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Friday, July 12, 2024

What Will The Future of The Super Bowl Look Like?

  • More than any major sports league, the NFL embraces systemic change.
  • What’s stopping a global pay-per-view? What about playing the Big Game across The Pond?
Super Bowl in Arizona.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

More than any major sports league, the NFL embraces systemic change.

Next year, the NFL kicks off the first season of its 10-year media rights cycle with Disney’s ESPN, NBCUniversal’s NBC Sports, Fox Corp.’s Fox Sports, Paramount’s CBS Sports, and Amazon’s Prime Video that runs through the 2033 season.

But once those $110 billion-plus deals expire, all bets could be off.

After leading the fight against sports betting, the NFL did a complete about-face. It now has a sportsbook on the same site as this year’s Super Bowl.

Over the decades, the NFL extended its regular-season game schedule from 12 to 14 to 16 to 17 games. To hell with historical player stats a la Major League Baseball. This league’s all about the future.

Seeking to turn itself into a year-round sport, the league successfully transformed the formerly sleepy NFL Draft into must-see TV. The rapacious NFL has invaded the rival NBA’s stronghold of Christmas Day. Next year it will play a game on Black Friday for the first time.

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What’s stopping a global pay-per-view bonanza to beat all pay-per-views? What about playing the NFL championship across the pond?

Let’s get into the time machine and talk about the future of the Big Game.

What If It Isn’t Free?

How much would you pay to watch the Super Bowl 10 years from now?

Yes, the NFL has built its popularity on free television and has broadcast all Super Bowls across over-the-air networks, including this Sunday’s Super Bowl 57 on Fox Sports. 

But you can never say never — especially with the NFL potentially able to charge homes hundreds of dollars a pop.

Former ESPN president John Skipper boldly predicted the Super Bowl would eventually leave broadcast TV for a paid streaming or PPV platform. If sports fans are willing to pay to watch Floyd Maywather fight an exhibition boxing match vs. Logan Paul, then surely they’ll pay to watch the biggest, most important sporting event of the year.

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“Super Bowl — take that to pay-per-view,” Skipper told Dan Le Batard. “That’s how they’re going to replace the [advertising] money someday.”

PPV expert Joe Hand Jr. told Front Office Sports that a Super Bowl PPV would easily shatter the record for highest-grossing PPVs of all time, saying the NFL could easily charge $200 a home.

Subscriptions and VR

A decade from now, media consultant Patrick Crakes sees the Super Bowl placed behind a paywall.

It will be a paywall that doesn’t exist yet — but one that will boast enough subscribers to reasonably replicate the reach offered by today’s broadcast TV.

“Think of it as a natural evolution from a standalone broadcast TV system to the hybrid system of today, and over to one with just a few paywall video providers with the scale to replicate the current retransmission fee and advertising revenue model that’s nearly tapped out as a high-margin economic source,” said the former Fox Sports executive.

John Kosner, a former ESPN executive, agreed with Skipper’s PPV theory. But only to a point.

Yes, there will be PPV options for future Super Bowls. But not in the way we define PPV today, he said.

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By the mid-2030s, he sees the NFL keeping the Super Bowl on free TV — but also selling a variety of lucrative, high-tech viewing options to fans.

Fans will be able to buy virtual reality headsets that immerse them in the game, he predicted.

There will also be volumetric 3D video that gives customers the same on-field view as the quarterbacks. Not to mention a slew of new audio, statistical, and co-viewing options for sale. 

“As great a spectacle as the Super Bowl is, we probably haven’t seen anything yet,” Kosner said. “We may just have to pay something for it.”

Future of Betting 

The NFL has deals with Caesars, DraftKings, FanDuel, FOX Bet, BetMGM, PointsBet, and WynnBET, and Sunday’s game will be the first to have a sportsbook on the same property as a host Super Bowl venue.

With around two-thirds of states offering some form of sports betting, the American Gaming Association projected 30 million people in the U.S. will place a legal sports wager on this year’s Super Bowl — a 66% increase from last year’s game.

Leigh Steinberg, the legendary agent who represents Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, sees betting evolving and growing over the next decade.

But Steinberg said there’s a potential downside. 

“They’re going to have to be very rigid,” Steinberg told FOS. “The existential threat to professional sports is the concept that the games might not be played on a level playing field. And if they ever suspected someone was holding back their performance [due to betting], it would be a disaster.”

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Cathy Lanier took over as the NFL’s chief security officer nearly two years before the Supreme Court’s decision in May 2018 that allowed all states to offer state-sanctioned gambling as Nevada had for decades.

“It’s always been part of my job. It’s a bigger part of my job now,” she told FOS. “Like everything else that we do, it’s about relationships. We have very good, well-established relationships, both with [state] regulators along with the sportsbooks themselves. If there are any violations of policy, we take those very, very seriously.”

Last year, the NFL suspended Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley and  New York Jets receivers coach Miles Austin for violating the NFL’s gambling policy. 

Arms Race

The viewing and betting experience isn’t the only thing that could change — the in-person experience is going to get bigger and better.

Across the country, there’s an arms race to host the most popular sporting event in the country. The key: a shiny new stadium.

Last year’s Super Bowl, for example, was hosted at the new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. The facility has only hosted events since 2020.

The next Super Bowl will be at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas — which also opened in 2020 to accommodate the Raiders’ move to Sin City.

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To entice the league, teams like the Titans and Bills have released billion-dollar plans for new stadiums.

The Titans are working on a $2.1 billion project for a 1.7 million-square-foot stadium seating around 60,000. The stadium will have not only a see-through roof, but panoramic views of the city as well. In Buffalo, the Bills are working on a $1.4 billion stadium that could be ready by 2026. Both are slated to receive massive public funding.

Others, like the Dallas Cowboys, are committing millions to renovations — even to stadiums less than a decade old.

International Waters?

The destination outside the stadium matters to the NFL, too. After all, the league is interested in using the event to build fanbases in new regions.

If you thought Las Vegas — once a sporting event pariah — was an unexpected future host, try a city that isn’t in the United States, or even North America. It’s more than possible that a future Super Bowl could land in the U.K., Europe, or Mexico.

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Regular-season games in London and Munich have been popular, and Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he’d be interested in placing not one but two teams in London. The Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur FC were reportedly interested in hosting the Super Bowl at their London stadium.

Whether the overseas ambitions materialize or not, one thing is certain: We can’t expect America’s most popular moment across sports and entertainment to stay the same forever.

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