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Super Bowl 54 is becoming a political vehicle

Daniel Roberts

The political firestorm that took hold of the NFL from September 2017 through September 2018 has lately been a distant memory. During those 12 months, President Trump sent 26 angry tweets about the league, a number of players followed Colin Kaepernick’s lead and kneeled or linked arms during the playing of the National Anthem to protest police brutality, and TV ratings took a hit. But then the protests faded, Trump went silent, and ratings rose 5% in this regular season and 5% in last year’s regular season.

Now Trump’s reelection campaign has bought a 60-second ad to run during Super Bowl 54 on Feb. 2 on Fox, and so has Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg’s campaign. The campaign ads will bring politics back to the NFL discussion.

The campaigns have not confirmed exactly how much they spent, but 60 seconds of ad time during this year’s game likely costs more than $10 million. Fox ad sales exec Seth Winter told Variety that Fox sold 30-second ads for between $5 million and $5.6 million, topping the range CBS charged last year of $5.1 million to $5.3 million.

Winter also said that Fox sold through all of its ad inventory by the end of November, the earliest they had sold out in five years, and was now offering some advertisers pre-game and post-game ads instead. Those slots aren’t always cheap: Variety reports that Fox is asking between $2 million and $3 million for the most expensive pre-game and post-game slots. It would be no surprise if some additional 2020 candidates buy ads in those slots.

The ads risk annoying Super Bowl viewers on both sides of the political aisle. Bloomberg campaign spokesperson Michael Frazier told the Times bluntly, “The biggest point is getting under Trump’s skin.” Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh told the Times only that Trump’s ad will run in a “prime position early in the game.”

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 10: A group of fans with their Trump 2020 flag outside MetLife Stadium prior to the National Football League game between the New York Jets and the New York Giants on November 10, 2019 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There is some obvious irony, regardless of your politics, in Trump purchasing a Super Bowl ad. A little over one year ago, he was still tweeting out invective about the league and its ratings. “Wow, NFL first game ratings are way down over an already really bad last year comparison,” he said after the first week of last season. “Viewership declined 13%, the lowest in over a decade. If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings could come back? Otherwise worse!”

Once the protests died down, Trump went silent, and you can bet the NFL has enjoyed being politics-free, especially at a time when the NBA has had to navigate through a political crisis in China after one team executive tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protesters. Even Major League Baseball is dealing with a (non-political) scandal over potential cheating by the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox.

In contrast, the NFL has been scandal-free of late, apart from an attempt at giving Colin Kaepernick a tryout that did not go very well for either party.

The question is how fans will react to seeing campaign ads throughout the Super Bowl telecast on Feb. 2. That will bring political discussion—and division—to living rooms across America.

Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers sports business. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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