by Lindsey Beakes
Why did you tune in the Super Bowl on Sunday night? Was it because you hail from Baltimore or San Francisco? Was it because you genuinely, without all of the gimmicks, wanted to see great football being played? Or was it because Beyoncé performed during the halftime show, the Harbaugh brothers were facing off and Ray Lewis was on display for what he alleges was the last time?
Most people would say it is a combination of the football and the showmanship, a match between athleticism and celebrity that makes the Super Bowl the show it really is today.
However, in our media-saturated world, the Super Bowl has given the media as good an excuse as any to pull out all of the stops.
Americans all over the nation made some dip, gathered some friends and tuned in on Sunday evening to witness what has undoubtedly become one of the sports industry’s greatest annual entertainment events.
That’s right. I just described the Super Bowl as an entertainment event.
This championship game between the AFC and NFC has moved further and further away from being an actual sporting event over the years.
We all know the joke, the one that says that people just watch the Super Bowl for the commercials and performances. Well, that joke is becoming more of a reality with the way this annual event is marketed.
The two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the performances and players are all made national stories. Commercial slots of a mere 30 seconds are sold for millions and millions. Even on Super Bowl Sunday, the media puts on pre-game shows that are hours long.
I would be dumb to say that the football game doesn’t bring in a lot of viewers, but to make the Super Bowl the highest-rated program of the year audiences must have something they will remember.
Let’s take, for example, the halftime performance during which Janet Jackson had her small wardrobe malfunction thanks to Justin Timberlake. I will always remember that moment, but I couldn’t tell you who won or even played in the game that Sunday.
I tuned in to that Super Bowl, as I do with every Super Bowl, knowing that one team would win. I did not tune in, however, expecting that kind of show.
This is because the halftime show is geared toward the non-football audience who watches the Super Bowl. The halftime show and the people that perform in it are perfect examples of how the Super Bowl is about hype and ratings, not simply the game of football. This is arguably what makes the Super Bowl the most watched event of the year.
Beyoncé, the queen of the music industry, is performing just weeks after her somewhat controversial performance at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. That last sentence alone was surely a main reason millions and millions of Americans tune in to the broadcast.
Although I am sure that for weeks to come, the winner of this Super Bowl will be discussed and praised, what I am saying is that for weeks after that hype dies, everyone will still be talking about the media aspect of it all. What we witness on Super Bowl Sunday, as we eat our hot wings and dig into our dips, is that it is less football and more media circus than we would like to believe.
A good example of this is Ravens’ middle linebacker, Lewis. Twelve years after he received the honor of being the Super Bowl MVP and leading his team to the Championship in 2001, Lewis was back for what he said would be his career finale.
The media eats Lewis up, whether he is being accused of felony activity or preaching the gospel, he seems to be the center of NFL attention. Sure, Lewis is a talented player and people want to see that, but without the story behind him he falls into the pile with the rest of the NFL players.
Then there is Super Bowl media day, which in my mind is the perfect example of how this event is a mix of sports and entertainment. It is clear that it’s not just about football—there was a clown there, that’s how clear it is.
The Superdome was open to those willing to buy tickets so that they could watch the interviews and see all of the coverage in person. What I thought was interesting was what came about as a result of media day. Probably the biggest story was that San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culver said he would not welcome gay team members.
I don’t discredit this story with not being newsworthy, but I did find it interesting that, as someone not particularly invested in this Super Bowl because of the two teams, Culver and Lewis were the two main stories I was made aware of.
While everyone wants to know who is actually going to win the Super Bowl, they do tune in to the game, in my opinion, for more than just the game. I do know that I watched to see what Lewis would do for his final performance, what companies would put out the best commercials and, of course, what lengths Beyoncé would go to on stage.
It is of course partially a personal opinion that the Super Bowl is less about football and more about entertainment, but I also think that if we look at the broadcast, it is more of a show and less of a game.