No sport is built for television better than professional football – the NFL – and no sporting event dominates the ratings the way the Super Bowl does. It is the peak of the advertising year (30 seconds will cost $3 million this year) and the pregame, halftime, and postgame are as important as the game (sometimes more so when the game is a dud). It is not above the recession as General Motors and Fed Ex have already pulled advertisements, but for the most part, the NFL’s show piece remains largely intact, year to year. However, there are a few changes that have worked and few areas the Super Bowl needs to take a look at for future extravaganzas.
Actually, this is a place where a great change has already occurred with the rise of the NFL Network, the league's own television brand. The Super Bowl is not just for the fans of two teams; it appeals to all football fans from the super-engaged, X’s and O’s watcher to the casual, office-pool Super Bowl partygoer.
For many years, the NFL and the networks broadcasting or covering the event struggled with analysis paralysis. If there’s too much about the game’s dynamics and matchups, casual fan turns away and if there is not enough, X’s and O’x fan turns away (more frequently to sports talk radio). With the excellent coverage of the NFL Network (some of their coverage is also streamed live on the Internet), football enthusiasts can get their fill of matchups and breakdowns while the networks can focus on the human interest elements and events surrounding the Super Bowl.
I commend the television networks, the NFL and the NFL Network for the broad ranging coverage. They have, in effect, taken a user-friendly sport and made it more user friendly. Bravo!
The Half-Time Show
After the now infamous wardrobe malfunction at the halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII, the NFL has rolled through the senior division of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame for the halftime show. They include Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and this year, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Kevin Cowherd of The Baltimore Sun wrote an interesting article about how this hit parade is “boring” to younger generations. I won’t waste space regurgitating his points, but I am convinced the well is tapped on what the NFL considers “acceptable” halftime acts. I went through a laundry list in my head thinking about this and couldn’t think of one classic act that could or would do the gig. So, that leaves the NFL with a choice: either go younger or go different.
I vote for different as most of what is sold as popular music these days is barely passable as karaoke. Seriously, can you see a couple of emo bands the likes of The Ataris or Fall Out Boy rocking the halftime show? Nope, me either. The fact is the music of the “classic” artists was/is built for the large arena. Most of today’s music is built for the Ipod. I don’t see the NFL in danger of losing younger fans, but I am not sure there’s enough talent available or willing to do the show in coming years. I suppose there is always the lower rungs of arena rock with the likes of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Journey, etc., but is that worthy of the Super Bowl halftime show?
The Overall TV Experience
John Madden should be instituted as the all-time color analyst for all Super Bowls until he dies. As much fun as Frank Caliendo gets out of poking the ribs of the famous coach/video game model, no one breaks down a game better.
For play-by-play, I’ll take Al Michaels over most of the other network henchmen in the booth. He’s what Bob Costas is to baseball in a lot of ways. I realize the game shifts networks and there are contracts, tie-ins, etc. to be considered but networks could certainly freelance the best broadcast team to cover the best game. It’s not the mess that college football has with the BCS games on a network that doesn’t even follow the sport closely, but what Joe Buck and Troy Aikman did during what may be the most electrifying play in modern Super Bowl history last year is a travesty. How can you call that catch with any less emotion? I understand they are trying to be “professional” and all, but give me a break from the cookie-cutter, boring analyst. I want a homer like Michaels (Do You Believe In Miracles?) to bring some life to the broadcast. This year’s game will be fun to watch because the Michaels-Madden team will make it fun for everyone from the casual to the super-engaged football junkie fan. Too bad that can’t happen every season.
So, as we reach this pinnacle of the NFL season, it is my hope you are surrounded by good friends, your favorite foods and beverages, a large television with great sound, and hopefully a great product will be on the screen during the pregame, halftime, and postgame.