Most and least watched Super Bowls in history
Few events bring this country together quite like the Super Bowl, which is frequently the most watched program on broadcast television. Year after year rivalries are tested, tears are shed, and chicken wings are devoured in front of big screens across the country on football’s most important night. When Super Bowl LIII kicks off on Feb. 3 in Atlanta, viewers will enjoy new technology like ultra-high-definition 8K cameras and live augmented reality graphics.
It wasn’t always this way. Super Bowl I in 1967 was hardly a prominent event and color on television was still a novelty. Tickets went for $10 and there were 30,000 empty seats in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The game wasn’t even the top sporting event that day according to TV Guide, which recommended the Harlem Globetrotters playing a special game on an aircraft carrier.
With a trove of interesting nuggets like these behind every game, Stacker decided to explore the most and least watched Super Bowls in history, using data from Nielsen ratings as of September 2018. The games were ranked by average U.S. viewers during the broadcast. "Average viewers" in this sense mean the average amount of U.S. viewers who were watching the game during the entire broadcast. "Household share" is defined as the average percentage of U.S. households watching the game during the entire broadcast with a television set in use.
Scroll through to relive all the unforgettable plays, outrageous halftime shows, and standout commercials.
#52. Super Bowl I
Date: Jan. 15, 1967
Network: CBS and NBC
Average U.S. viewers during broadcast: 26.8 million on CBS; 24.4 million on NBC
Nielsen rating: 22.6 on CBS; 18.5 on NBC
Household share: 43% on CBS; 36% on NBC
Price of 30-second ad: $42,500 on CBS; $37,500 on NBC
The very first Super Bowl, played between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs, was also the only one to be broadcast on two separate networks. Elijah Pitts ran for two Green Bay touchdowns, propelling a 35-10 rout. Perhaps luckily for Chiefs fans, recording technology was so expensive at the time that both networks taped over their original copies of the game with other popular programs like soap operas.
#51. Super Bowl II
Date: Jan. 14, 1968
Average U.S. viewers during broadcast: 39.1 million
Nielsen rating: 36.8
Household share: 68%
Price of 30-second ad: $54,500
After winning five NFL championships and two Super Bowls, coach Vince Lombardi ended his nine-year tenure at the helm of the Green Bay Packers after Super Bowl II; the game's trophy is now named after Lombardi. In Miami's Orange Bowl stadium, the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders, 33-14, for their second straight Super Bowl championship. Helping call the action was Jack Kemp, who became the first active player to give analysis for the game.
#50. Super Bowl III
Date: Jan. 12, 1969
Average U.S. viewers during broadcast: 41.7 million
Nielsen rating: 36
Household share: 70%
Price of 30-second ad: $55,000
Hall of Famer Joe Namath led the New York Jets to victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, living up to his guarantee that made national headlines before the game. The heavily favored Colts did not score until late in the fourth quarter, as they fell, 16-7. In becoming the first team from the AFL to win a Super Bowl, the Jets legitimized their league and the game itself, helping to boost ratings in the years to come.
#49. Super Bowl IV
Date: Jan. 11, 1970
Average U.S. viewers during broadcast: 44.3 million
Nielsen rating: 39.4
Household share: 69%
Price of 30-second ad: $78,200
The Kansas City Chiefs toppled the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in a game that was put away when Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson hit Otis Taylor on a 46-yard route late in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the afternoon, Carol Channing became the first celebrity to headline a Super Bowl halftime show; previously the intermission had mostly been a combination of performances by marching bands and dancing groups.
#48. Super Bowl V
Date: Jan. 17, 1971
Average U.S. viewers during broadcast: 46 million
Nielsen rating: 39.9
Household share: 75%
Price of 30-second ad: $72,500
1971 marked the first Super Bowl played on artificial turf. The Baltimore Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, after rookie kicker Jim O'Brien nailed a game-winning 32-yard field goal with five seconds left in the game. The 1:50 p.m. start time on the East Coast was the earliest kickoff for a Super Bowl.
#47. Super Bowl VIII
Date: Jan. 13, 1974
Average U.S. viewers during broadcast: 51.7 million
Nielsen rating: 41.6
Household share: 73%
Price of 30-second ad: $103,500
The Miami Dolphins played their third straight Super Bowl in 1974, and defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 24-7. Larry Csonka, who later became a voice on “American Gladiators,” rushed 33 times for 145 yards—both Super Bowl records at the time. The University of Texas band headlined the halftime show, with a special appearance from Miss Texas 1973 playing a violin.
#46. Super Bowl VII
Date: Jan. 14, 1973
Average U.S. viewers during broadcast: 53.3 million
Nielsen rating: 42.7
Household share: 72%
Price of 30-second ad: $88,100
After making NFL history by becoming the first team to complete a perfect regular season, the Miami Dolphins placed the cherry on top of their 1972–'73 run by overcoming the Washington Redskins, 14-7, in Super Bowl VII. Miami safety Jake Scott had two interceptions and was aptly named the game's most valuable player. Many viewers remember this contest for a commercial featuring Farrah Fawcett and Super Bowl III hero Joe Namath.
#45. Super Bowl IX
Date: Jan. 12, 1975
Average U.S. viewers during broadcast: 56.1 million
Nielsen rating: 42.4
Household share: 72%
Price of 30-second ad: $107,000
The Pittsburgh Steelers made their Super Bowl debut in 1975 against the Minnesota Vikings, beating them 16-6. Franco Harris ran for nine times as many yards as the entire Vikings offense produced on the ground (158 to 17), earning him the MVP award. The game was originally supposed to be held in the Superdome, but construction delays pushed it to Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.
#44. Super Bowl VI
Date: Jan. 16, 1972
Average U.S. viewers during broadcast: 56.6 million
Nielsen rating: 44.2
Household share: 74%
Price of 30-second ad: $86,100
Super Bowl VI featured the Dallas Cowboys going up against the Miami Dolphins. The Cowboys, coached by Tom Landry, did not allow a touchdown, cruising to a 24-3 win. For the halftime show, an all-star lineup of Ella Fitzgerald, Carol Channing, Al Hirt, and 13-year-old trumpeter Leroy Jones performed a salute to Louis Armstrong, who had passed away the previous year.
#43. Super Bowl X
Date: Jan. 18, 1976
Average U.S. viewers during broadcast: 57.7 million
Nielsen rating: 42.3
Household share: 78%
Price of 30-second ad: $110,000
In Super Bowl X, the Pittsburgh Steelers claimed back-to-back titles, holding off the Dallas Cowboys, 21-17. The Steelers were led by quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Lynn Swann—part of a record-setting 161 receiving yard day for the current athletic director at University of Southern California and former sports broadcaster. The halftime show, fittingly, featured a tribute to America's bicentennial.2018 All rights reserved.