Sweat versus Sweet - Will the Super Bowl Hangover Cripple Valentine’s Day?

By: Maggie Bright

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Sweat versus Sweet - Will the Super Bowl Hangover Cripple Valentine’s Day?

In the battle of sweat versus sweet, where do our allegiances (and budgets) lie?

The stage is set for a sweat versus sweets showdown the second weekend in February. With one extra week of playing time for the NFL due to the playoff expansion, we’re about to see how a seven layer dip fits into a metaphorical heart shaped box. Who stands to lose more in a scheduling conflict, Super Bowl LVI or Valentine’s Day?

Both celebrations have been facing headwinds with declining participation and accusations that overt commercialism is strangling the purity of the occasion. However, COVID gave both a lift in 2021 as Americans were looking to celebrate and open to even the smallest excuse to do so. For 2022, there is no outright favorite going into this matchup and top billing is very household dependent.

NFL dominates viewership in 2021 as Americans look for reasons to have fun

The NFL had a weak pregame, with lackluster wild card games, a plethora of injuries among the remaining teams, and a schedule that includes very few traditional crowd favorites. These factors would suggest even more declines in viewership, but if a 10% year-over-year increase from the 2020 season and the excitement of the latest playoff games are any indication, Americans will continue to look to the NFL for moments of joy.

Top 10 most-watched telecasts for 2021 (English language)

Rank Network Date Telecast Viewers
1 CBS 2/8 Super Bowl LV: Buccaneers-Chiefs 91.63M
2 Fox 1/24 NFC Championship: Buccaneers-Packers 44.77M
3 CBS 1/24 AFC Championship: Chiefs-Bills 41.85M
4 CBS 11/25 NFL: Raiders-Cowbows (Thanksgiving) 37.84M
5 Fox 1/17 NFC Divisional Playoff: Buccaneers-Saints 35.46M
6 CBS 1/17 AFC Divisional Playoff: Chiefs-Browns 34.33M
7 Various 1/20 Inauguration of President Joe Biden & VP Kamala Harris 31.8M
8 CBS / Nickelodeon 1/10 NFC Wild Card: Bears-Saints 30.65M
9 Fox / NFL Net 12/25 NFL: Browns-Packers 28.59M
10 Fox 11/21 NFL: Cowboys-Chiefs 28.06M

Super Bowl LVI festivities might be the perfect substitution for the single Valentine’s celebration. They provide an opportunity for a shared experience with entertainment elements that typically appeal beyond sports enthusiasts. This group won’t mind the talented but not necessarily romantic halftime show line-up of Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar. This will most likely keep ratings stable, but may not translate to dedicated food purchases, as social distancing will keep party numbers down, particularly in cold climates where outdoor gatherings aren’t as appealing.

Valentine’s Day celebrations shift as Americans place priority on improving personal relationships

Valentine’s Day hasn’t been on a Monday since 2011, and with the surge of COVID cases at the hands of Omicron (who will not be getting any love this season), the Valentine’s landscape would have been a bit unsure even without its Super Bowl third wheel. However, unlike most traditional holidays, Valentine’s can thrive in a socially distant environment and recent seasonal trends have pushed consumers toward more creative, DIY celebrations and gifts.

Valentine’s Day is a tale of many celebrations driven by lifestage. There is the traditional romantic celebration, the kid friendly version, and the emerging single celebration. Our own State of Our Health data indicates that improving personal relationships is a growing priority among US adults. Given the current state of public health, we hypothesize that the romantic celebration will thrive, with at-home activities and traditional gift giving, while the other versions will suffer. This loss, however, will not be entirely at the hands of the Super Bowl, but rather at the hands of COVID and the fact that February 14th falls on a Monday. This loss of peripheral Valentine's participants will decrease the number of overall participants, but the continued trend of longer seasons through early product placement by retailers and manufacturers will act as a further catalyst for sales in traditional food categories. It will be interesting to see how traditional, last minute Valentine’s purchases, typically made by males, will be impacted by Super Bowl hangovers. We suspect this impact will be small in aggregate, but may have ramifications in small format stores such as drug and convenience.

Conclusion

Our prediction: Neither of these celebrations will be decimated by the other, and while crossover participation will be high, households in committed romantic relationships will emphasize Valentine’s Day celebrations, while those without will be more likely to focus on the Super Bowl LVI. Retailers will benefit from both, but may see a smaller share per celebration as consumers prioritize one over the other. If we had to bet on love versus sport, we’d give Valentine’s Day the edge to take the W, but don’t look for it to “cover the spread”.