by Jordan Green
Photo courtesy of Today.com
In 1967, the first ever AFL-NFL Championship Game was played at the Los Angeles Coliseum in front of over 60,000 fans and 30,000 empty seats. Flash-forward to present day and the game is now called the Super Bowl, the most annually watched television event in the United States.
How did a football game grow into an American cultural phenomenon?
Let’s start with the name.
Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt was the first to coin the term “Super Bowl” during the AFL-NFL merger talks. The toy bouncy ball named “Super Ball,” inspired Hunt and he initially suggested it as a temporary name that he felt could be improved upon, but the name stuck and the rest is history.
A lot has changed since Vince Lombardi’s Packers won the first Super Bowl. The first Super Bowl was played in January, but now the game is played on the first Sunday in February. The ticket prices for the first game ranged from $8 for nosebleed seats to $12 for the best seats in the house. By comparison, the minimum face value of a ticket to last year’s Super Bowl was $800. Not to mention, the tremendous profits that the secondary ticket marketplace has made off of the big game. Sites like StubHub have allowed ticket sellers to jack up prices by well over 500%. As a result, buying a “cheap” ticket the day before the game could cost you over $8,000.
However, the Super Bowl has had its biggest impact on those who watch the game on television.
Super Bowl Sunday has nearly become a holiday in itself. Usually, Super Bowl ratings are slightly misleading because most people gather together to eat, drink and watch the game in one household. Americans on estimate spend more than $12 billion every year on food, drink, merchandise and electronics in preparation for the Super Bowl. On Super Bowl Sunday, Americans will consume over one billion chicken wings and more than 30 million slices of pizza. To wash all it down, Americans drink about 50 million cases of beer. This massive consumption of food and beer probably has something to do with the fact that the first Monday in February (the day after the Super Bowl) is the most popular sick day each year, with over 7 million workers staying home.
“Every year my parents host a party with about 20 friends,” said Angelo Quinones (Questrom ’19). “There’s always a lot of food and everyone always has a great time.”
The Super Bowl is consistently the biggest television spectacle of the year, accounting for 23 of the most watched telecasts in U.S. television history. Aside from 2013, ratings for the Super Bowl have climbed each year since 2005. Last year, the New England Patriots victory over the Seattle Seahawks was seen by 115 million people across the nation, surpassing the 2014 Super Bowl matchup between the Seahawks and the Denver Broncos to become the most-watched program in American television history. In fact, it is estimated that over 160 million people watched the final minutes of last year’s game.
According to some estimates, about half of the 115 million viewers don’t even consider themselves football fans.
The Super Bowl is attractive to non-sports fans for a variety of reasons. One of them is the popular trend of treating Super Bowl Sunday as a holiday, which gives people an excuse to enjoy eating and drinking with friends and family. Another one is that it is a one game winner-take-all scenario, unlike the other three major professional sports that feature a seven-game series between teams throughout the playoffs and for their respective championships.
Another advantage that the Super Bowl has over its competitors is that football is by far the most popular sport in the country. Professional football is the most watched sport in America. College football also plays a part in the Super Bowl’s popularity. Even though college football fans may not be interested in the NFL, they still understand the game and are far more likely to watch the Super Bowl than fans of other sports. However, the number one difference that puts the Super Bowl in a different stratosphere of viewership than the World Series, Stanley Cup and NBA Finals combined is the entertainment appeal of the commercials and the halftime show.
Because the Super Bowl is the most watched program every year in America, it gives advertisers an opportunity to reach an unprecedented number of viewers. The NFL is fully aware of this fact because they charge an average of $4.5 million for a 30-second advertisement in this year’s game. In comparison, the average price of a 30-second ad for the first Super Bowl telecast was less than $40,000.
The long history of advertising during the game has established an association between commercials and the Super Bowl among the American people. One of the most famous commercials ever aired happened during Super Bowl XIV, starring Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene. Following a game, Greene limps into the locker room and is confronted by a child who offers him a bottle of Coca-Cola. Greene drinks the whole bottle and begins to walk away, he then turns around, smiles and tosses his jersey to the young boy, saying, “Hey kid, catch!” Coke’s slogan “Have a Coke and a Smile” then appears on the screen. The commercial is one of the most famous of its kind and has been universally recognized as one of the best commercials ever made.
The Mean Joe commercial was just the beginning. Now, the day after the Super Bowl you will likely find a dozen or so articles that rank and analyze the best commercials from the game. Commercials have become such a big part of watching the game that the Super Bowl is the only television broadcast in which ratings were higher for commercials than some portions of the actual telecast. The anticipation of these commercials attracts an audience of all ages, sports fans, non-sports fans, which adds to the aura that makes the Super Bowl special.
The final aspect of the Super Bowl that elevates it from a sporting event to a cultural phenomenon is the halftime show. Among the music giants that have performed the halftime show are Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Gloria Estefan. However, the halftime show wasn’t always star-studded. Up until 1991, the majority of halftime performances featured college marching bands and relatively unknown music groups. However, that all changed when New Kids on the Block was selected to perform the halftime show in 1991 for Super Bowl XXV, marking the first time a pop music group was selected to play at halftime.
Since then a variety of pop artists has performed the show. Last year’s performance by Katy Perry drew higher ratings than all parts of the actual game except for the fourth quarter. The performance, along with the antics of one of the background dancers in a shark costume, was arguably talked about more on social media than the game winning goal line interception by the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler.
The fact that singing and dancing have become just as much a part of the Super Bowl as football speaks to the growth of the Super Bowl as a culminating event of culture and entertainment. Super Bowl Sunday has become a pseudo-holiday in which there is something for every American to enjoy.