TV prices plunge ahead of Super Bowl

Whether the New England Patriots or the New York Giants win the Super Bowl this weekend, television buyers will be the ones scoring big.

Retailers have been slashing prices on big-screen HDTVs ahead of the big game, and are throwing in extras such as free delivery and installation, offers to pay the sales tax and complimentary Blu-ray players and 3-D glasses to attract customers.

“Consumers right now can definitely benefit,” said Lisa Hatamiya, a research associate at market research firm IHS iSuppli, which tracks television sales data and trends.

About 10% of TV industry sales typically occur in the two weeks before the Super Bowl, and sales this year are expected to be even better: At least 5.1 million people, or about 5.1% of those planning to tune in on Sunday, will buy a new television specifically for the Super Bowl, compared with 4.5 million last year and 3.6 million in 2010, according to the National Retail Federation.


The swift rise in larger-screen, higher-quality sets has driven TV prices down for years, giving consumers more for their money, television experts say. The TV market is also fiercely competitive, forcing manufacturers to accept razor-thin margins and rapidly churn out newer models.

“We didn’t even have a 70-inch TV at this time last year,” said Chirag Vithlani, a sales manager at Best Buy’s Burbank store. Now “we have an 80-inch by Sharp for less than $5,000. We have access to larger, cheaper TVs than we’ve ever had.”

Prices for TVs 50 inches and larger are at the lowest first-quarter levels ever, according to IHS iSuppli. But low prices are just one reason for the Super Bowl surge.

Sunday’s game is a rematch of the 2008 championship game, pitting two football teams from huge metropolitan markets against each other. It also doesn’t hurt that the teams feature Tom Brady and Eli Manning, two of the National Football League’s elite quarterbacks.

Warmer-than-usual winter weather is also expected to boost in-store TV shopping. And with television makers reaching the end of their current product cycles, many are working with retailers to offer special incentives to clear inventory before 2012 models hit the sales floor next month.

Super Bowl shoppers are also looking for the latest top-of-the-line features to enhance their game day experience, such as Internet-connected smart TVs that can link to Twitter and Facebook. Want to gloat about that amazing touchdown catch or critique that soon-to-go-viral halftime commercial? Now you can do that on your television.

“The social aspect of it is just made more simple by using one screen,” said Joe Stinziano, senior vice president of home entertainment for Samsung Electronics America.

The prices alone were enough to make John Hertz do a double take recently at Santa Monica’s Video & Audio Center, where he was shopping for a big-screen television for a Super Bowl party he was hosting. About a dozen people were expected to attend, and he wanted to find a television that would “knock their socks off.”

Just five years ago, the back specialist from Malibu dropped $14,000 each on two 50-inch Fujitsu plasma TVs. Now he was eyeing a 65-inch Samsung 1080p 3-D TV. The $7,000 television was already marked down to $5,567.97, but the price was dropped further for the Super Bowl to $4,287.97

“I never thought the prices would drop this quickly,” said Hertz, 62. “I’m not even sure this is big enough; I might go bigger.”

A successful Super Bowl selling season would provide some momentum for the television industry, which suffered a sluggish year in 2011 but outperformed expectations during the holidays thanks to blowout deals and huge sales of large-screen TVs. During the five weeks before Christmas, unit sales of TVs with screen sizes of 50 inches and bigger rose 32% year over year, according to market research firm NPD Group. The industry’s most maligned segment, 3-D TVs, saw unit volume soar more than 100%.

For many television sellers, Super Bowl TV shopping is a relief from the madness that accompanies the holiday shopping period, when discount-driven consumers are often focused on value brands and smaller sets that they can give as presents.

“Sometimes with Black Friday, you’ll see brands you’ve never heard of before and the prices are ridiculously low,” said Tom Campbell, an advisor to TV manufacturers who sits on the board of Video & Audio Center, a Southern California chain of electronics stores. “The difference with the Super Bowl coming up is people don’t want to watch the game on a 20-inch set.”

The prevailing notion this time of year is that bigger is better — and with TV screens getting larger every year, “bigger” nowadays typically means at least 46 inches.

So the deals for the Super Bowl aren’t on those smaller bedroom sets. Best Buy is heavily promoting discounts on big-screen Samsung smart TVs; Paul’s TV is cutting prices on 73-inch and 82-inch 3-D Mitsubishi HDTVs; and Sears is offering $1,400 off a Sony 55-inch 3-D LED smart TV.

But for some consumers, the tough decision isn’t which model to buy but whether to buy at all right now. The promise of even more advanced TVs in the pipeline featuring OLED (organic light-emitting diodes), voice and gesture recognition and improved Google TV technology has some thinking they should forgo the current Super Bowl TV deals and play a waiting game.

“It’s my great torture that I live with,” said Paul Dennler, a photographer from Brentwood who was at Video & Audio Center checking out a 40-inch Sony on sale for $1,000. “Whatever you get, it’s current for like a very short amount of time and then technology moves on.”

That wasn’t a concern for Hertz, the Malibu back specialist. After deciding to purchase the 65-inch Samsung, he also picked up a 55-inch version as an impulse buy for his secretary. The $4,000 TV set was on sale for $2,387.97.

“This is like buying candy,” he said.