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Why Super Bowl LVII could be the most-watched TV show ever

two photos, the one on the left of a football player in red and the one on the right of a player in teal
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, left, and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.
(Ed Zurga, Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
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If you’re thinking about betting on the size of the TV audience for Super Bowl LVII, take the over.

That’s the advice of Mike Mulvihill, executive vice president and head of strategy and analytics for Fox Sports, which is airing Sunday’s contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles in Glendale, Ariz. (In Los Angeles, the game airs on KTTV, Channel 11 at 3:30 Pacific).

Mulvihill believes the match-up and the ratings performance of the NFL this past season point to a game that will top the current audience record of 114.4 million set in 2015 with NBC’s telecast of the New England Patriots’ 28-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. The game — in which Patriots quarterback won his fourth of seven Super Bowls — ranks as the most watched TV program of all time according to Nielsen data.

“We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic,” Mulvihill said in an interview. “If we have an increase over last year, we have a great shot at setting the record.”

Last year, Super Bowl LVI was watched by 112.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen and streaming data from NBC.

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NBC’s number includes 11.3 million who watched on streaming platforms. This year, the game will again be available to stream for free on the Fox Sports app and Fox Now. Ordinarily they require users to have a pay TV subscription, but Fox lifts the paywall for the Super Bowl, allowing anyone with an internet connection to watch.

The game will also be available to paid subscribers of the NFL’s streaming service NFL+.

The biggest ratings driver in any sporting event is the level of competition. All bets are off if the game is a blowout.

But the audience levels for the playoffs last month indicate that Fox has the wind at its back. (Fox Sports said the game sold out its Super Bowl commercials by the week of Jan. 23, with some advertisers paying as much as $7 million for a 30-second spot.)

Both the NFC and AFC championship games played on Jan. 29 — which brought the Chiefs and Eagles to Sunday’s party — delivered their largest audiences in several years, with 47.5 million viewers on Fox and 53.1 million on CBS. Fox’s telecast of the San Francisco 49ers’ win over the Dallas Cowboys was the second most-watched divisional game ever with 34.4 million viewers.

Fox’s telecast of the Thanksgiving contest between the Cowboys and New York Giants was the most-watched regular season game on record, with 41.2 million viewers.

Mulvihill cites those performances as significant because they draw casual viewers that don’t religiously tune in to the NFL during the regular season. It’s that type of viewer who makes up a large part of the Super Bowl audience.

Tech giant nabs the rights to the out-of-market Sunday games that had been offered to DirecTV customers since 1994.

Mulvihill also believes the markets of the competing teams and the venue will help add 2 million to 3 million viewers to the total, especially with a team from Philadelphia, the fourth largest television market in the U.S. Phoenix, the TV market of the Super Bowl site, typically sees its audience for the game double when it’s the host city.

Kansas City ranks 33rd in TV market size, but thanks to a team with the game’s biggest star in Patrick Mahomes, typically delivers an outsized rating.

“Kansas City and Chiefs fans in general are some of the most passionate and loyal in America,” said Patrick Rishe, a sports business professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Rishe says the game’s historical firsts give layers to the event that will draw additional interest.

With Mahomes facing off against Jalen Hurts of the Eagles, it will be the first Super Bowl with two Black starting quarterbacks. It will also have the first Super Bowl sibling rivalry with tight end Travis Kelce playing for the Chiefs against his brother, Jason, a center for the Eagles.

Legal gaming in 30 states and Washington, D.C., is also likely to keep fans engaged in the game, even if the score isn’t close.

“Sunday is a gambler’s paradise — and potential purgatory — given all the traditional and exotic bets one can make,” Rishe said.

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