446,866 people through Facebook. And that’s not even factoring in targeting options that can help an ad reach a more exact audience and demographic.

Digital Display (Banner) Ads 

Finally, looking at Google’s Display Network – banner and side-of-page ad formats that can appear through the search engine’s partner network – advertisers can again get a lot of bang for their buck. As with social media, banner ads can be more targeted, allowing for your ads to reach audiences only in a specific area or only on sites that offer particular content formats or topics, allowing for a narrower focus on a particular key audience.

Here again we’ll use CPM to draw a similar reach calculation. Using data reported by AdStage for the first quarter of 2018, the CPM average across 780 million ad impressions was $2.80. Assuming a similar average for a campaign run as an alternative to buying a 30-second spot for the big game, that $5.2-million-dollar budget would stretch to an astounding 1,857,142,857 impressions – yes, more than 1.8 billion. That means you could potentially reach nearly a quarter of the population of the entire planet for the same cost as reaching the 103.4 million viewers of this weekend’s showdown.

By the Numbers

Using the data above, we’ve put together a brief visual that should really help drive home the contrasts between some of these different options.

Super Bowl Advertising Reach Infographic


What’s the Best Campaign for You?

Whether your best option is to make a big buy on the big game or a long-term investment on a more affordable alternative really comes down to the ultimate goals of your marketing. Are you looking to make a splash and springboard your brand from obscurity to prominence or do you want to promote your services to audiences in your region? There are numerous factors that need to be considered when looking at your options, but the team at J. Fitzgerald Group can help you make sense of the best choice to achieve your goals.

Our comprehensive range of media services includes evaluating your marketing needs and helping you get a campaign together on digital and traditional platforms that will best reach your target audience. Online, offline or outdoors, we can help you get the most reach with every dollar you spend on your brand promotion and product or service sales drives. Find out more by giving our team a call today at 716.433.7688.

Western New York’s only dynamic, creative training and ideation workspace.

Share This