The Super Bowl is the result of a merger between the two American football leagues that existed in 1969: the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football Leagues. Both leagues were renamed into conferences, the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC), both of them are now part of the NFL. After each season, the winner of the AFC faces the winner of the NFC in what has become the Super Bowl, the number one sporting event in the United States.
What started as just a final became a tradition that celebrates 48 years this Sunday. Sunday, an important word because it is “Super Bowl Sunday“, the only sports holiday in the America. It is now a family gathering event, which starts in the afternoon and usually involves barbecue. The holiday is, after thanksgiving, the second day where Americans consume the largest amount of food.
Although the game is split into four fifteen minute quarters, an average American football match usually lasts close to 4 hours. To game time, you need to add time outs, half-time and stops between quarters. However, most of those 4 hours are spent watching something other than actual football. A recent study by the Wall Street Journal actually found out that out of those 4 hours, only 11 minutes of broadcast consist of actual playing time. To that you add 60 minutes of commercials; between 67 to 75 minutes of players standing around, huddling, preparing plays, or standing in the line of scrimmage; 17 minutes of replays and 3 seconds are filled with shots of the cheerleaders. So out of those 60 minutes of playing time, only 11 are of actual action. The rest is wasted between plays, as the game clock keeps running for most of the time.
Interesting figures that make us wonder, why would anyone want to watch a game that takes four hours to produce 11 minutes of excitement. The answer is the American flare for spectacle, which has transformed the game into so much more than that. Besides the above mentioned cheerleaders, you have exciting graphics and play-by-play analysis, which is done by talented sports analysts that help fill the time as the game progresses. When referring to the Super Bowl, you must also consider the Half-time show, a spectacle in itself that adds to the whole event. It is uually headlined by major music artists, with amazing choreographies. That adds at least half-hour to the entire broadcast.
Being such a tradition in America, it is followed by more than a 100 million Americans, every year. Curiosity, satellite TV and a genuine love for the spectacle have added an extra 20 to 60 million fans, that tune in from all over the world. So, with 120 to 160 million expected global viewers, the Super Bowl is a huge commercial opportunity. And here is where the American flare for spectacle kicks it up a notch.
With such a gigantic audience and nearly an hour of commercials, every company wants to advertise on Super Bowl Sunday. It is just logic. The laws of supply and demand have inflated the price of each 30 second advertising spot to 4 million dollars, this year, nearly 3 million euros (4 million x 120 = 480 million dollars for the whole hour. To that value add the production costs of those commercials, which tend to be very expensive. Brands that choose to advertise in the Super Bowl usually go for ads that leave a long lasting impact on viewers, hiring film stars or drawing on familiar storylines to make them memorable. It might seem expensive but the economic benefit for the companies that choose to invest in those ads is enormous. Not only because there is a lot of people watching but because they have become an essential ingredient of the Super Bowl spectacle. People comment on them, they rate them and they share them. Also, they receive a lot of free media coverage, which means that, even if you did not see the final, it is likely that you will end up seeing at least one of those ads. Their impact is then analysed by specific companies that check not only how many people mentioned the advertised brands on social networks, but also the overall tone (positive or negative) used when referring to the commercial.
Think of the 480 million dollars, plus the production costs for those commercials. Think of the potential new clients. Think of the 82 thousand people that are on the stands, and on how much those tickets cost. Think about the entire food that is bought over the weekend for Super Bowl Sunday. Think about the broadcast production costs and the fees collected by the half-time performers. Think about the jerseys sold. Think about the players salaries and their victory bonus. It is a billion dollar event and everything must be perfect.
The numbers are themselves a spectacle. And that is what the Super Bowl is all about.