It’s not a national holiday, though maybe it should be. Money, sex appeal, action, copious amounts of food and just a bit of alcohol are integral to the extravaganza that is the Super Bowl. The American football championship game is a pure slice of Americana that has taken on an outsize life of its own over the past several decades.
The Super Bowl regularly draws a super-sized audience and monstrous ratings. Last year’s game on Fox television drew about 167 million viewers for the first “cold weather” championship game, according to Nielsen. More than 54 million homes tuned in for the spectacle, making it the most-watched program in American TV history in terms of total audience, according to Nielsen and Reuters.
This year’s game is expected to draw even more people — about 184 million American viewers — according to the National Retail Federation.
International audience? Not so much, although folks in England, Australia, Canada and Mexico do pay some attention. It’s probably safe to say people in Asia, Africa and the Middle East are not particularly intrigued.
The Super Bowl is a two-week mega media event wrapped around a football game, as presented by the National Football League, with help from an army of sponsors. It’s a sporting event so big, so important and fabulous, regular numerals just won’t do. It requires Roman numerals, like World Wars I and II, or some other epic historic event. The NFL goes big or it doesn’t go at all.
This year’s championship game, scheduled for Feb. 1, is Super Bowl 49, er XLIX! The game will be shown on the NBC television network and features the AFC champion Seattle Seahawks versus the NFC champion New England Patriots at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Kickoff is in the early evening but the pre-game show starts in the morning and post-game programming will continue until well after the last play.
In the week leading up to the big game, there were press events all day, every day in Glendale. Media madness occurred on a daily basis with myriad radio, TV, newspaper and Web reporters camped out and asking questions during the daily press briefings and question-and-answer sessions. Fervid fans get star-struck seeing the celebrities, athletes and famous ex-jock announcers
The venue changes every year, and usually is held in a warm U.S. city, but was held last year at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. That was the first “cold weather” version of the Super Bowl, though teams play outdoors regularly during the regular season.
Maybe you’ve heard about so-called “DeflateGate,” where the Patriots have been accused of deflating the footballs they used to make them easier to throw and catch in the first half of the game when they defeated the Indianapolis Colts to advance to the Super Bowl.
Besides creating a huge ruckus, press conferences and great theater, it’s also raising interest in the game to unprecedented heights. The numbers this year are likely to bigger than ever. Hey, say what you will, the guys who run the NFL are no dummies.
What’s in a name?
The final game of the professional football season was originally called the World Championship Game when the upstart AFL and NFL combined.
It was renamed the Super Bowl by AFL founder Lamar Hunt after he saw one of his children playing with a ball called a Super Ball, which could bounce dozens of feet high and was incredibly lively.
So Hunt suggested to then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle the placeholder name for the game be “Super Bowl” – playing off the name of the ball and college bowl games. The name stuck.
The first Super Bowl was held Jan. 15, 1967 between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs in Los Angeles, California.
Commercial cash in
Commercials are such a big deal during the Super Bowl that many watch those just as closely, if not more so, than the game itself. Advertisers outdo themselves trying to come up with spots that are funny, controversial or even poignant. It’s a high-stakes gambit with significant rewards for the winners.
Business Insider reports a 30-second ad on NBC this year went for $4.5 million and all the spots are sold out. Those ads will be consumed by a massive audience, dissected by critics, discussed by multitudes, rated for their effectiveness and, if they rise to certain level, become part of the culture.
Food, beer, drinks and parties are standard, if not required. Various sources estimate there will be north of 42 million households hosting Super Bowl parties. Millions more will go to bars and restaurants to watch the game.
Super Bowl Sunday is the second largest food-consumption day of the year — second only to Thanksgiving — according to the USDA. People chow down on chips, salsa, chili, wings, you name it. And it’s the biggest day of the year for pizza deliveries.
Rolling the dice
Gambling happens. Las Vegas sportsbooks are busybusybusy. Numerous wagers can be had on just about any aspect of the game you can imagine.
Besides the actual winner of the game (and the points given or gotten), there are bets on everything from the over/under on the score, the number of touchdowns thrown, penalties, MVP… you name it. There’s even a bet on whether Katy Perry will have a wardrobe malfunction.
Reports say more than $100 million was placed on the Super Bowl last year. Office pools (which actually are illegal) are rampant. It would be difficult to find a company in the U.S. that doesn’t have workers paying $20 for a square with a score in the grid.
The halftime show is another highlight, and this year features singer Katy Perry with guest musician Lenny Kravitz. Some people tune in just for the entertainment in the middle of the game. It’s a show within a show within a show. Past show-stoppers have included Prince, Paul McCartney, Beyoncé, and Bruce Springsteen, to name just a few.
Oh yeah, the game. For some it’s more than an afterthought. It is the championship game that means bragging rights, lucrative endorsements and fat contracts. Serious team fans will flock to the game, along with associated businesses, interested groups and true devotees. Also, true football aficionados actually will pay close attention to every play, re-play and meaningful statistic.
So grab the nachos, chicken wings and another cold one– it’s show time!