What's Behind our Super Bowl Obsession?

Most Americans know that this Sunday brings the biggest football game of the year. Super Bowl XLV will feature two of the most storied franchises in NFL history, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. The Super Bowl has become more than a game; it is a cultural event that has become an unofficial national holiday. A study done for the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association projects consumers will spend $10.1 on purchases related to the big game this year.

Among notable statistics from the NAMA survey:
• 171 million people are expected to watch the game (the largest audience ever)
• 61 million people plan to attend a party
• 35 million people plan to host a party (for the 61.2 million to attend!)
• 4.5 million people plan to purchase a new television
• 75% of persons surveyed said the commercials serve as entertainment
• 18% said commercials help to increase their awareness of the brands advertised

Wow! The Super Bowl’s attraction to a large majority of the population is undeniable. It is amazing in part because fans of 30 out of the NFL’s 32 teams will feel a sense of emptiness Sunday. Their teams will not be playing, yet many of them will be watching. And, many people who watch little or no football during the season will be tuned in Sunday (including 2 people in my home). How did we get to this point? The NFL helped build the Super Bowl brand, obviously, with a great on-field product, broadcasting partners that bring the drama into our living rooms, and transforming the game into a major entertainment event.

Before we give the NFL all of the credit for the popularity of the Super Bowl, we should acknowledge it is the beneficiary of human nature. We like to be part of communities of people, whether it is fellow football fans, friends, or family. The Super Bowl is an opportunity (if not an excuse) for us to come together with others with whom we share common interests.

Marketers seeking to build a great brand can learn from this characteristic of the Super Bowl and sports in general. For all of the talk about how the Internet isolates people, most of us want to belong to a community, be it face-to-face or virtual. What can you do to promote development of a brand community, a group of customers and friends that share an affinity for your brand and products?

As for Sunday’s game, we know that among the expected 171 million viewers will be fans of the Steelers and Packers. I am sure my friends Mark, Faye, and Mike will be decked out in black and gold; my former students Joshua and Katie will no doubt be cheering on the Packers. Regardless of which team you support, enjoy as you spend time engaged with your community whether it is at home with your family, at a party with friends, in a pub with strangers, or with your hashtag-wielding pals on Twitter.

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