A commercialized holiday just like the rest?
The NFL’s strategic marriage to television has also diverted attention away from the game on the field. In 1967, advertising rates for a 30-second commercial spot cost a modest $42,500.
In the years since, they’ve escalated to become the most expensive advertising time in the history of television. After 1985, in response to the huge impact of Apple’s legendary “1984” commercial, advertising rates soared to over $500,000 for a 30-second spot. This trend sparked the emergence of the “Ad Bowl,” an unofficial but hyper-intense marketing competition to produce the most creative and memorable television commercial targeting the Super Bowl’s enormous captive audience, which hit 111.9 million viewers last year. Within a decade of the debut of “1984,” advertising rates doubled to $1 million for a 30-second spot. For Super Bowl 50 in 2016, the price reached $5 million. The Ad Bowl has further eroded the focus on football, drawing in viewers who claim that they watch the game more for the commercials.
In recent years, the Super Bowl has actually become much more competitive: Seven points or fewer have decided six of the last 10 games.
Yet better games haven’t produced an audience primarily interested in good football. A 2016 Huffington Post poll found that millennials were less likely to be interested in “the game itself” than in the commercials and the halftime show. The same poll showed that the older you are, the more important football is in your Super Bowl celebration.
Interestingly, a similar trend of commercialization seems to now color most holidays. Independence Day, Labor Day and Memorial Day celebrations have become less about honoring the men and women who serve our country and more about backyard barbecues. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day have become more about mattress sales and three-day weekends than recognizing those individuals’ great deeds. The same flurry of commercialism has dampened the religious foundations of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Even with the recent spate of close contests, it’s unlikely we’ll see a major revamping of Super Bowl productions to focus more explicitly on football. To those, however, who hunger for the halcyon days of old when Super Bowl Sunday was about the contest on the gridiron – and not the hoopla at halftime or the barrage of ads – we’d point out that a quality football game has almost never been the core component of this distinctly American holiday.
Peter M. Hopsicker, Associate Professor of Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University and Mark Dyreson, Professor of Kinesiology, Affiliate Professor of History, Director of Research and Educational Programs for the Penn State Center for the Study of Sport in Society, Pennsylvania State University
This article was originally published on The Conversation.