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How much does a Super Bowl commercial really cost?

A scene from "The Bark Side," Volkswagen's 2012

A scene from "The Bark Side," Volkswagen's 2012 Super Bowl commercial teaser. (Credit: Frame grab from Volkswagen's YouTube video)

With the Super Bowl right around the corner, fans -- especially Giants fans -- are planning parties and waiting for game day. And during those parties, non-fans like myself take snack and bathroom breaks during the big plays but remain firmly seated during commercial breaks. Super Bowl commercials have a long tradition of entertaining fans and non-fans alike, and over the years have become as important a part of the telecast as the last Hail Mary.

So how much are advertisers shelling out this year for what very likely will be the most-viewed commercials of the year? Sit down:  NBC is charging an average of $3.5 million for each 30 second spot. That's a far cry from the $42,000 charged for spots during the first Super Bowl in 1967.

To help put this in perspective, I did a little research about the value of a buck in 1967 compared to today, and found the enormous increase in the fees charged for sponsor advertisements outpaced inflation at a ridiculous rate. To wit: According to my calculations (made with the help of tools found at measuringworth.com, $42,000 in 1967 would buy you approximately what $274,000 would buy today.  That's a 652 percent increase. Makes sense, since minimum wage in 1967 was $1 per hour, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor. Today, it's $7.25, which is a 725 percent increase, which is in the ballpark. If the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl commercial kept in line with inflation, that $42,000 spot would cost about $283,500 -- a far cry from the $3.5 million being charged today, which represents a 8,333 percent increase.

I cried foul, certain it has a lot to do with football player salaries, which are not in line with the salaries of, say, a Pet Rock blogger. But according to our good friends at Wikipedia, players of the winning team in 1967 (Green Bay) were awarded a $15,000 bonus; the losers, Kansas City, were given $7,500 apiece. Compared to last year, when New Orleans players were given an $83,000 bonus and Indianapolis players given $42,000. (Those bonuses are in addition to their regular, astronomical salaries, but I'll save that griping for another time.) That means bonuses for winners increased only 280 percent since 1967, far less than the rate of inflation. NFL player salaries, however, averaged around $11,000 in 1967 and hover around $1.1 million today. That's a 10,000 percent increase, which far outpaces not only the rate of inflation, but also the increase someone doing our jobs would have received over that time and the raise in Super Bowl commercial costs. Maybe that explains everything; I really don't know.

Being a journalist and not one of analytical mind, my brain hurts a bit from all this math, but I know one thing for sure: advertisers are paying crazy money for exposure during Super Bowl.

Enjoy the teaser of this year's Volkswagen entry, below, which you might have caught during last week's episode of  "The Middle." The entire show, with its shameless product placement was, in itself, a virtual 30-minute commercial for Passat.  We'll pass along others as soon as we get them, but in the meantime, take a walk down memory lane and revisit some of our favorite spots from last year's game here.

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