Friday, February 11, 2011

Why the Packers-Steelers Was the Most Watched Super Bowl Ever

One of my kids watching a Packers game.

A friend and frequent TriggPack reader told me before the Super Bowl that a work colleague of his thought the NFL was disappointed that the Jets and Bears didn’t make the Super Bowl because those were bigger markets.  With the Nielsen results coming out on Monday declaring this game not only the most watched Super Bowl, but the most watched television program ever, period.  I’d say it’s safe to say the NFL isn’t worried about small market teams making it to the big game.

The entire notion that “small market teams” like the Green Bay Packers can’t generate big revenues is antiquated and really a carry-over from the economics that plague the NBA and MLB.  With its record-breaking 162.9 million viewers, the Packers-Steelers Super Bowl was a bonanza for the NFL and for Fox.  There are three main reasons why:

First, the NFL shares television revenue equally among all the teams.  Pioneered by former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in the sixties, the NFL revenue sharing system allows a small market team like the Packers to extract a portion of revenue equal to a big market team like the New York Giants.  This is why Los Angeles doesn’t have a team – because, apart from the stadium take (which constitutes about 1/3 of an owners’ total revenue) it’s no more lucrative to have a team in L.A. as it is Jacksonville.

Second, the Super Bowl is a single game, as opposed to a best-of-seven series.  Any sports fan can sustain their attention span for one three-hour game.  But tuning in, night after night, for a seven-game series can get tedious – even if you care about the outcome, which most basketball and baseball fans don’t.  And no other event, aside from perhaps presidential elections, captures the attention and imagination of America.  Even if you don't give a crap about the game, you can grab a beer and a bowl of chili and watch the commercials for God's sake.

Third, there are no two franchises, perhaps in all of sports, more compelling than the Packers and Steelers.  They are blue collar teams that exemplify everything that is great about sports.  Both teams have long, proud legacies.  Both are multi-time NFL champions.  And, for the Packers, they have an additional aspect of their team identity that makes them even more likeable.  In the modern sports era of big money, big contracts and big egos, the Green Bay Packers stand in solitary contrast to what most sports fans loath about modern sports.  As the only community-owned franchise in the smallest media market, there is something fundamentally compelling about the Green Bay Packers.  They are the real America’s team – evoking a nostalgia for what is good in sports, for what is good in America, that few other franchises in any sport can conjure up.  Even a "big market" newspaper like the New York Times agrees.

That is why Sunday was the most watched television show in American history.  God bless America, and God bless the Green Bay Packers.

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