What Super Bowl LV’s ugly TV numbers really mean

ThorneStockton

HR Legend
Oct 2, 2009
24,661
35,068
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The Super Bowl proved it wasn’t immune from the problems that have siphoned live television viewership during the pandemic.

After an unusual day-long delay in releasing the numbers, CBS Sports on Tuesday morning announced that Tampa Bay’s win over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV generated 96.4 million total viewers across both live TV and streaming services, citing the Nielsen Co. data.

The broadcast TV audience was 91.62 million with a 38.2 rating. The last Super Bowl with a smaller audience on broadcast television was 90.7 million on ABC for Pittsburgh’s 21-10 victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5, 2006, in Detroit.

And the last Super Bowl with a lower rating? Joe Namath and the New York Jets’ upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III on NBC in 1969 (36 rating).

Yikes.

The Super Bowl, which attracts millions of viewers for football and millions of non-fans for the showcase of TV commercials, annually is the most-watched TV event of the year, so why did its audience atrophy? And does it really mean anything for fans, the NFL, and the broadcasters?

Why the audience declined isn’t a mystery nor unexpected.

First, it wasn’t a particularly good game. The Super Bowl was billed as a Gen X-versus-Millennial showdown and potential changing-of-the-guard saga between 43-year-old Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, seeking his seventh championship, against Chiefs passer Patrick Mahomes, the 24-year-old next-gen face of the NFL who was seeking his second ring in as many seasons.

But it ended up being a one-sided affair between mid-market teams, with a wave of penalties. And Mahomes, with a lame foot, was unable to display the incredible skills he wowed the league with over the past few seasons. Fans tune out of a blowout.

And it wasn’t enough of a storyline that Brady was playing in his 10th Super Bowl, and with a new team after winning six titles over 20 seasons with the New England Patriots. The game generated a better local TV rating in the Boston market (57.6) than it did in Tampa (52.3). Kansas City topped the nation with a 59.9 local rating.

Several other factors affected viewership: The cord-cutting trend has been ongoing for years, but far bigger is that live sports consumption was hit hard by the deadly pandemic that has killed more than 465,000 Americans in a year. The past year also saw a chaotic presidential election that bolstered cable news at the expense of other programming. All that, plus a vast ecosphere of competing entertainment options favored by younger people, means many people watching or doing other things rather than watching sports.

Additionally, anti-racism programming and activism by players, leagues and networks over the past year turned off a segment of mostly conservative viewers, egged on by right-wing media outlets and the former president.

NFL regular-season viewership in 2020 had declined about 1 million per game to 15.4 million on average, a 6 percent year-over-year decline. The league hasn’t been alone in TV declines.

After the pandemic hit in mid-March and sports paused and schedules often wildly shuffled, audiences were down for major events such as the World Series (30 percent), Indy 500 (32 percent), Kentucky Derby (43 percent), the Masters’ final round (48 percent), NBA Finals (51 percent) and Stanley Cup final (51 percent). The NFL did have better-than-normal audiences for its conference championship games two weeks ago.

Overall, even as the U.S. population has grown, primetime TV viewership has been in decline for years, and for many reasons. Only 21 of 105 networks saw audience growth between 2014 and 2020, according to Variety. And the four major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) have seen nightly broadcast metrics fall 20 percent year over year, according to Sportico.

Will CBS and the NFL suffer from what detractors snidely refer to as “get woke, go broke?”

Of course not. Even if they’re alarmed by a smaller audience, the league and networks will profit handsomely from Super Bowl LV.

“CBS and the NFL are fine. Networks don’t make a viewing guarantee on the Super Bowl,” said media industry consultant and former Fox executive Patrick Crakes.

Last year, Fox collected $425.6 million in commercial revenue from Super Bowl LIV, per ad spending tracker Standard Media Index. CBS likely will enjoy at least that much and probably more. The network charged an average of $5.6 million for every 30 seconds of commercial airtime during the game.

The NFL enjoys multi-billion-dollar broadcast rights deals with the networks and makes billions more from sponsorship and other sources.

The broadcast number remains the most important Super Bowl metric because more people watch the game that way than via streaming, and networks can charge advertisers a lot more money for TV commercials. Advertisers usually deploy their Super Bowl marketing as a multi-platform campaign of TV, digital, streaming, social media and traditional ad messaging, and pricing can reflect that wider array.

Brands could use this year’s audience numbers as a way to seek a discount from NBC when it airs Super Bowl LVI next February from Los Angeles, but Crakes said he doesn’t expect the broadcasters to feel financial declines.

“I don’t see any material change in what networks will expect from the Super Bowl ad revenue-wise,” Crakes said.

It’s possible that if America is a post-pandemic nation by next February, and people have returned to old habits – including Super Bowl viewing parties and watching out of their homes – the NFL title game metrics could grow again.

Either way, it will be a big number that brands are thirsty to reach – in particular, the people watching mainly for the commercials.

“What makes the Super Bowl so special is its mega appeal among the most casual of viewers,” Crakes said. “For some, the Super Bowl is the only sporting event they watch all year.”

That casual audience is more important than ever, he said, and harder to keep.

“Quality of game, creative of commercials (many are available online prior to the game), halftime show, score at halftime, and of course the party atmosphere is all adding up to increased variance for casual viewers,” Crakes said. “They may still tune-in but tuning out is easier than ever.”

More detailed Nielsen data is expected soon that will break down the game audience by demographics.

CBS was expected to release the Super Bowl numbers Monday but there reportedly technical problems with the metrics that forced a delay. Online speculation was that the viewership was lower than expected and the network was figuring out how to frame the data.

What CBS calls its “Total Audience Delivery” of 96.4 million viewers on Sunday includes the CBS broadcast channel, CBS Sports and NFL digital properties; the Buccaneers and Chiefs mobile properties; Verizon Media mobile properties and Spanish-language ESPN Deportes television and digital properties.

The total includes out-of-home (OOH) viewership, CBS said, which is people watching at places such as bars, restaurants, airports, etc. Nielsen has been investing in technology and techniques to improve how it measures OOH audiences. Last year’s Super Bowl had 13 million OOH viewers, according to Sports Media Watch.

In a metric of meaningful interest mostly to the TV industry and pundits, the game had a 38.2 rating. The last time a Super Bowl rating dipped under a 40 was a 39 for Super Bowl XXIV (49ers 55, Broncos 10) on CBS in 1990, and the only time the game airing on a single network has a worse rating was the famous Jets-Colts Super Bowl III on NBC in 1969 (Super Bowl I with the Packers-Chiefs was aired on both CBS and NBC in 1967).

Historically, the best rating for the Super Bowl was the Bengals-49ers after the 1982 season at the Pontiac Silverdome in suburban Detroit. It earned a 49.1 rating for CBS with an audience of 85.2 million.

What is a rating? A single ratings point is one percentage point of all the TV households in the country. There are 121 million such homes for the 2020-21 TV season, per Nielsen.

And as a reminder, ratings from the Nielsen Co. are intended as a metric for networks to show advertisers how popular a show is so that networks can then sell them advertising. They’re not meant to be a proxy for a particular show or event’s popularity or ill-regard for political or other reasons. People watch or don’t watch for myriad reasons.

A bright side: CBS said Super Bowl LV was the most live-streamed NFL game ever, with over 1 billion total streaming minutes and an average minute audience of 5.7 million viewers. The network said that was 65-percent better than Super Bowl LIV.

While it didn’t provide specific numbers, CBS said the Super Bowl spurred “a record-breaking day on CBS All Access in terms of new subscriber sign-ups, unique devices, streams and time spent.” The network is rebranding the CBS All Access streaming service as Paramount Plus on March 4 and ran a series of funny promos for it during the game.

Even with a down audience, there were winners on Sunday: Obviously, Brady and the Buccaneers, but also halftime artist The Weeknd, whose wild show helped birth a fantastic new meme.
 

ThorneStockton

HR Legend
Oct 2, 2009
24,661
35,068
113
The last 10 Super Bowls on TV
YEAR
TEAMS
NETWORK
RATING
TV AUDIENCE
2021Bucs-ChiefsCBS38.291.62 million
2020Chiefs-49ersFOX41.6100.45 million
2019Patriots-RamsCBS41.198.19 million
2018Eagles-PatriotsNBC43.1103.39 million
2017Patriots-FalconsFOX45.3111.32 million
2016Broncos-PanthersCBS46.6111.86 million
2015Patriots-SeahawksNBC47.5114.44 million
2014Seahawks-BroncosFOX46.7112.19 million
2013Ravens-49ersCBS46.4108.69 million
2012Giants-PatriotsNBC47111.35 million
 

IACub

HR Legend
Sep 25, 2009
22,465
32,036
113
Iowa City, IA
Technically I'm part of that 91.62 million, but it was a boring, over-hyped game between teams I don't really care about, the worst halftime show I can ever remember, and truly forgettable commercials. I had it on the whole time, but I can't say I really watched more than a half hour of it. I fell asleep for most of the 3rd quarter.
 

noleclone2

HR Legend
May 4, 2015
14,469
42,970
113
I don’t think I saw it in the lengthy write up, but I worry for sports in general becoming way too dated. My teenagers and so so many of their friends don’t give a flying **** about watching sports on TV. In contrast myself and my friends were rabid basketball, baseball and football watching fools by middle and high school

I am too lazy to look up but I think I saw a lot of youth sports are seeing declines of participants as well. They got other things they would rather do and play.
 

ThorneStockton

HR Legend
Oct 2, 2009
24,661
35,068
113
I don’t think I saw it in the lengthy write up, but I worry for sports in general becoming way too dated. My teenagers and so so many of their friends don’t give a flying **** about watching sports on TV. In contrast myself and my friends were rabid basketball, baseball and football watching fools by middle and high school

I am too lazy to look up but I think I saw a lot of youth sports are seeing declines of participants as well. They got other things they would rather do and play.

That concept is probably most closely captured in this passage, but it lacks measurement/detail:

"All that, plus a vast ecosphere of competing entertainment options favored by younger people, means many people watching or doing other things rather than watching sports."
 

Funky Bunch

HR Legend
Mar 30, 2011
25,488
40,540
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People were encouraged not to go to parties. The NFL brilliantly decided to keep the game scheduled for dinnertime on the East Coast.

Going into the game, I thought that the ratings would be higher due to no parties. Meaning more TVs would be tuned in instead of more rooms full of people watching a single TV. Are the number of people at a party counted somehow? I'm sure people who wouldn't normally watch go to parties. So I really don't know how that is counted.
 

SoDakHawk

HR Legend
Sep 14, 2006
13,373
13,153
113
The last 10 Super Bowls on TV
YEAR
TEAMS
NETWORK
RATING
TV AUDIENCE
2021Bucs-ChiefsCBS38.291.62 million
2020Chiefs-49ersFOX41.6100.45 million
2019Patriots-RamsCBS41.198.19 million
2018Eagles-PatriotsNBC43.1103.39 million
2017Patriots-FalconsFOX45.3111.32 million
2016Broncos-PanthersCBS46.6111.86 million
2015Patriots-SeahawksNBC47.5114.44 million
2014Seahawks-BroncosFOX46.7112.19 million
2013Ravens-49ersCBS46.4108.69 million
2012Giants-PatriotsNBC47111.35 million
It's obvious when you look at the last 4 years TV audience numbers. Sports has become overly politicized and people are turning it off.
 

sober_teacher

HR Legend
Mar 26, 2007
13,403
16,558
113
It's obvious when you look at the last 4 years TV audience numbers. Sports has become overly politicized and people are turning it off.

I continue to believe this storyline is being overplayed. Of bigger note to me is how many other ways there are to watch stuff. You could also argue that the last 4 years is when you really started to see the explosion in streaming platforms for the various networks as well.
 

ThorneStockton

HR Legend
Oct 2, 2009
24,661
35,068
113
It's obvious when you look at the last 4 years TV audience numbers. Sports has become overly politicized and people are turning it off.

It's amazing what can be obvious to one person. I bet if you'd read the story it might be less obvious. Perhaps a combination of factors rather than just one.

You had a post earlier about changes to baseball and what constitutes action. Why wasn't politics the obvious answer there?
 

srams21

HR Legend
Gold Member
May 23, 2004
23,626
33,985
113
70% of the people who watch the super bowl don’t care about the game and are there for just social purposes. Without gatherings, they simply didn’t watch.
This. I know people who normally host Super Bowl parties but aren't big football fans. Therefore, they didn't watch the game this year like they normally would.
 

billanole

HR Legend
Mar 5, 2005
11,734
12,588
113
I don’t think I saw it in the lengthy write up, but I worry for sports in general becoming way too dated. My teenagers and so so many of their friends don’t give a flying **** about watching sports on TV. In contrast myself and my friends were rabid basketball, baseball and football watching fools by middle and high school

I am too lazy to look up but I think I saw a lot of youth sports are seeing declines of participants as well. They got other things they would rather do and play.
My kids both played high school ball.
Watching televised sports is a nothing to them. They never do.
If they represent the future in any small way, televised sports will die.
 

sober_teacher

HR Legend
Mar 26, 2007
13,403
16,558
113
My kids both played high school ball.
Watching televised sports is a nothing to them. They never do.
If they represent the future in any small way, televised sports will die.

I tend to think viewing numbers will decline but ultimately stabilize at some point down the road. To me, a large part of the reason for the decline are just how many streaming options have become available the past few years. There are just so many options now that weren't there even 5 or 10 years ago
 

ghost80

HR Heisman
Feb 24, 2009
9,286
7,254
113
Guessing this Super Bowl will only hurt next year worse. People are tired of Brady and watching all the calls go his way in the first half didn't help. Toss in a decimated KC OL and the announcement Saturday that Mahomes was going to require surgery on his bum toe in the off season and it was little wonder this game turned into a blowout.

The party I was at had people leave the TV set to play bags, visit, ect. at halftime. People might glance at the score after that but no one was watching.

Andy might be quiet in public but I'm guessing he has privately said a lot to the NFL about the officials. Beyond bad interjecting themselves into plays for calls which should have been non consequential no calls.
 

billanole

HR Legend
Mar 5, 2005
11,734
12,588
113
I tend to think viewing numbers will decline but ultimately stabilize at some point down the road. To me, a large part of the reason for the decline are just how many streaming options have become available the past few years. There are just so many options now that weren't there even 5 or 10 years ago
Where are future viewers coming from? Kids have no interest...
 
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Dorrman

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All sports numbers are down including NASCAR. I just think there are a million other options to watch or do. Young people just don't love sports as much as we did when we were growing up. I'm sure there are people who hate the NFL for kneeling and all that other stuff but to think its the only reason is ludicrous.
 

billanole

HR Legend
Mar 5, 2005
11,734
12,588
113
All sports numbers are down including NASCAR. I just think there are a million other options to watch or do. Young people just don't love sports as much as we did when we were growing up. I'm sure there are people who hate the NFL for kneeling and all that other stuff but to think its the only reason is ludicrous.
My kids have absolutely no interest in watching sports, tho they both played pretty competitively in high school.
TV or streaming sports will die if they are the new market. Die. Dead.
 

Hawk_4shur

HR Legend
Jan 2, 2009
15,374
20,435
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All sports numbers are down including NASCAR. I just think there are a million other options to watch or do. Young people just don't love sports as much as we did when we were growing up. I'm sure there are people who hate the NFL for kneeling and all that other stuff but to think its the only reason is ludicrous.

I agree. If I want to watch the game, it doesn't matter to me the other crap that it associated with it.
 

tarheelbybirth

HR King
Apr 17, 2003
67,424
50,999
113
Guessing this Super Bowl will only hurt next year worse. People are tired of Brady and watching all the calls go his way in the first half didn't help. Toss in a decimated KC OL and the announcement Saturday that Mahomes was going to require surgery on his bum toe in the off season and it was little wonder this game turned into a blowout.
KC was dead from the bell. The KC OL was embarrassing. Without Mahomes' feet to keep the TB front honest they could just tee off on him...and they did.
 
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sober_teacher

HR Legend
Mar 26, 2007
13,403
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Where are future viewers coming from? Kids have no interest...

How much sports did kids watch in previous generations? Serious question.

I honestly have no idea what those numbers would have looked like 20-30 years ago. I'm 38 now and when I was a kid, you still had the 1 pm kickoff times for Iowa for those games that weren't televised. Now you have all games being televised. If you have the subscription for it, you can watch European/Central/South American soccer leagues now as well.

It's all about options now - I'm not sure lack of interest is the biggest part of declining numbers in my opinion.
 

CoachH

HR All-State
Jun 26, 2001
903
1,796
93
Guessing this Super Bowl will only hurt next year worse. People are tired of Brady and watching all the calls go his way in the first half didn't help. Toss in a decimated KC OL and the announcement Saturday that Mahomes was going to require surgery on his bum toe in the off season and it was little wonder this game turned into a blowout.

The party I was at had people leave the TV set to play bags, visit, ect. at halftime. People might glance at the score after that but no one was watching.

Andy might be quiet in public but I'm guessing he has privately said a lot to the NFL about the officials. Beyond bad interjecting themselves into plays for calls which should have been non consequential no calls.
KC earned those flags. They hurt themselves with their sloppy play.
 

artradley

HR Legend
Apr 26, 2013
30,235
53,374
113
For the life of me I cannot understand why they continue to hold the Super Bowl on a Sunday. It would be so much better on a Saturday night. Maybe they think it’s a captive audience on Sunday, but it’s hard to get excited about staying up late drinking and partying on Sunday.
 

SoDakHawk

HR Legend
Sep 14, 2006
13,373
13,153
113
It's amazing what can be obvious to one person. I bet if you'd read the story it might be less obvious. Perhaps a combination of factors rather than just one.

You had a post earlier about changes to baseball and what constitutes action. Why wasn't politics the obvious answer there?
When you watch a regular season baseball game it's pretty much just a baseball game. The Super Bowl is on another level with the number of eyeballs watching it. Everybody is looking to make a statement about something during the Super Bowl now. It's over the top political.
 
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billanole

HR Legend
Mar 5, 2005
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How much sports did kids watch in previous generations? Serious question.

I honestly have no idea what those numbers would have looked like 20-30 years ago. I'm 38 now and when I was a kid, you still had the 1 pm kickoff times for Iowa for those games that weren't televised. Now you have all games being televised. If you have the subscription for it, you can watch European/Central/South American soccer leagues now as well.

It's all about options now - I'm not sure lack of interest is the biggest part of declining numbers in my opinion.
OK. Early Super Bowls. My old man was outside with an antenna he spun around, calling for us inside to let him know when the snow stopped and we had coverage. We were all into it. You have no perspective about a single network coverage in a few markets for a major event such as the super bowl.
Not calling you out, just saying that your perspective is recent.
We were dying for coverage.
 

JupiterHawk

HR Legend
Jan 6, 2005
15,595
22,076
113
Jupiter, FL
Going into the game, I thought that the ratings would be higher due to no parties. Meaning more TVs would be tuned in instead of more rooms full of people watching a single TV. Are the number of people at a party counted somehow? I'm sure people who wouldn't normally watch go to parties. So I really don't know how that is counted.

It is kind of a paradox. I would love to see the underlying numbers.
 

ThorneStockton

HR Legend
Oct 2, 2009
24,661
35,068
113
When you watch a regular season baseball game it's pretty much just a baseball game. The Super Bowl is on another level with the number of eyeballs watching it. Everybody is looking to make a statement about something during the Super Bowl now. It's over the top political.

Do you think covid had anything to do with the Super Bowl numbers or is it still obviously politics? Do you have any reasons for feeling it is solely from politics or is it just a gut feeling?

Did you read the story?
 
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Fan In Black

HR Legend
Nov 9, 2001
18,142
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how is it measured? Does it take into account streaming services?

Edit: nvm reading is hard
 

ghost80

HR Heisman
Feb 24, 2009
9,286
7,254
113
KC earned those flags. They hurt themselves with their sloppy play.
There are flags they earned. There are flags away from the ball that should never have thrown. The officiating was not consistent to the norm. That will hurt the NFL during a time they already have plenty of problems. Guessing the NFL is already carefully reviewing a couple of the key flags in the first half and will use them as "training" for the crews going forward. Nothing will be said or can be done about Sunday, the game was a Schmidt show even without the bad calls....but the officials (beyond the crew) will hear about the calls that the NFL feels were bad (and there will be some).
 
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sober_teacher

HR Legend
Mar 26, 2007
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KC earned those flags. They hurt themselves with their sloppy play.

Agree that the penalties were legitimate...but some of those were also ones we've all seen NOT called before as well. I certainly won't argue that KC got screwed by the officiating - I just get frustrated by it being totally random when certain penalties are called and when they aren't.

OK. Early Super Bowls. My old man was outside with an antenna he spun around, calling for us inside to let him know when the snow stopped and we had coverage. We were all into it. You have no perspective about a single network coverage in a few markets for a major event such as the super bowl.
Not calling you out, just saying that your perspective is recent.
We were dying for coverage.

That's kind of my point though - I don't know how old you are, but when the first Super Bowls were on, there were what, 4 channels? So the Super Bowl was appointment viewing. When I was a kid, my parents often took my sister and I to a viewing party with their friends...and the kids were usually in and of the room with the game on. Now there's hundreds of channels out there on cable television, plus all the streaming options alone.

With so many additional choices, is it really a surprise that viewing numbers have declined somewhat?
 

ping72

HR Legend
Jan 14, 2009
33,051
46,855
113
All sports numbers are down including NASCAR. I just think there are a million other options to watch or do. Young people just don't love sports as much as we did when we were growing up. I'm sure there are people who hate the NFL for kneeling and all that other stuff but to think its the only reason is ludicrous.

I think what we are really learning is that Americans don’t actually care all that much about sports. They’re simply interested in reasons to consume alcohol with friends.
 
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billanole

HR Legend
Mar 5, 2005
11,734
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Agree that the penalties were legitimate...but some of those were also ones we've all seen NOT called before as well. I certainly won't argue that KC got screwed by the officiating - I just get frustrated by it being totally random when certain penalties are called and when they aren't.



That's kind of my point though - I don't know how old you are, but when the first Super Bowls were on, there were what, 4 channels? So the Super Bowl was appointment viewing. When I was a kid, my parents often took my sister and I to a viewing party with their friends...and the kids were usually in and of the room with the game on. Now there's hundreds of channels out there on cable television, plus all the streaming options alone.

With so many additional choices, is it really a surprise that viewing numbers have declined somewhat?
Agree. We had few options, and my brothers, pops, and mom were fanatic.
 
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Hoosierhawkeye

HR Legend
Sep 16, 2008
46,862
38,812
113
40
I think people are over-reacting to the numbers from a single SB that turned into a snooze-fest between two small market teams in a pandemic where many people might have canceled their SB viewing parties. (Considering the SB is very much a social event this is big.)

That said I think the other entertainment options do play a part in it.
 

ghost80

HR Heisman
Feb 24, 2009
9,286
7,254
113
The funny thing is that while I totally agree TB won even without the bad calls......if the bad first half calls didn't happen the score would have been closer and with KC getting the ball to start the second half may have held some of the viewers longer. IMO the bad calls even probably hurt the NFL viewership because in at least part of their metrics they analyze how long the viewers watch.
 

Funky Bunch

HR Legend
Mar 30, 2011
25,488
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This. The NFL needs to realize people are sick of Tom Brady and they need to stop bending over backwards to get him into the Super Bowl.

One of these days, Tom will pack his bags and move out of your head
 

srams21

HR Legend
Gold Member
May 23, 2004
23,626
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When you watch a regular season baseball game it's pretty much just a baseball game. The Super Bowl is on another level with the number of eyeballs watching it. Everybody is looking to make a statement about something during the Super Bowl now. It's over the top political.
Really? I watched most of the Super Bowl and didn't notice hardly anything political.
 

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