WASHINGTON, January 31 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) - It is the crown jewel of the US sporting calendar, the media-fueled juggernaut of American popular culture, the event that commands the attention of the masses and concentrates the national mind in a way the supposedly “bigger” issues of the day can’t even touch.
It is the Super Bowl, the annual championship contest this Sunday in New Orleans pitting the two top teams of the National Football League against each other at the center of a daylong pageant wrapping athleticism, entertainment, violence, big business and nationalism into one heady social cocktail that for many is shorthand for the American experience.
“The Super Bowl, I mean – it’s football! And football is huge in the US,” said Douglas Hartmann, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied America’s popular sports culture.
“It’s actually watched and participated in by people who aren’t big, die-hard football fans otherwise – people who watch the spectacle, want to see what the halftime entertainment is, watch the ads,” Hartmann explained in an interview with RIA Novosti.
“So there’s an emotional energy and a social connection that goes way beyond just the dyed-in-the-wool fans,” he added.
By the time the top two teams, the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, square off against each other on “Super Bowl Sunday,” there will be an estimated 73,000 fans crammed into the New Orleans Superdome and another 179.1 million watching the game in homes, bars and restaurants throughout the country.
The event is, experts in fields ranging from sports and marketing to culture academia agree, a very big deal.
“It seems to me that football is so popular in the US because we are the capital of capitalism,” wrote economist and author John Perkins, in a blog entitled “Football – Why it is THE American Sport.”
“The football team represents the corporation. The quarterback is the CEO. The backs and receivers are the VPs and those guys who keep piling up on each other… are most of the rest of us, the workers,” Perkins said.
Apart from the athletes themselves, many of whom are household names in the United States, the number of rock stars, show business performers and tribute performances is enough to boggle the mind.
Think Justin Timberlake. And Stevie Wonder. And CeeLo Green. Less than two weeks after she sang the US national anthem at President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony in Washington, pop diva Beyonce is scheduled to perform during the Super Bowl halftime.
Further, the children’s chorus from Sandy Hook Elementary School – the scene of December’s deadly school massacre in Connecticut – will sing “America the Beautiful.” It promises to be a moment made for television and will be delivered, no doubt, with more than one shot of someone wiping tears away.
On a scale of one to 10, “the Super Bowl is way beyond a ten for us,” Superdome spokesman Larry Lovell told RIA Novosti.
“This is the first one we’ve hosted since Hurricane Katrina, and this really puts the eyes of the entire world back on New Orleans,” he said. The Gulf coast city was devastated by the 2005 storm and is still struggling to regain its footing.
According to a survey conducted this month for the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, Super Bowl spending by American consumers is expected to top $12 billion on everything from new televisions to party food and beverages, decorations, athletic apparel and more.
That’s not including sales for attendance at the game itself, where ticket prices have soared to over $4000 per seat, according to media reports.
But the biggest money factor of all are the amounts advertisers will spend on television commercials for broadcast during and around the Super Bowl game, with air-time rates this year estimated to be upwards of $3.8 million for a 30-second spot during the game.
That is an advertising rate that works out to $126,667 – per second.
Theories abound for why this event has become the herculean social phenomenon that it is today. Experts say though that in a country deeply divided along many different lines, “Super Bowl Sunday” offers a rallying point that everyone agrees on, regardless of team preference.
“Super Bowl hype is the sound of America’s conversation with itself,” wrote sportswriter Mike Tanier in a New York Times blogpost.
“The Super Bowl is a national ‘safe topic:’ something we can still good-naturedly disagree upon.… The hype reminds us to protect what is great about the game, sports in general, and our popular culture, to not ruin them by taking them too far,” he added.
“The hype is not white noise. It is our collective conscience screaming at us.”