The Super Bowl has been happening since the end of the 1966 season, the same year that the ARPANET project, which gave birth to the Internet, was initiated. Around 20 years ago, 50% of the US population were Internet users, and that number is now around 92%. So, it's no surprise that interest in an event like Super Bowl LVII resulted in a noticeable dip in Internet traffic in the United States at the time of the game's kickoff, dropping to around 5% lower than the previous Sunday. During the game, Rihanna's halftime show also caused a significant drop in Internet traffic across most states, with Pennsylvania and New York feeling the biggest impact, but messaging and video platforms saw a surge of traffic right after her show ended.
In this blog post, we will dive into who the biggest winners were among Super Bowl advertisers, as well as examine how traffic to food delivery services, social media and sports and betting websites changed during the game. In addition, we look at traffic trends seen at city and state levels during the game, as well as email threat volume across related categories in the weeks ahead of the game.
Cloudflare Radar uses a variety of sources to provide aggregate information about Internet traffic and attack trends. In this blog post, as we did last year and the year before, we use DNS name resolution data from our 188.8.131.52 resolver to estimate traffic to websites. We can’t see who visited the websites mentioned, or what anyone did on the websites, but DNS can give us an estimate of the interest generated by the ads or across a set of sites in the categories listed above.
Ads: are URLs no longer cool?
In contrast to Super Bowl commercials of the past 25 years, many of this year’s advertisements didn’t include a URL, possibly suggesting strong confidence by brands in their search engine results placement, or an assumption that the viewer would engage with the brand through an app on their phone, rather than a website. To that end, several ads did include an app store-related call to action, encouraging the viewer to download the associated mobile app. And possibly in an effort to capitalize on the success of Coinbase’s QR code commercial during Super Bowl LVI, a number of brands, including Toyota, Michelob Ultra, and Mr. Peanut included QR codes as a way for viewers to get additional information or see more.
As we did last year, we again tracked DNS request traffic to our 184.108.40.206 resolver in United States data centers for domains associated with the advertised products or brands. Traffic growth is plotted against a baseline calculated as the mean request volume for the associated domains between 1200-1500 EST on Sunday, February 12 (Super Bowl Sunday.) Although over 50 brands advertised during the game, the brands highlighted below were chosen because their advertisements drove some of the largest percentage traffic spikes, as well as one interesting tale.
Although the commercial initially seemed to be for sibling beer brands Coors Light and Miller Lite, there was a twist at the end, This twist was only fitting, as the ad was actually for Blue Moon, which is often served with a twist of orange on the rim of the glass. Although beer ads don’t usually drive significant traffic spikes, this one did, reaching 76,400% above baseline for Blue Moon’s site. Coors Light saw a 275% bump in DNS traffic coincident with the ad, while Miller Lite grew 120%. However, traffic for Coors and Miller was fairly volatile at other times during the game.
Although last year’s advertisements included a number of cryptocurrency-related brands, they were all but absent from this year’s slate of ads. The closest we got during this year’s game was a commercial from LimitBreak, which describes itself as “bringing the free-to-play gaming experience to Web3 and beyond”, in which it promoted a giveaway of thousands of its Dragon series NFTs. This ad featured a QR code and a URL, and given the nearly 54,000% increase in DNS traffic observed, both were effective means of driving traffic to the LimitBreak website.
Upstart mobile shopping app Temu purchased multiple Super Bowl ad slots to promote its “shop like a billionaire” campaign, urging viewers to download its mobile app. As seen in the graph below, these advertisements drove spikes in traffic, and continued engagement, each time they ran. The first airing at 19:16 EST drove a 222% spike over baseline in DNS traffic. However, the second airing at 21:12 EST apparently resulted in significantly more interest, driving a 475% traffic increase. A third airing at 22:20 EST reached 169% over baseline, with another one just after that reaching over 200%.
In early January, Boston-area media blew up with the news that local celebrity Ben Affleck was spotted working the drive-through window at one of the coffee chain’s Medford locations, raising some speculation that he was filming a Super Bowl commercial. That speculation turned out to be true, as the commercial aired at 18:53 EST. But the commercial had a side effect: DNS traffic for dunkin.com, associated with DunkinWorks (a small personal coaching and training business), spiked 8,000% when the commercial aired, as shown in the graph below. (It isn’t clear what drove the later three spikes for dunkin.com, as the advertisement didn’t air again nationally during the remainder of the game.) We can only hope that the dunkin.com system administrators were fueled with plenty of coffee and donuts as they dealt with the rapid growth in traffic.
Site categories: touchdowns bring attention
As we saw last year, there are two factors that bring a surge of traffic to the websites of Super Bowl participants: touchdowns and winning. However, nothing is more impactful than the sweet taste of victory. Both the Kansas City Chiefs' and Philadelphia Eagles' websites experienced a surge in DNS traffic just before the game started, as compared to a baseline calculated as the mean request volume for the associated domains between 12:00-15:00 EST on Sunday, February 12 (Super Bowl Sunday.). The Eagles website had its peak just around the time of the kickoff, with 828% growth over baseline, and continued to grow more rapidly than traffic to the Chiefs' website until 20:55 EST, when traffic to chiefs.com began to pull ahead.
What happened at that time? That was the moment of the Chiefs' third touchdown of the game, when DNS traffic to the team’s website had its first peak of the evening, at 514% above baseline. There was a clear spike during another Chiefs touchdown at 21:42 EST, at 454% above baseline, but that was nothing compared to the end of the game, when the Kansas City Chiefs were once again, after their 2019 victory, the winners. At 22:15 EST, when the game ended, DNS traffic to the Chiefs' website was 871% higher, and peaked 10 minutes later at 890%, as compared to the baseline. At this same time, DNS traffic for the Eagles' website dropped significantly. As we saw last year as well, winning the Super Bowl clearly drives increased traffic to the victor’s website.
Sports websites trends also followed the in-game events. There was a clear spike to approximately 90% above baseline when the game started at 18:30 EST, with further growth to 120% over baseline at 19:00 EST during the Kansas City Chiefs' first touchdown. There were also clear spikes at 21:30 and 21:40 EST coinciding with the two more Chiefs touchdowns. The Super Bowl peak for these websites was reached during the final break at 22:00 EST, reaching 145% above baseline, just before the Chiefs' game-winning field goal. After a brief drop as the game ended, there was an additional spike to 134%.
Rihanna’s impact on messaging and social media sites
What happened following Rihanna's performance during the Super Bowl halftime show? As the game resumed, we saw a clear increase in traffic for messaging websites, with a first peak right after the end of the show at around 20:45 EST, 22% over baseline. The biggest peak, however, was when the game ended. At 22:15 EST, DNS traffic for messaging sites was 30% higher than the earlier baseline.
Rihanna's announcement of her second pregnancy, which made news after her performance, also impacted traffic to social media platforms. After a small increase when halftime started, there was a clear drop during Rihanna's show, followed by a jump from 6% below baseline back to 0% right after the show. An additional 3% of traffic growth was reached during the final break at 22:00 EST, just before the Kansas City Chiefs' winning field goal. After a brief drop, traffic reached 2% above baseline as the game ended.
Is halftime also a time for rewatching ads?
The arrival of halftime at 20:21 EST also brought a surge in DNS traffic for video platforms. The first peak was reached at 18:00 EST, before the game started, at 12% above baseline. The peak during halftime was reached at 20:25 EST with 13% growth above baseline, suggesting that viewers may have been looking at that time to Super Bowl related videos or just using the time to browse those platforms.
Food delivery websites saw flat to lower DNS traffic just before the game as compared to the earlier baseline, suggesting that food orders were placed/scheduled earlier in the afternoon, hours before the game. At kickoff, traffic was 19% below baseline, but there was a clear spike at the time of the first break and right after the first Kansas City touchdown at 18:55 EST. After falling again during the game, there was a small increase in traffic observed just after the game ended.
What about betting sites? They expected a big day during the Super Bowl, given that more states have recently legalized gambling on sports. The peak was reached at 19:00 EST, as DNS traffic reached 295% over baseline, when the Chiefs had their first touchdown, The first Eagles touchdown, minutes before, resulted in a 233% spike. The lowest traffic for betting sites during the Super Bowl was during the halftime show. In the second half of the game, two other clear spikes in traffic are visible. The first was at 20:55 EST at 167% above baseline when the Chiefs pulled ahead with a touchdown, and then a jump to 278% over baseline when the game ended.
Rihanna runs this
While the so-called NFL cities across the country are loyal to their local teams, looking at traffic trends across cities from both conferences makes it clear that fans everywhere find joy, not division, in the unknown pleasures of a good halftime show. The drop visible in both graphs below between 20:30-20:50 EST coincides with Rihanna’s return to live performance, as she last performed live in January 2018. Based on the observed drop in traffic, viewers apparently turned away from their computers and devices, giving their attention to Rihanna, or at least stopped their general Internet surfing during the halftime show. As the graphs show, traffic recovered as soon as halftime was over.
Zooming in to individual cities, we examined the traffic patterns observed in both Philadelphia and Kansas City. While both teams have fans across the country, we can use their home cities as a proxy. In this case, we compared normalized Internet traffic levels between 17:00-22:30 EST on Super Bowl Sunday (February 12) with the same time frame on the prior Sunday (February 5).
In Kansas City last Sunday, traffic volumes remained fairly consistent across the surveyed time period. However, on Super Bowl Sunday, traffic levels were initially similar, but by the start of the game were 84% lower than the same time the previous week. Slight drops in traffic are visible coincident with Chiefs touchdowns, but don’t stand out from the overall noisiness of the graph. The graph reached its nadir at 22:13 EST when the Chiefs broke the tie and kicked the game-winning field goal, with the significant drop in traffic likely due to an increased shift in focus towards the outcome of the game, even by those that hadn’t previously been paying close attention.
As the graph below shows, last Sunday saw Internet traffic in Philadelphia gradually decline as the evening wore on. On Super Bowl Sunday, traffic started out slightly lower than the week prior, and also diverged as game time approached, reaching nearly 50% lower at kickoff. As the Eagles took an early lead, their first touchdown resulted in a noticeable drop in traffic from Philadelphia, seen at 18:52 EST, less than 10 minutes after the start of the game. Visible drops in traffic are also coincident with the Eagles’ other three touchdowns, although they don’t stand out against the volatility of the graph. Traffic began to drop towards the end of the game, as the tie score added tension, and reached its lowest point when it became clear that the Eagles were not going to emerge victorious in Super Bowl LVII.
State-level traffic trends: the winning impact
In addition to looking at traffic impacts at a city level, we can also zoom out to examine Internet traffic trends in the Super Bowl states. Arizona, which hosted the big game at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, saw a drop in state-level traffic starting around 13:00 EST. At the time of the kickoff, traffic was 25% lower than the previous Sunday, but the biggest impact was during the wildly popular halftime show by Rihanna. At 20:30 EST, traffic was 29% lower than the same time on the previous Sunday. After the game ended, traffic levels returned to normal around 23:30 EST.
In Pennsylvania, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, traffic began to dip after 15:00 EST and reached its first low point around kickoff, when it was 28% lower than the previous Sunday. Just like in Arizona, the biggest difference was during Rihanna's halftime show, when it was a whopping 33% lower than usual. However, just a few minutes after the game ended at 22:30 EST, traffic returned to normal.
What about the winning team's state of Missouri? There, traffic started to decrease only after 17:00 EST and was actually higher than the previous Sunday before that point. With the kickoff came a clear drop, resulting in 28% less traffic than the previous Sunday at the same time. Traffic increased a bit heading towards halftime, but dropped again during Rihanna's show, when it was 30% lower than usual. The biggest drop in traffic, not surprisingly, was during the exciting moment of the Kansas City Chiefs' winning field goal. At 22:15 EST, traffic was 33% lower than the previous Sunday. However, after 22:50 EST, Internet traffic in Missouri was back on the fast track, with traffic increasing to levels higher than the previous Sunday.
Rihanna’s halftime performance had a clear impact on Internet traffic at a state level, which dropped across all states with NFL teams at the time of her show. Below we take a closer look at the most populous states, among which Pennsylvania, New York and Arizona were winners, with the largest traffic declines. The impacts in Pennsylvania and Arizona are shown above, and the graph below shows the traffic trends seen in New York.
California, Texas, Florida, and New York all had their fair share of Internet traffic dropping before and throughout the game, but it was during the halftime show when things really got interesting. At the time of Rihanna’s performance, Internet traffic in California was 24% lower than the previous Sunday, while in Texas it was 21% below a week earlier, and Florida also saw a 21% drop. Meanwhile, New York had a clear 30% decrease in traffic during the show and, as shown above, Pennsylvania took the cake with a 33% drop. Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, and Michigan were close behind with 23%, 27%, 22%, 25%, and 22% drops respectively.
This seems to be a clear indication that the Super Bowl in general, but also the much-anticipated halftime shows, and the winning celebrations, all have a massive impact on the Internet, causing a noticeable dip in Internet traffic, especially in the state of the winning team.
Do email spammers and scammers take advantage of “The Big Game”?
Spammers and scammers will frequently try to take advantage of the popularity of major events when running their campaigns, hoping the tie-in will entice the user to open the message and click on a malicious link, or visit a malicious website where they give up a password or credit card number. Cloudflare Area 1 Email Security analyzed the subject lines of email messages processed by the service in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl to identify malicious, suspicious, and spam messages across four topic areas: Super Bowl/football, sports gambling, sports media/websites, and food delivery.
As the “regular” season NFL games wrapped up, Super Bowl and football themed email threat volume remained relatively low. However, campaigns clearly picked up between January 23-29 as the message count grew sevenfold. However, campaigns kicked into high gear once the Chiefs and Eagles were headed to the Super Bowl, as the number of identified messages between January 30 and February 5 was nearly six times higher than the previous week. These campaigns quickly ended in the week before the big game, though, as Super Bowl and football themed suspicious, malicious, and spam email volume dropped by nearly 90%.
Overall, the number of sports gambling themed subject lines remained fairly low over the survey period. This is somewhat surprising, given that an increasing number of US states have recently legalized betting on sporting events. Interestingly, the trend was highest at the beginning of the year, although that first week was too late to capture potential interest in college football “bowl” games. However, the weeks ahead of the NFL conference championship games (January 23-29) and the Super Bowl (February 6-12) saw message volume increase to levels nearly 2.5x higher than previous weeks.
Sports media and website themed suspicious, malicious, and spam email messages apparently don’t draw the clicks, because the volume of such messages seen by Cloudflare Area 1 has remained extremely low since the start of the year, but peaked during the week of January 23-29. And although lower in volume, the observed trends were similar to those seen for sports gambling, with peaks during the same weeks.
For many people, the Super Bowl is less about the football game than it is about the commercials and the food, and the growth of food delivery services over the last few years have made it easier to ensure that the snacks and libations never run out during the game. Scammers and spammers have apparently learned to take advantage of this hunger, as food delivery themed email messages saw the highest counts across the four categories reviewed here. Peak message counts were seen the weeks of January 2-8 and January 30-February 5. Message volume the weeks following these peaks fell by over 50% in both cases.
As we have seen time and again, advertising during the Super Bowl can drive significant traffic spikes, and apparently this holds true even if a URL isn’t included as a call to action within the commercial. In addition, the trends observed during the game remain a clear reminder that human behavior drives Internet traffic, especially when the halftime show features a popular singer that last performed live five years ago.
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