NFL Should Reclaim ‘The Big Game’

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Author: Jack McHenry

The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in American culture, bar none. The World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup and the major NCAA championships do not come close to the NFL’s most illustrious event. In fact, the 2012 Super Bowl between the New York Giants and New England Patriots had 111.3 million views, breaking the viewing record for the third consecutive year and tallying more views than all the aforementioned championship events combined.

However, much of the Super Bowl’s success as the most significant sporting event in American culture is due to its marriage of entertainment and advertising. While this fusion attracts indifferent viewers to the Super Bowl, it also detracts from high drama and intricate story lines that play themselves out in the game itself.

The halftime show of the Super Bowl features major music artists and has become a serious draw for viewers who otherwise may not be that interested in the actual play of the game. In recent years, performers such as Paul McCartney, Prince and Madonna have given performances that appeal to multiple generations of viewers, creating a timeless and exciting atmosphere.

Advertisements for the Super Bowl are a pivotal part of the Super Bowl viewing experience. Companies pay as much as $100,000 per second for their ads to be aired during the big game and have shown great creative flair in developing ads that are intriguing, entertaining and have people buzzing for days after the big event.

In fact, The Nielsen Sports media branch reported in 2011 that about 50 percent of Super Bowl viewers spend more time watching commercials than the actual game. A recent New York Times article reported that many Super Bowl advertisements are getting leaked ahead of time to viewers on the Internet.

That the New York Times published an anticipatory article about the viewing of Super Bowl ads reflects just how central they have become to the Super Bowl and, in some respects, dwarf the game itself. This year, while her performance was excellent, many felt Madonna’s act was more captivating than the game that came down to the final seconds. For sports fans, this is bittersweet.

Fans enjoy advertisements as much as anyone else. Commercials from years past such as The Darth Vader Volkswagen ad, the Paris wedding Google ad and the Doritos bulldog ad are all memorable Super Bowl moments. However, fans care about the game too and can be frustrated when funny ads and 25 minute pyrotechnic-packed halftime concerts seem to belittle the championship event at hand.

The Super Bowl is the culmination of a grueling season of high impact, meticulously calculated, competitive sporting fury. And the game always has great story lines. Two years ago, the New Orleans Saints upset the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts, and the victory became a rallying cry for an embattled city still struggling through the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Last year, a Green Bay Packers team that barely made the playoffs beat a favored Pittsburgh Steelers team. Underlying the game was a good versus evil battle between quarterbacks with the young, classy Aaron Rodgers emerging from his predecessor Brett Favre’s shadow and beating the tough-as-nails Ben Roethlisberger, who was playing in a season shortened due to a suspension stemming from a sexual assault incident.

This year was no different. The game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots was a rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl, in which the New York Giants spoiled the Patriots’ perfect season. The Giants, led by quarterback Eli Manning, came out on top, beating a favored Patriots team once again.

This time was even more special for Eli and company, as the Giants claimed victory on the home field of Eli’s older brother Payton, who is widely considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Now Eli has more championships than his brother, and is proving himself as one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the NFL.

These story lines, these subtleties, are the richest entertainment the game has to offer. The game is a dramatic battle waged in front of millions of viewers, with all the back stories and twists culminating in 60 hard fought minutes on the gridiron for the highest prize in the NFL. When advertisements and short concerts take priority over this kind of genuine sporting drama, it is a disappointment.

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