Millions of Americans are glued to their screens this Sunday for Super Bowl LIV. Whether it's to watch the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the San Francisco 49ers, or for Jennifer Lopez's half-time show, everyone is tuning in to the celebrity-filled Super Bowl commercial breaks. But in 2020, game time commercials will include an unfamiliar sight: political ads. This year, two presidential candidates are occupying the most expensive real estate in advertising with separate 60-second commercials. President Donald Trump and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg will appear amid the biggest game of the year, and are paying a staggering amount to do just that.
How staggering? Each politician dropped a reported $10 million to air their campaign ads — and this amount is just as hefty as it sounds. For context, the average 30-second national TV ad has a price tag in the low six figures, a local TV ad usually costs less than $20,000, and Trump spent around $20 million total on Facebook ads in 2016. Although neither candidate is short on money — Bloomberg’s personal net worth is an estimated $60 billion and Trump has a reported $102 million in cash on hand — the real question is, are political ads usually aired during the Super Bowl?
Presidential candidates don’t normally buy Super Bowl ads, or at least not in recent history. In fact, according to a USA Today report, Trump and Bloomberg's campaign ads will be the first political commercials aired nationally during the Super Bowl since 1989. With the exception of a 2010 anti-abortion ad, there has been no recent political messaging during the game — particularly amid such a heated election — in decades.
According to Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University, candidates in a gubernatorial race may buy state advertisements, or even local ones, but Super Bowl ads used as political propaganda is a pretty new phenomenon. "A national Super Bowl ad is unheard of when it comes to political candidates," Calkins told USA Today. "Super Bowl ads are very symbolic — you’re communicating that you care about your business, you’re investing in your brand. That’s true for the products you see on the Super Bowl, but in this case, it is certainly also true of the candidates."
Although this might be new to the Super Bowl, campaign ads during major sports events are not a new thing. In 2016, Donald Trump and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton both bought air time during the World Series, which ended up being one of the most watched games ever with 40 million viewers. Still, by comparison to last year's 100 million Super Bowl LIII viewers, it seems that the reach of this particular campaign commercial will break new ground. So much so, that many wonder if this is even regulated.
Although candidates can buy a Super Bowl ad so long as they can afford one, Federal Communications Commission rules still apply, so this is not quite the wild west of social media ads like Facebook. Per FCC regulations, all ads need to be approved by the carrier. In this case, the network approving ads is Fox.
Despite Fox allowing these ads to air, many non-political advertisers were turned off by the idea of appearing next to Trump or Bloomberg's commercials. The issue took so much prevalence that Fox agreed to isolate each candidate's ads in their own breaks, which ended up sacrificing millions of dollars in air time, according to an AdAge report. Instead, Fox will fill those commercial breaks with their own network programming, so you may very well see Donald Trump's face back to back with a promo for The Masked Singer.