The Super Bowl – A Spectacle Unlike Any Other
About half of the United States will all be doing the same thing this evening. I venture to explain why.
For an outsider looking in on the United States it can be hard to understand just why we all go so crazy for the Super Bowl, the championship of a sport whose popular reach has rarely gone beyond the borders of the United States and Canada. Unlike the World Cup Final or the Gold Medal match in Men’s Ice Hockey of the Olympics, the players involved in the Super Bowl rarely come from countries other than the United States and the people who watch the game are overwhelmingly concentrated in one country. And even though the sport of American football has grown in some countries like the United Kingdom and Germany (thanks in part to not only a large American minority in both countries, but also to the three yearly games now played in London every season), the Super Bowl remains a wholly American event. While many other publications this weekend will be posting their previews and predictions of the game, I would prefer to try, as hard as it is, to explain the mystique of the Super Bowl, a spectacle unlike any other.
Personally, I am a huge fan of football. For 17 Sundays every year, I am completely booked. Eleven hours of football begins at noon in my time zone and does not end until 11 o’clock at night and those Sundays are always full of drama and excitement, even in the games which do not include my favorite team, the Chicago Bears. This 17-week regular season leads into a three-week long playoff of the seven best teams from each conference, before finally culminating in the Super Bowl. This year the two teams involved are the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game is full of headlines: Patrick Mahomes, perhaps the best Quarterback in the league and his Kansas City Chiefs look to win back-to-back Super Bowls, an incredibly rare feat in modern football. He is going against the Buccaneers (usually referred to as the Bucs) and Tom Brady. Tom Brady is probably the most famous football player in the world and many of my non-football fan European friends know of him. He is still playing after an illustrious 21-year career and playing in the Super Bowl at the age of 43. He played every year until this current one with the New England Patriots, who he led to nine Super Bowls, winning six of them (a record in the league’s history) and earning the undisputed title of GOAT (Greatest of All Time). This 10th Super Bowl for him will be the first with a different team and in a true twist of fate, the game will be played in Tampa Bay, meaning the Bucs will be the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium (the game is always played at a neutral location, picked five years in advance, and no Super Bowl team has ever played at home until now). From a football’s fan’s point of view, it is tough to find a game better than this. Both teams have high-powered offenses, the Bucs’ defense has vastly improved over the season to become one of the best in the league and the battle between the GOAT and the best current Quarterback in the league makes this match impossible to miss. And that is exactly what America is going to do.
The Super Bowl is the most watched event on TV every single year, and it is not even close. In a usual year about 40% of all households watch the game, and that number can soar to 60-65% if the game becomes close near to the finish. To compare that to other football games, Sunday Night Football on NBC which always shows the highest-rated games during the regular season maxes out at around 18% of households. So why are the ratings for the Super Bowl so high? There is no one single answer, but instead a myriad of answers. For one, there are a lot of football fans in the United States. There are die-hards like me and more casual fans, but they all tune in to the Super Bowl, even if their team is not playing. Football fans like good football, regardless if they like the teams or not. But a majority of people who watch the Super Bowl are not football fans and do not watch any other football games throughout the year, and the reason for this is because of the massive scale of the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is an event, it is a spectacle that must be seen. It is not simply a game where two teams try to score more touchdowns than the other, it is a show of over-the-top athletic brilliance and marketing dominance. Many fans even tune in simply for the commercials. Although this may sound like a ridiculous statement to someone not aware of Super Bowl commercials, it may make more sense when I tell you that a single 30-second advertisement during the Super Bowl costs $5,6 Million to air on TV and companies put that incredible amount to good use. Most of the commercials during the game are brand-new and most only air once. They are specially made for the game itself and feature celebrities and movie-quality CGI technology and seek to make a commercial more than just an advertisement, but an experience. An advertisement that is so good, so different, that it will force the viewer to go out and purchase whatever product is being peddled. Super Bowl commercials have entered into societal life and some companies’ slogans have entered into the American lexicon, simply because we all have seen them. Finally, there are people who do not care about the game or the commercials, but still watch. They do this simply because of the Halftime show. In normal football games, halftime is simply a 12-minute break used to give the players a rest and to recap what happened in the first half of the game. In the Super Bowl, the halftime show can last up to 25 minutes and features a huge musical act (U2, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones have all played in the Halftime Show before). This year’s guest will be hip-hop and pop superstar The Weeknd, and already it is estimated that the Halftime Show will cost at least $5 million to produce. The Halftime Show brings in millions of extra viewers who only tune in for this segment of the Super Bowl, which is completely devoid of any football action. Not only does the Super Bowl offer something for everyone, but in a normal non-pandemic year, thousands of Super Bowl parties are hosted all around the country with friends and families coming together to watch the most-anticipated sporting event of the year. Millions of pizzas are delivered, chicken wings are eaten, and beers are consumed as Americans binge on sports and junk food on the closest thing we have to a national holiday, without it being called as such.
So the game features a great matchup in this year’s edition and the Super Bowl offers something for everyone from the die-hard football fan to the lover of pop music, but the question still remains, why football? Why does the Super Bowl and football have such a wide reach in America? Baseball is often called America’s Pastime, yet the World Series does not earn nearly the amount of views as the Super Bowl. Basketball is now one of the most popular sports in the country, but the NBA Finals looks on in envy of the Super Bowl’s ratings, and hockey could only dream of the Stanley Cup getting Super Bowl numbers (what a wonderful world that would be). For me, the Super Bowl and football has two important qualities which makes it so popular: it is easy to understand and it is exciting for the whole game. Football is a simple game to understand. The offense tries to go all the way down the field and score a touchdown. If they can not score a touchdown, they either give the ball to the other team or try to kick a field goal for only three points. Other sports like baseball are far more complicated. Try to explain a fielder’s choice or sacrifice bunt to a first-time viewer of baseball. Ice hockey can be extremely hard to follow given the speed and small size of the puck being passed around and shot at speeds up to 110 MPH (177 KmH). But football is easy to understand (even if there some technicalities and penalties which can be unclear to even long-time watchers). Secondly, football is exciting for the entire length of the game. Consider two different episodes from two different Super Bowls: Super Bowl XLI between my beloved Chicago Bears and newly inducted Hall of Famer Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts. The very first play of the game, the kickoff, is usually non-eventful. The team who won the coin toss receives the ball on a kick and normally does not or cannot try to move the ball further down the field from the kick. But in this Super Bowl, the kick was a bit off and the Bears had the best kickoff return specialist in the league’s history, Devin Hester, and Hester ran the ball back 92 yards for an opening kickoff touchdown. Immediate excitement. In Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl the year before, faced off against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. The Seahawks had the ball at the very end of the game and needed a touchdown to win. It was the very last play of the game and everyone expected the Seahawks to hand the ball off to their great Running Back Marshawn Lynch to run the ball for a touchdown. But they surprised everyone, and Quarterback Russell Wilson attempted a pass. The pass was intercepted by the Patriots’ defense and the game was over. Excitement until the very last play. A sport like baseball can be extremely boring for almost the entire game and a game like basketball really only gets exciting in the fourth and final quarter of the game. Finally, the Super Bowl is one game to decide the Championship. Other sports championships are best-of-seven series, meaning one team must win four games out of a possible seven to be crowned the champion. This requires a one-to-two-week sacrifice for following the entire series. The Super Bowl is 60 minutes split into four, 15-minute quarters. One game, one night to know the champion. That is it.
The Super Bowl is an exciting event that features the best players on the best teams playing at their best level. Accompanied by beer and pizza and family, it is no wonder that this showing of peak athletic ability is the international symbol of American sports fandom.