The Super Bowl is more than just the biggest day in the American sporting calendar. It is also a showcase for unbridled opportunism.
The main reason is the sheer number of people glued to the game. Last year's clash between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints set a record for the largest American TV audience ever, logging about 106 million viewers (according to Nielsen). This year's bout in Dallas between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers — two storied franchises — is expected to surpass even those astonishing numbers.
Given its cultural significance, the Super Bowl has inspired a huge piggyback industry. The obvious examples are the tie-in ads, which have become the single-most prestigious media buy (roughly $3 million US for a 30-second spot) and are nearly as anticipated as the game itself.
Alas, the commercials may be the most innocuous aspect of Super Bowl mania — there are also darker elements at play. Football fervour has some unusual side-effects. Here's a look at some of the ways this annual contest awakens the worst instincts in humanity.
The Super Bowl breeds extortion
Bloomberg reports that the average — average — scalper ticket for this year's game is going for nearly $5,000. That figure is double the rate for last year's contest, which some commentators ascribe to the historical popularity of the Packers and Steelers (who have nine Super Bowl wins between them). Just to be clear, that's five Gs for about three hours of entertainment. Imagine spending that much money to watch your team lose.
The Super Bowl breeds gluttony
Those watching from outside the stadium aren't at the mercy of overpriced concessions, which means they're likely to eat and drink even more. Super Bowl Sunday is the second-most voracious day of the year (Thanksgiving is first), and while there is no hard data on beer consumption, anecdotal evidence would suggest: one hell of a lot.
Steeler Nation vs. the Cheeseheads
Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers have a notoriously loyal fan base. But few of their fans actually get in to see a game.
The season-ticket waiting list for the Green Bay Packers, who have sold out every game since 1960, has more than 80,000 names on it. This is in a Wisconsin city with a population of 100,000. The local stadium, Lambeau Field, holds only 73,128 people. Except for the tickets made available to opposing teams, all seats are for season ticket-holders.
There's not much hope for Steelers fans, either. Though the population of Pittsburgh is larger, at 300,000, the stadium holds fewer people (65,050). The waiting list for season tickets has an estimated 60,000 names.
To make matters worse, the renewal rate of those lucky enough to get tickets for either team is around 99.9 per cent. Some have waited 40 years for tickets. Others estimate the wait to be as long as 100 years.
The Packers website has an official policy allowing people to transfer ticket ownership in case of divorce or death. -- Jonathan Hembrey
Despite well-meaning efforts by newspaper columnists to suggest healthy Super Bowl vittles, most tailgate parties and rec-room bacchanals will serve those calorie-rich standbys: chicken wings, nachos, burgers. Those who can't be arsed to cook will inevitably reach for the phone — pizza chains claim it's one of the five busiest days of the year. The Super Bowl leads to more heart attacks (maybe)
A recent study looking at heart attack rates in Super Bowls featuring the Los Angeles Rams and L.A. Raiders in 1980 and '84, respectively, suggests people are more likely to suffer cardiac arrest if their team loses. A few scientists have cast doubt on the study's methodology, but it's fair to assume that if you've got a heart condition, you should avoid overexcitement. Eating multiple Philly cheese steak sandwiches is not recommended, either.
The Super Bowl breeds poor judgment
Every year, U.S. hospitals report a spate of Super Bowl casualties, from people who drink and drive to those who put their backs out cheering too vigorously. Then there are those who do untold damage to life and limb when their team loses.
The Super Bowl breeds prostitution
People travelling to the game from out of town look for activities to fill out the Super Bowl weekend. Some investigate the local club scene; a few might drop into an art gallery. And some have other plans entirely. Law enforcement officials and child rights advocates cite an annual spike in sex trafficking prior to the Super Bowl, as pimps look to satisfy the demand of visiting football fans. According to a Reuters report, thousands of underage girls will be dispatched to Texas this coming weekend.
The Super Bowl breeds shameless cross-promotion
Advertisers have long tried to seduce the captive Super Bowl audience, and Super Bowl Sunday is now a showcase for the splashiest ads. This year's slate of high-concept commercials is expected to include a Star Wars -themed spot for Volkswagen, reality star Kim Kardashian shilling for Skechers shoes and a two-pronged ad for Chevy and the upcoming Transformers movie.
The broadcasting network also tries to keep pigskin partisans in their chairs for the post-game slot. This year, Fox will be airing a special episode of Glee, and the show's producers are hoping to entice football fans by launching the episode with a montage featuring cheerleaders with flaming bras set to Katy Perry's sexy hit California Gurls.
If that isn't opportunistic, then I don't know what is.