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NEW YORK (Jan. 31) — Sunday’s Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., might be the most popular and expensive television program in U.S. history – about 110 million viewers watching a football game that commands nearly $4 million for a 30-second commercial.

Tickets at the 50-yard line cost about $10,000. A 20-ounce cup of Bud Light will cost $14.

“Nothing is really sacred anymore,” said John Vrooman, a sports economics professor at Vanderbilt University.

 

It won’t stop there. The National Football League hopes to achieve $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027, up from about $10 billion now. Several analysts told USA TODAY Sports that the NFL can get there, but it will be an expensive journey. More palatial stadiums. Expanded playoffs. More exposure in more places, including smartphones, games in London and more Thursday night games sold to the highest-bidding network.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gave the magic number at a meeting of NFL team owners in 2010: a goal of tripling league revenue in 17 years. If it happens, the NFL would have more income than the gross domestic products of dozens of small countries and would be in the same financial district currently occupied by gigantic global brands such as McDonald’s, Nike and Goodyear Tire, each of which recently took in about $21 to $28 billion annually.

Who will pay the price? Fans, sponsors and broadcasters. The NFL remains the most popular sports league in America, and it commands a premium. If the average NFL fan thinks the cost of attending games is already too high, how about paying ever-higher prices to watch games on ESPN and the NFL Network? Cable and satellite TV providers pay ESPN an average of $6.04 per subscription per month, more than double from 10 years ago and dwarfing the likes of CNN (63 cents) and TBS (72 cents), according to SNL Kagan, a market research firm.

 

“The standard (cable television) package that households receive is skyrocketing in cost at a point in the U.S. economy when we have increasingly lopsided distribution of income,” sports economist Andrew Zimbalist told USA TODAY Sports. “Those two things have to collide.”

The future

The NFL declined to release financial data, but an estimate of its revenue can be pieced together through various sources by economists and market researchers. That $10 billion pie is roughly sliced four ways, according to Navigate Research, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in the evaluation of sports and entertainment marketing investments.

  • About $5 billion from media and television rights to broadcast games.
  • About $1-2 billion in sponsorships, such as its long-running deal with PepsiCo, worth about $90 million to $100 million per year.
  • About $2 billion related to attendance and ticket sales.
  • About $1 billion in merchandise and licensing.

Growing to $25 billion annually will require compound annual growth of about 7 percent, around $1 billion per year.

CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN provide the NFL with a total of about $5 billion to $6 billion annually from contracts that run through 2021-22. By 2027, Navigate Research predicts such media rights revenues could reach $17 billion.

That ambitious projection assumes that live NFL games will continue to be a golden goose for networks and their advertisers for one major reason: NFL games are one of the few remaining programs that huge audiences want to watch live instead of recording to watch later – fast-forwarding through the commercials that companies pay millions to air.

“We are firm believers that there is nothing more valuable in the world of TV than the NFL – nothing,” said Michael Nathanson, a media analyst at MoffettNathanson, a stock research firm that specializes in the media and telecommunications industries. “Their ability to get to $25 billion is kind of predicated on the staying power of the product. I think they’re going to ask for whatever they need to from their broadcast partners, their cable partners.”