By Jeanine Poggi
The inspiration for Animal Planet’s "Puppy Bowl" came from the Christmas airing of the yule log, and early incarnations were only a bit more elaborate than the classic video of a fireplace. But in the 10 years since Puppy Bowl’s debut, it’s become much more than the original continuous loop of puppies running across the screen.
Now replete with penguin cheerleaders, a bird to tweet about the action and a kitten half-time show, Puppy Bowl is not only one of Animal Planet’s biggest events but an interesting opportunity for advertisers looking to be part of Super Bowl Sunday.
"For an advertiser who wants to get a small pop and some buzz up against the Super Bowl, it’s carved out a really nice and unique niche," said David Campanelli, senior VP-director of national broadcast, Horizon Media. "And it’s been really strong in social media as well, so taking advantage of that is also a nice bonus."
The first Puppy Bowl aired in 2005, a 12-hour montage of wandering dogs with no commentary and no sponsor ads decorating the stadium. That was enough to get more than 5.6 million viewers to watch at some point during the telecast.
Almost a decade later, the doggie extravaganza’s 12-hour run is watched by an aggregate of more than 12 million people and Animal Planet has successfully sold nearly every inch of the field. In 2012, it sold the naming rights to the stadium to Geico. This year it is introducing a VIP suite, sponsored by Sheba cat food, where cats will hang out.
The telecast this year has nine sponsors, up from six in 2013, and ad revenue that’s up 30% from last year, said Jeff Pellegrini, VP-ad sales, Animal Planet. AT&T is the newest sponsor of the game, while Chase is expanding its presence. Subaru, Hershey, Geico, Bissell, Warner Bros., Walt Disney and Sheba owner Mars round out the list.
This will be Subaru’s fifth year as a sponsor of Puppy Bowl. For the automaker, the event has always been a natural fit, appealing to its customers’ passion for animals, said Alan Bethke, VP-marketing, Subaru. About 70% of Subaru owners have a pet, and a large percentage of those have a dog, according to Mr. Bethke.
Subaru will air four traditional ads during the "Puppy Bowl" along with custom vignettes throughout the game. It’s also the sponsor of the "drive of the day" and "kiss cam" segments.
"We like to partner with properties our viewers can see themselves in and there is a genuine connection," Mr. Bethke said.
The new VIP suite being sponsored by Mars’ Sheba will include TVs, Sheba-branded food and toys for entertainment.
To take advantage of the Super Bowl’s location in the New York area this year, Animal Planet will host a "Puppy Bowl" experience the week before the game at the Discovery Times Square museum and exhibition space in Manhattan. The 15,000 square-foot area will include puppies to play with, a recreated set and booths for sponsors to interact with fans.
"Puppy Bowl," actually a two-hour show that plays six times, was watched by an average of 2.6 million people during its initial two-hour run in 2013, and averaged 1.1 million viewers during the Super Bowl blackout that night. Those are impressive numbers for Animal Planet, but not the largest audience it’s seen. Last May’s controversial faux documentary "Mermaids: The New Evidence" delivered 3.6 million viewers, a new network record.
While "Puppy Bowl" has reigned as the top dog of ancillary Super Bowl programming, for the first time it will need to compete for the attention of animal lovers: Hallmark Channel and Nat Geo Wild are airing Super Bowl programming featuring kittens and a goldfish.
Like its forerunner on Animal Planet, Hallmark’s "Kitten Bowl" features shelter animals that are available for adoption. "Kitten Bowl," scheduled to air from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, will be hosted by Beth Ostrosky Stern and Yankees radio sportscaster John Sterling. A Feline Fantasy League on Facebook allows viewers collect digital interactive trading cards, read up on the "competitors" and watch a live kitten cam. (Puppy Bowl has a fantasy league too.)
Nat Geo Wild will air "Fish Bowl" from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, when viewers can tune in to see a goldfish swim around her bowl.
Neither event is expected to impact "Puppy Bowl" much more than "Puppy Bowl" impacts the Super Bowl.
"Puppy Bowl was there first, it was unique and different," Mr. Campanelli said. "I don’t think either will get the play that Puppy Bowl does."