Super Bowl 2012: an American sporting obsession

We speak to fans about why it's the greatest show on earth

Since 11am today, Americans have been gathering with friends and relatives for an annual sporting extravaganza, the NFL Super Bowl, the culmination of the professional American football season.

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For Green Bay Packers fan David Craig, Super Bowl XLVI will be a more relaxing experience than last year when his team triumphed over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a gripping encounter – the most-viewed US broadcast of all time with ratings peaking at 111 million.

Tattoo man

David, a top New York litigation consultant and family man, has the Green Bay Packer logo tattooed on his calf. His grandfather, the late Howard Craig, was one of the original Green Bay Packers shareholders – fans who bought shares in the team in 1935 to help them out of financial troubles. For David, who will inherit the distinction of being a shareholder on his father’s death, dedication to the game is intense.

“There are two types of Super Bowl experience.” says David firmly, “the one when your team is playing and the one when they’re not.” This sense of anticipation will, David goes on to explain, impact on how much you enjoy whichever party you are attending for the state-wide celebrations. These parties begin early in the day and run on late into the night – they’re now an essential part of Super Bowl day.

“We live in New York, so apartments can only accommodate about ten guests but people elsewhere will host events with hundreds of guests and multiple screens,” says David, “the decision is whose party you go to.”

Worst to first

“There is a famous saying, ‘On any given Sunday, any pro football team can beat any other’,” says David, “many Super Bowl fans have seen their team go from worst to first. So it’s very rare that someone will switch allegiance. The team you supported at eight will be the team you support for life.” And families, not just fathers, will be glued to their screens today when the New York Giants face the New England Patriots in Indianapolis.

Down in balmy St Augustine, Florida, ex-professional baseball player and noted collector of sports memorabilia, Jack Keyser, will be going to friends’ with his wife for their Super Bowl party, but Jack was lucky enough to attend the exclusive after-the-game parties in the late 1980s and can attest to how the event has grown in significance.

“In 1989, a ticket to one of these parties would have cost about $250; now it’s about $7,000 per person.”  Even with inflation, that’s quite an increase.

Private jet pile-up

The glamour of the game is keenly documented by the television networks in the days leading up to Super Bowl. This year, viewers learnt that air traffic controllers at Indianapolis’s modestly-sized airport were wondering how to accommodate the 1,100 private jets scheduled to bring in the wealthy corporate fans who can afford up to $15,000 for a Super Bowl ticket.

But even those able to get a seat at the game will have to find around $1,100 per night to stay at local branches of Motel 6, the American equivalent of Travelodge, with a minimum stay of at least two nights.

$3 million a minute

Most Americans will be content to enjoy the event on television, and with the eyes of the nation focused on their screens, advertisers seem more than happy to pay out the estimated $3 million for 30 seconds of airtime during the commercial break.

Top spender Budweiser owner Anheuser-Busch InBev, is reported as having splurged $250 million on the event over the last ten years. Meanwhile, PepsiCo are estimated to have put $200 million behind Super Bowl advertising over the same period.

Playing for punishment

But although players can earn big money (some more than $20m a year), according to Jack Keyser, the life of an American professional footballer is pure punishment,

“The player who runs with the ball will last on average three years and the life expectancy for an American professional footballer is between 53 and 58. Most players will end up with arthiritis or other serious injuries to the body or head,” Jack explains.

These chastening predictions have little bearing on today’s excitement though. As Jack and David look forward to a beer and some “chip ‘n dip” with the guys, and the wives celebrate with a margarita, even those who are less than fanatical about the sport can at least enjoy the prospect of Madonna – hamstring injury reportedly overcome – belting out a few numbers in the break.

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British fans can join the fun tonight with Live NFL on Sky Sports 1 at 10:30pm (Kick-off 11:25pm).