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Super Bowl XXXV ratings were lowest since 1990

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001


The network's first Super Bowl broadcast in nine years had been excellent, and the replay technology it unveiled for the game was ground-breaking. Still, just about the first words out of CBS Sports president Sean McManus' mouth Sunday night was a lament that the game wasn't a better one.

Even that may not have boosted viewership. Though the game garnered record ratings in and around the host city of Tampa, CBS's national ratings for the broadcast were the lowest since 1990. It was a fate likely sealed when two defensive-minded teams with little national buzz won their respective conference championships.

Though the Ravens won in a blowout, about as many viewers saw the fourth quarter as the first (see chart). On average, the overnight rating from the 49 metered markets was 40.3 with a 60 share, the third-lowest Super Bowl rating since 1976. That's down 7 percent from the overall rating (43.3/63) from last year's broadcast on ABC, and was the lowest since 1990, when the San Francisco-Denver game garnered a 39.0 rating/63 share on CBS.

(One ratings point equals one percent of the households with televisions; share is the percentage tuned in among the televisions that are on.)

Of the 49 markets, the broadcast scored biggest in the Tampa Bay area. Locally, the game earned a 51 rating and 67 share, making it the No. 1 market, surpassing even Baltimore and New York.

It was by far the highest Tampa-area rating for a Super Bowl since it became a metered market in 1989. The rating easily surpassed the local numbers from Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, which garnered a 41.1 rating/56 share.

Though ratings were down nationally, a little perspective is in order. CBS estimates 131.2-million people watched at least part of the broadcast, up from last year (130.7). It still ranks as the No. 52-rated program of all time.

And after a nine-year hiatus from the Super Bowl, inflicted on CBS when Fox snapped up NFC broadcast rights in 1993, the network is back in the rotation for the biggest television event of the year. CBS not only hadn't lost a step, it advanced technology with EyeVision, and its broadcast team of Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms shined.

"Our guys stepped up, and I could not be prouder of the job they did," McManus said. "The one thing you can't control is the game, but you know, I'm trying to think of things I wish we could have done better and nothing comes to mind."

BAD TIMING, POOR TASTE: With the Super Bowl in its hometown and on its airwaves, WTSP-Ch. 10 decided Sunday was an ideal time to air a commercial touting its newscast. In the spot, Ch. 10 bragged about the five news reporters and four photojournalists it had hired in the past year. Anchor Sue Zelenko said the station has "more people covering local news than ever before," while cohort Reginald Roundtree noted the "millions (spent) on cameras and equipment."

Of course the spot failed to mention that within the three weeks leading up to the biggest sporting event of the year, Ch. 10 gave walking papers to its entire sports department. Longtime employees Al Keck, Dave Wirth and Jerry Johnson recently learned they are on their way out.

Ch. 10 hasn't revealed specific reasons for those decisions. Perhaps they were sound. And from a marketing perspective it makes sense to do some horn-tooting when the majority of sets in the Tampa Bay area are tuned in to your station.

But in the end the ad was insulting -- not just to those out of a job but to the viewers Ch.10 must have assumed had been paying no attention to the news behind the news.

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