The big game gets bigger every year – except, perhaps, this year. On February 5, the Atlanta Falcons will take on the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, and if estimates are to be believed, TV viewership will be down.

In 2016 Super Bowl viewing figures were lower than the year before, with an average of 112 million tuning in, compared to 114 million in 2015. This year, Campaign is reporting that TV spots are still available to buy during the game – despite being sold out as early as November for last year’s final.
That’s not to say it’s a disaster. The Super Bowl was the most-watched TV event in the US last year, and ad spend totalled $380 million. The answer lies, partly, in another stat. Last year a record-breaking 3.96 million unique viewers streamed the game, watching across desktop, tablet and mobile. This was more than double the number of viewers of NBC’s online coverage in 2015.

Viewers aren’t abandoning the game, but they are moving away from traditional broadcast viewing. And this isn’t just happening on the other side of the Atlantic. It was widely reported that early season ratings for Sky Sports’ Premier League coverage were down by 19% last year, which the tabloids were quick to label ‘the big turn-off’.

Although Sky has spent an eye-watering average of £11 million on broadcast rights for each match, it has also invested in non-traditional viewing platforms. This season saw a partnership with Twitter to push out clips in real-time, and the relaunch of the Football Score Centre app, allowing subscribers to watch goals and highlights from every game.  Also in the last six months, the number of viewers of Sky’s Snapchat Discover platform has more than doubled.

Sky recognises that sports fans can be reached online – not just second-screening while the game’s on TV, but using mobiles and tablets to watch the action, play back goals, and catch up on clips.

Online, brands can reach out to connected fans during sporting moments, interacting in real-time, and joining – as well as leading – the conversation with engaging, multimedia content. With an average Super Bowl TV spot going for $5 million, social provides a much cheaper alternative for brands to own key moments and tap into a diverse and engaged audience of sports fans.

This doesn’t mean brands should move broadcast TV budgets into online, but they should be looking at cross-channel strategy around sports events. For this year’s Super Bowl, Bose has launched a social-first campaign, while Hyundai, as well as filming an almost-live ad set to air on TV, is amplifying its campaign with sponsorship of the Super Bowl Live event.

Sports fans are still watching, advertisers just need to score their attention.