Have Marketing Budgets Watered-Down Football?

As I sat down to watch Super Bowl XLI this weekend with friends, I heard the commentators mention the 40 percent chance of showers. It would be the first time in history where it rained at a Super Bowl. Shortly after the announcement, the rain started to fall. One friend asked, “What are they going to do if the game gets rained out?” I thought to myself, “It’s rain, not a meteor shower.”

I began thinking about how much the game of football has changed. I’ve watched documentaries about major games in the 70’s and 80’s where you would see guys playing in snow, mud and sleet in 20 degree weather, in double overtime. Is the drama of the actual game less important than the hype around the pre-game shows, commercials, and half time performances in this 21-century world?

Has football been watered down to nothing more than an opportunity for advertisers? Have we forgotten about the real reason the game is played? Do we decide to watch only if the commercials or the halftime show get good previews? Can a little rain cause a delay-of-game that would blow the primetime marketing plans of some of the smartest, richest, biggest companies of our time?

This year’s stats help us answer these questions. An estimated 90 million viewers in the U.S. were expected to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday. According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, more than half of U.S. adults watch the big event for the commercials. For Super Bowl XLI, advertisers reportedly spent $2.6 million for a 30-second commercial spot.

I guess I know why advertisers worry about a little rain. If the game was delayed, would people still see those spots? Or would viewers still pay special attention to the commercial breaks, despite the inaction on the field?

In my younger years I can remember my Dad, Grandfather and Uncle sitting down in front of the TV to watch the game, going back and forth about who would win while comparing past Super Bowl highlights. To them it was all about the game. They could talk for hours about the season stats, Hall-of-Fame history, and highlights from some of their own years on the football field.

While my Dad, Grandfather and Uncle remember the games of every Super Bowl match in their lifetimes, I can’t even remember what teams played last year. Instead, I remember a huge, grizzly bear beating the stuffing out of a man for a Budweiser on a 30-second commercial spot.

Comparing today’s game with 20 years ago, Aurora author Terry Haynes agrees that while the Super Bowl is the biggest event of the year, it is no longer due to the actual game, but the marketing. Going back farther, when the Super Bowl was launched 41 years ago, it was not about television rights or pricey commercials, but about two leagues sending one team to the big game and finding a champion among them.

And for me, that’s still the important part – so go ahead, play in the snow or the mud or delay the game until the weather clears. Eventually, one team will come out the champion and that’s why I watch. Now that I have that off my chest, I think I’ll go call my Dad about the highlights.