Garner: Opinion

Column: Americans getting ready for appointment television

By Johnny Whitfield

ehyman@newsobserver.com

There are very few television moments that stop the majority of us. We are either too disinterested or too busy to stop and watch. Major inclement weather puts us in front of the tube, but honestly, after about 15 minutes, you’ve heard all you need to hear. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 put most of us in front of our television sets to see what in the world was happening.

But there’s nothing quite like the Super Bowl. This time next week, many of you will be watching the same channel I will. You may be pulling for a different team than me. You may not even care who wins.

But, if you think about it, it’s really quite a feat that so many people (estimates are as high as 115 million people) would consider the Super Bowl to be appointment television. After all, professional football teams come from 31 (mostly) major cities around the United States. By the time the Super Bowl arrives, fans in 29 of those cities have seen their hopes for the hometown team dashed.

So what is it that makes the Super Bowl so popular, year after year?

There are two things that really draw us to the Super Bowl like no other television event.

First, the NFL has succeeded in making the event a real spectacle. The game itself is only part of the show. The NFL goes all out to put on a halftime show that leaves people as entertained as a Hail Mary at the end of the game. The NFL only considers A-list entertainment for the show and they work hard to find entertainers that will be of great interest to the coveted 18-44 age group. One year, it’s Bruce Springsteen, another year Prince, another year Janet Jackson.

This year, if you’re not already aware, it’s Lady Gaga, she of the outrageous costumes and beautful voice. That’s a show that will entice many people who normally fix snacks and take a bathroom break at halftime to keep their seat on the sofa and continue to be entertained.

The NFL has also convinced advertisers that, as expensive as commercial time is, they should go all out to produce memorable 30-second commercial spots that evoke all manner of emotions from the viewers. Those companies who pay the estimated $5 million for a 30-second spot expect to get the most bang for their buck. And so, for once, even the commercials are worthy of viewership. By way of contrast, a commercial during the World Series went for about a tenth of the cost, or $500,000. There are even commentaries and contests after the Super Bowl about who won this year’s advertising contest.

So, in short, the NFL has figured out how to get you to stay in your seat for the entire 4 and a half hours that the game is on. Think about that. Four and a half hours. That’s like going to the movie theater and sitting through three feature films. Who does that? Super Bowl watchers, apparently.

The second thing that makes the Super Bowl appointment television revolves around the true fans of the game. They endure – or ignore – the endless pre-game shows and sit down just a few minutes before kickoff to watch two teams who have vanquished all comers in what is arguably the greatest team sport of them all. Eleven great big men line up to move a leather ball that weighs just a tick under one pound from one end of the field to the other, despite the best efforts of 11 more great big men on the other side who are equally good at preventing that from happening.

There is strategy. There is physicality. There is gracefulness. There is a choreography that is enchanting to even the most casual fan.

If all those thoughts are wrong, I’ll just revert to my original thought that everyone must be a fan of Andy Griffith’s classic comedy routine “What it was, was football.”

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