By now you all know that commercial spots for Super Bowl XLVII, which will be played on February 3rd and pits the San Francisco 49ers against the Baltimore Ravens, are selling for around 3.8 million dollars. The actual price tag is a bit lower than that, though, so for our purposes, to air on the conservative side, let’s call each spot’s price 3.75 million USD. And yes, that is for 30 second spots.

So let’s do a bit of simple…

3,750,000 / 30 = DAMN!!

Our complex equation reveals that each and every second of a commercial that runs during Super Bowl XLVII will cost around $125,000. Clearly, we need to get into the business of broadcasting Super Bowls! Except that CBS is rumored to have paid upwards of a billion dollars for the privilege of its broadcasting NFL games and related media this year, so maybe not…

To put things in perspective, during Oprah Winfrey’s recent interview with now-extremely-disgraced cyclist and generally dishonest backstabbing jerk Lance Armstrong advertisers had to pay around $100,000 per commercial. Every single second of Super Bowl ad real estate cost much more than an entire ad during the momentous interview with this guy:

 Watch the interview and WEEP:

(Yes, we’d rather be watching the commercials!)

…and people hate Lance. Given that people also love watching people they hate brought low, it is amazing to realize just how vast the gulf is between what Oprah’s “The Armstrong Crusher 2013” interview merited in ad buy vs. the Big Game. Granted, the lancing (ha!) was on OWN, a rather tiny cable network, but still, it gives perspective.

So what are Pepsi and and Century 21 and Budweiser and all the rest really paying for when they shell out one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars a second this February 3rd? Well, for one thing, they are paying for a captive audience approximately one third as large as the entire population of the United States of America. Super Bowl XLVII is expected to draw some 100 million viewers. Or more. No, not all of those viewers are indeed here in America and/or American citizens, but the statistic is still jarring, so we’re going with it! Indeed it is the nature of the “captive audience” that makes Super Bowl airtime so valuable still in the days of the DVR and TiVo, not to mention that whole internet thing.

So… 100 million viewers….

 Or ALL of France.

Sporting events are one of the few things where watching live is still vital. A game just doesn’t matter as much once it is over—you can watch Titanic a hundred times and still cry at the end (not we say “you” can do that, not us!) but you can’t really be moved more than once who wins or loses a football game. You can stay angry or thrilled, sure, but once you know the score, the replay value falls away. Also, your friends will mock you for not knowing.

Now, instead of looking at the price of a single 30 second Super Bowl commercial in terms of what every single second costs, instead let’s consider how much each company is paying per likely viewer…


Why, it’s pennies a person! In fact, if Coca-Cola can convince every single viewer to buy one can of their tasty flagship soft drink, they’ll make almost seven million bucks right there, after compensating for their ad spend! And if all one hundred million viewers buy a Mercedes? Forget about it—totally worth the hype and the ad’s price tag for the folk at Mercedes-Benz.

The fact is that companies spend huge amounts of money all year round on advertising, and big spending “splurges” like this aren’t going to bankrupt them. And even if they don’t lead to wildly increased sales in the short run, they do lead to a much increased sense of esteem in the public mindset. If you are a company with Super Bowl commercial status, then you are immediately perceived as legit, permanent, and worthy. It is a select club, and membership is pricey, but the payout, placing your company’s recognition and esteem so firmly in the back of so many minds, can be priceless.

(Oh and how come none of these companies have offered us the big bucks for keeping 3 million visitors entertained?)