Vigorous, be-gloved windscreen scraping has been a commonplace early morning sound this week after winter finally decided to bite with a predictable vengeance.
For many, getting covered in a thin layer of unwelcome ice so soon after breakfast often makes for a portentous start to the working day, especially at a time of year when bills of every hue arrive with indecent frequency, adding a further disagreeable element to the seasonal bleakness.
Yet while we can reasonably expect winter’s cheerless cold to eventually give way to spring’s warmth, it would nonetheless be prudent to add a few more figurative layers as protection against what promises to be a protracted, bitingly raw economic temperature.
That is unless you work in the sports rights industry, or more specifically, the broadcast sports rights industry, a sector where the rewards on offer could even tempt Fred Goodwin out of well-paid retirement.
To garner almost immediate evidence of what is one of the west’s few boom industries, you need only to tune into Sunday’s Super Bowl match between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.
America loves to hype the biggest game in its richest sport, but the 42nd Super Bowl of the modern era, scheduled to be played at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, promises to be bigger and generate more money for broadcasters than any of the NFL’s previous seasonal denouements.
Apart from regularly serving up a scintillating celebration of American Football, the Super Bowl is also famed for the sale of 30-second advertising slots, invariably at outrageous prices.
But in recent years, as recession hit the US with unprecedented force, the unthinkable happened: advertising rates actually fell. They started to rise two years ago and have since accelerated to unprecedented levels.
On Sunday, the average price paid for half a minute of screen exposure will exceed $3.5 million for the first time; one company paid more than $4 million to secure the most coveted 30-second advertising slot. Incredibly, agencies reported that every single one had been sold before Thanksgiving (November 24th) last year.
The list of Super Bowl advertisers reads like a Who’s Who of corporate America. Coca Cola, Pepsi, Bridgestone, General Motors and Anheuser-Busch, which has bought nine ad slots during the game costing almost $30 million, will each seek to persuade the watching millions to rush out and buy their product.
The only guaranteed winners on Sunday are the game’s broadcasters who will screen what will be the most watched and most valuable event (not just sport) in US television history.
News Corporation-owned Fox Network, which bought the rights to broadcast the game as part of a seven-year, $4.98 billion deal with the NFL, attracted an estimated 114 million viewers in 2011, America’s largest-ever television audience.
Yet the broadcaster simultaneously used $76 million of its own ad time to cross-promote shows such as Glee which form part of its entertainment portfolio.
This year, NBC, now the least-watched of America’s largest broadcasters, will use the Super Bowl (and the summer’s Olympics) to promote its other, non-sport, prime time line-up, including Smash, a show about actresses vying to play Marilyn Monroe on Broadway. It’s forecast to exceed Fox’s 114 million audience and outspend its rival’s $76 million promoting its own shows.
In many respects, sport has become a loss-leader for big networks who balance the cost of acquiring sports rights against the ability it gives them to actively promote other material and to attract colossal ratings.