Today is that most American of holidays. No, not Independence Day, or Thanksgiving, or even Labor Day. Today is Superbowl Sunday, the most-watched television event in the USA, and one of the most-watched programs in the entire world. Sports fans, spouses and partners of sports fans, and even non-fans will gather to watch the American football championship game.
Watching the game usually involves copious amounts of food and drink, lots of discussion of the commercials shown on TV, and plenty of scrutiny and opinions regarding the choice of pregame and halftime entertainment. There will be some attention paid to the the football game on the field; that is, if it ends up being interesting and not a one-sided blowout, which is a frequent occurrence.
Every year I marvel at the size and spectacle this event has become. Weeks before the game, retailers advertise big screen TVs, "for the big game," they cryptically note, since use of the term "Superbowl" is strictly licensed by the National Football League. Supermarkets pass out recipes for Game Day snacks and treats. Newspapers cover all aspects of the event regardless of whether their local team is in the game or not.
Just how bloated has the Superbowl and its attendant activities become? Let's break it down by the numbers:
- 825 - Number of calories in a Superbowl party menu, per person, of: 1 beer, 3 chicken wings, chips and cheese salsa, 1 slice pepperoni pizza
- 185 - Number of calories in Cooking Light's "Oven 'Fried' Chicken Fingers with Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce"
- 2nd - Rank in calories consumed in one day by Americans (Thanksgiving is first)
- 17 million - Number of US households with "food insecurity," a measure of hunger in the nation
- 100,000+ - Number of fans who can fit in Cowboys Stadium, site of Superbowl XLV
- 1600 - Number of high school students registered at the Intel Engineering and Science Fair, the world's largest pre-college science fair
- $1,970,982 - Average NFL quarterback salary
- $43,365 - Median high school teacher's salary
- $3596 - Average StubHub price of a Superbowl ticket
- $10 - Average price to a screening of "Waiting for Superman," the documentary about the state of education in America
- $3 million - Cost of a 30 second ad during the Superbowl
- 69.1 - Number of high school teachers whose annual salaries could be paid for with the cost of 1 Superbowl ad
Full disclosure - I watch the game every year with my family and a college friend and it's always a great diversion in the middle of winter. I don't mean to take the fun out of one day spent watching sports and socializing. That's quite okay in my opinion. I just wish there were opportunities to celebrate other, more lasting achievements in our society, on a similar scale.
Maybe someday a small fraction of Superbowl viewers will have the opportunity to watch a different type of TV special. One on kids who are developing cancer treatments for science fair projects, or kids who succeed in inner-city schools despite overwhelming odds, odds that are much more serious than the ones Vegas presents on today's Steelers-Packers match up.
I take heart in observing that last year's ESPN broadcast of the Scripps National Spelling Bee drew 4 millions viewers, compared to Game 4 of the NHL Stanley Cup finals, which only pulled in 3.1 million. That's a step in the right direction.