Is the Super Bowl still super?

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Another Super Bowl is upon us. As the big day approaches, I find myself reflecting on the nature of this annual event and the fact that the very definition of this event has morphed over the extent of my lifetime.

Super Bowl Sunday has been and still is a special day in America, as is clear in the fact that it attracted more than one hundred million viewers in the U.S in the past couple of years. This game attracts viewers who are not fans of the teams playing or even football fans at all. The Super Bowl is more than just a game. The day is held in some people’s regard as a sacred holiday.

While the nature of the game itself hasn’t changed significantly, the advertising, marketing, and product campaigns for this four or five hour television time slot on one Sunday in February have escalated year after year. Recently, the anticipation seems so great that we are now reminded that the Super Bowl is right around the corner as soon as Santa goes back up the chimney. Stores have started erecting end caps to promote Super Bowl products right after Christmas. It’s crazy! The Super Bowl seems to now be advertised everywhere including online, TV, and even on my local NPR radio station. It is a day that has marketing departments salivating. Why? The answer is simple: It’s the fact that the definition of the Super Bowl has changed.

This event used to be primarily a social event. Friends and family would gather, drink some beer, eat some pizza and chips, watch some entertaining commercials, and maybe watch the halftime show if it was any good. It was fun to watch some humorous, witty commercials, laugh a little and talk about them around the scuttlebutt in the morning. The whole event maybe lasted a day or so. As soon as it started, it was over. But not anymore.

Over the last twenty years, the meaning of this day has changed, from a single social, commercial event, to a full blown consumer holiday. As the years pass, Super Bowl Sunday is feeling more and more like Easter, Valentine’s day, or Christmas. End caps with salsa, chips, and some alien form of cheese in a jar you wouldn’t even think to buy in a normal day, are being displayed weeks or even months before the big day. Football shaped bowls, and cakes shaped like Tom Brady’s chin, are now products you can purchase to help celebrate this special American non-holiday. I would never consider buying Patriots blue colored queso dip, but for some reason during the Super Bowl holiday season, I want to. So why is this trend occurring?

I have a few theories:

Theory 1: It has been a really hard time to be a brick and mortal retailer in the shadow of  Amazon and other online and/or price-matching retailers. Places like these are continually seeking to find the next big marketing event to drive their sales since their margins are razor-thin to start with. They continually look to movie events, actual holidays, hallmark holidays such as Father’s day and Mother’s day to help drive their sales. Is it their need to drive traffic in an otherwise slow time of year that has driven the drive to make Super Bowl Sunday a new “holiday?” Perhaps.

Theory 2: Could it be that there is more hype because the Super Bowl may not be so super anymore? The event appears to be softening in its appeal to viewers. For those of us who were engaged in the event to watch the commercials, there is now no longer a need to do this. You can log onto YouTube and watch all the commercials almost immediately after they are aired. Is this the reason that you see so much marketing out there? Is the NFL trying to drive viewership because it needs to now more than ever?

Theory 3: In the drive for continual growth in their market, companies are seeking new ways to cross-market their products. If Frito-Lay can sell you a five pound bag of tortilla chips, why not try to push that can of salsa on you as well. This “holiday” provides a vehicle to sell products to consumers that would not normally buy them.

The reality is that it may be some combination of all three. It may be that none of these theories are even close to trying explain this trend. The point is that the Super Bowl used to be just a game. Then it was just a game with entertaining commercials. The Super Bowl used to try to sell products to you. Now, its more about trying to sell the Super Bowl as a product. This is why it is so big, and this is why I am about to crack open a specialized beer can with Tom Brady’s face on the side, so that I can think that I am drinking it with TB12 himself.

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