Hell hath no fury like a city scorned.
As promised, New Orleanians still seething over the Saints being denied a shot at the Super Bowl ignored the big game in a big way.
Fewer than half as many homes in the New Orleans area tuned in to the Super Bowl on Sunday as in 2018 — a monumental drop-off.
Overnight figures released by Nielsen rated Super Bowl viewership in New Orleans at an anemic 26.1. That number indicates that the game was on in only a quarter of local homes with televisions.
By contrast, the local rating for the Super Bowl in 2018 was 52.4. In 2017, it was 48.4.
Viewership in New Orleans, typically strong for the Super Bowl, apparently ranked dead last in the 56 markets nationwide monitored by Nielsen.
Overall, ratings for the Super Bowl telecast on CBS were down this year, even though the game still ranked as the year’s most-watched TV event. The national rating for Sunday's low-scoring Patriots-Rams slog-fest was 44.9, the lowest since the 2009 Super Bowl posted a 42.1 rating. Approximately 100 million viewers tuned in.
Given the small size of the New Orleans market — it ranks 51st on Nielsen’s list of the nation’s top 56 markets — the local tune-out didn’t have a major impact on the overall viewership. The drop-off in New Orleans equated to less than one-half of one percent nationally.
But it still sent a signal, loud and clear.
The Saints suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Minnesota Vikings during the playoffs a year ago. But that loss, though shocking, was at least perceived as fair. As a result, there was no boycott of the 2018 Super Bowl, in which the Eagles beat the Patriots.
But this year’s playoff elimination of the Saints was another matter entirely.
Referees failed to call two blatant penalties, for pass interference and helmet-to-helmet contact, on Rams safety Nickell Robey-Coleman on the same play late in the NFC Championship Game, enraging Saints fans.
While two other teams prepared to contend for the Lombardi Trophy in Atlanta, Saints faithful spent Super Bowl Sunday turning New Orleans into…
Had either call been made, the Saints would have been in position to run down the clock and take the lead with an easy field goal. Instead, the Rams had time to tie the game, then won in overtime.
That NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not publicly address the controversy until more than a week later further inflamed the Who Dat Nation.
By the thousands, the Black and Gold faithful resolved to strike back at the NFL where it hurts — via TV ratings, or lack thereof.
Despite the prominence of the Super Bowl in the nation’s cultural firmament — the game accounts for most of the 10 highest-rated TV programs of all time — Who Dats were more than willing to tune out.
Many local bars declined to broadcast the game. And thousands of fans attended alternative events meant to simultaneously celebrate the Saints and thumb the city’s collective nose at the NFL.
Those events included a huge “Blackout and Gold” second-line march in the French Quarter and the Boycott Bowl, a daylong concert series in the Fulton Street entertainment district that sold out its 3,000 tickets.
National advertisers who paid in excess of $5 million for a 30-second commercial didn’t reach nearly as many eyeballs in New Orleans as they would have during a “normal” Super Bowl. Neither did local advertisers who bought airtime on WWL-TV, the CBS affiliate that aired the game.
In south Louisiana, where even funeral processions are sometimes set to playful music, we have a long tradition of wearing grief lightly.
WWL-TV’s ratings were collateral damage in the Super Bowl brouhaha. Had the Saints returned to the Super Bowl this year, the station likely would have scored a robust rating similar to the 56 that the Saints-Colts Super Bowl rang up in 2010 — when the game also aired on CBS and WWL.
Instead, it was less than half that.
“Obviously if the Saints would have been in the game, you would have seen a different outcome,” WWL-TV General Manager Tod Smith said. “Most people would have liked to have seen that, but, you know ….”
Some commercial spots during the game are reserved for local affiliates to air local commercials (at much lower rates than the national commercials). The locally produced commercials tended to reference the Saints controversy.
Gulf Coast Bank & Trust Co. acknowledged both the infamous no-call and the lack of local enthusiasm for the Super Bowl. Against a mostly blank screen interrupted by a fluttering yellow penalty flag, a voice said, “We had a great ad that we planned to run, but we lost enthusiasm for the game. However, we will never lose enthusiasm for our team.”
The ad never mentioned the Super Bowl, or even the Saints, by name.
Baton Rouge-based personal injury attorney Spencer Calahan ran brief advertising spots on WWL-TV as well as WAFB in Baton Rouge and KLFY in Lafayette. He’s run similar ads during the Super Bowl for several years.
His firm purchased the air time months ago, long before anyone knew who would, or wouldn't, be in the Super Bowl. However, he filmed the 4-second spots after the controversial NFC Championship Game.
Thus, in one spot he catches a football and is then hit with several yellow flags. “NOW you throw a flag?” he says in mock exasperation.
In another he says, “I’m Spencer Calahan. You should be watching New England and New Orleans.”
“We wanted to do something a little different, and clearly that’s what was on everybody’s mind here,” Calahan said Monday.
He received some blowback from Saints fans about running any ads at all during this year’s game.
“People would say, ‘I saw you advertised during the Super Bowl. Why didn’t you boycott like the rest of us?’
“Which is kind of funny, and hypocritical at the same time — then how did you see it? These guys are trying to hammer us for spending any money on the Super Bowl when, No. 1, (the ad space) was already bought, and No. 2, you saw it, so you didn’t boycott it either.”
Overall, Calahan said “we had a lot of positive feedback about the spots, and about acknowledging that it should have been the Saints.”