Meadowlark Media founder John Skipper recently suggested on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz that the NFL could eventually decide to turn the Super Bowl into a pay-per-view event. “That’s how they’re going to replace the money someday,” Skipper said. “Because there’s not going to be enough money in the advertising” for broadcast rights fees to keep growing. The idea is that the league could entice 25 million fans to buy, at $100 per (for $2.5 billion in revenue), and then sell an additional $1-2 billion worth of advertisements in and around the game.
The idea of pulling the Super Bowl from broadcast television and putting it behind a paywall might sound unlikely—even with television ratings and ad revenues in decline (note: Super Bowl ad rates have yet to dip despite the fall-off in general viewership). But former Bleacher Report CEO and Record Scratch founder Howard Mittman agrees with Skipper that an inflection point is coming, saying the concept of a pay-per-view Super Bowl has “absolute merit and deserves to not only be discussed but explored.”
Our Take: One could argue—as former NFL Enterprises president Ronald Bernard did—that NBC’s decision to put some Olympic programming exclusively on Peacock (like the men’s basketball games) has contributed to the relative lack of interest in the Games. He called it “a mistake.” But Mittman sees the winds shifting across the entertainment and news sectors and thinks the biggest sporting events will inevitably find their way behind a paywall, too.
Fan interest/development concerns aside, the NFL would need to be certain the revenue generated by a PPV Super Bowl would outweigh any dollars they might lose by blowing up the existing broadcast model. “It is really a question of what [percentage] of their rights fees are networks attributing to getting the Super Bowl every four years? Because obviously if the game went to pay-per-view, the rights fees would go down accordingly,” Bernard said.
While revenue projections and rights fee reductions would undeniably be a concern if the league were to make the PPV move today, Mittman envisions a very different media ecosystem come 2035 (when their existing deals expire)—one that will leave sports rights owners little choice but to alter their approach to monetization. “We are moving towards a world where it might not make financial sense for a single company to own any one event in its entirety,” he said. “The league could transition to a model that has multiple partners broadcasting the game simultaneously” (think: each broadcaster pays less for the rights, but the league earns more in aggregate).
The presumption is if there were ubiquity in NFL broadcast rights, the Super Bowl would not mean as much as it currently does to any single rights holder. If that were the case, the league would be able to move the broadcast to pay-per-view without torpedoing the value of their media rights packages. Spreading out rights across a multitude of broadcasters would also help to ensure pro football remains relevant in an increasingly hyper-fragmented consumer marketplace.
For context, Skipper’s comments on the Super Bowl were stated in an offhand manner during a conversation about MLS media rights. He was not offering a fully informed opinion on the game’s future, and it would be misleading to suggest the former ESPN executive has total conviction around the idea of an exclusive pay-per-view broadcast.
But with that said, his point stands. “If people are willing to pay big money to see Floyd Mayweather fight a Paul brother,” Mittman said, the NFL should be able to generate a massive revenue figure from a pay-per-view championship game. Bernard, who as a Showtime founder is well-versed in the format, said it would certainly be “the biggest pay-per-view ever.”
Mittman, for one, said he could “absolutely” see about 25% of the 91 million people who tuned in for the 2021 Super Bowl paying $100 for the broadcast. He also pointed out that the pay-per-view model would enable the league to tap into the “enormous ecosystem around the Super Bowl in a more direct and significant way” (think: high price tag for bars and restaurants).
While the league would likely draw more viewers (and perhaps limit piracy) with a lower price point, the premium nature of the Super Bowl combined with the owners’ desire to maximize revenues means the event would all but certainly be priced as high or higher than a UFC or boxing PPV event. “And they’ll get it. Just look at how much people are willing to pay to watch Logan Paul fight,” Mittman said.
Skipper also mentioned the possibility of the league offering fans a lifetime subscription to the Super Bowl. While that concept may be hard to grasp since the game has always been available on free-to-air television, the same could be said about personal seat licenses 30 years ago—and fans have grudgingly paid for them since.
“You can make a really good case for [a SB on PPV] numbers-wise,” Bernard said. He just doesn’t see the NFL making a purely numbers-based decision to pull the game from the broadcast networks. The league has “always made football the everyman sport. Making the Super Bowl a pay-per-view event inherently goes against the fiber of the NFL’s thinking, and the optics on it wouldn’t be good.” The former NFL exec believes the threat of a move to PPV will ensure network rights fees continue rising even as viewership declines.
The NFL declined to comment on the prospect of the Super Bowl moving to pay-per-view.