Editor’s Note: “Sport in American History” is excited to cross-post Richard C. Crepeau’s “Sport and Society” column. This post was originally published on February 2, 2018. A full archive of his Crepeau’s columns can be found by clicking here.
By Richard C. Crepeau
The calendar has turned over another year. The winter solstice has passed. The holiday season is over. Or is it?
No, it is not. We have now arrived at the mid-winter festival known for over a half-century as The Super Bowl. Yes, this is Super Bowl Week and we are heading into Super Sunday. It is the day that can only be described using the vocabulary created over a century ago by Thorstein Veblen, America’s GEAT (Greatest Economist of All Time).
The extreme decadence of the day is the best living example of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste, two of the anchors of Veblen’s vocabulary. As I have noted every year since the early 1990s when I put the keyboard to work on The Super Bowl, new and dizzying heights of all varieties of consumption have been reached at the Super Bowl with each passing year.
Super Bowl LII will be held in Minneapolis. This is the second time the festival has taken place on Minnesota’s frozen tundra. The first was Super Bowl XXVI on January 26, 1992. Even then the levels of conspicuous consumption were challenging credulity.
This is how I described it then:
At the airport arriving Super Bowl visitors to the Twin Cities are being greeted by four grand pianos. What this has to do with football is yet to be established.
At the Hyatt-Regency Hotel in Minneapolis a sand sculpture of the Rose Bowl will be shaped by Greg Glenn of Sand Sculptures International. The Rose Bowl will be the site of next year’s Super Bowl. And speaking of sand, 25 tons of heated sand will be dumped Sunday in the International Market Square in Downtown Minneapolis to accommodate 500 people for a beach party. A sister party will be hosted by former Washington Redskin John Riggins in Cancun, Mexico. The sponsor of this extravagance is a tequila company. Most everything has a sponsor at the Super Bowl. Not to be outdone the St. Paul Hotel where the Buffalo Bills are staying has stocked 750 pounds of Buffalo meat.
Even crime takes on an air of luxury as the Bloomington police are warning men to beware of Rolex women. The name comes from the fact that they seduce men wearing expensive jewelry, drug them, and steal the jewelry and fancy watches after they are out cold. This was once called, “getting rolled.”
Clearly the centerpiece of the Super Bowl is not the game. The real action is at the parties and banquets put on by the corporations of America for their executives, their clients, and their employees, and filled with celebrities from show business, sport and politics. It is here that conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste has its finest hour.
This all seems so mild, even quaint, now. The event is infinitely bigger than it was in 1992, having grown from year to year like kudzu on a mid-August night in Georgia. A small sampling from 2018 in Minneapolis makes the point.
The Super Bowl parties are now the most popular feature of Super Bowl Week. Each of the major parties has a website and each of them has a sponsor. This might qualify as Super Redundancy.
“The Playboy Experience” can be experienced at several levels. The Tables offer “dedicated Bottle Service, replenished spirits of Belvedere, Hennesey VS, & Avion, plus (2) bottles of Moet Rose, fast entrance lane, premium open bars, & headline entertainment.” General Admission Tickets include a 5-hour premium open bar, and headline entertainment. Snoop Dog is the headliner. Table Tickets available at five levels range in price from $11,000 to $1,250. These are sold out. General Admission tickets are available for $550. You are invited to immerse yourself in the World of Playboy. “If you can envision yourself walking down the red carpet in the footsteps of celebrities, athletes, dancers, and models, don’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Beyond mingling with beautiful and influential people, this event will feature an open bar, and the hottest playmates and models around.”
The Maxim Party has been the venue of choice over the last several Super Bowls. Maxim has at least seven sponsors, offers an array of table selections at a price range of $21,000 to $8,500. An admission ticket is $750 and offers an open “premium” bar, food, and entertainment. Three major entertainers will be there: Post Malone, Marshmellow, and Cardi B. “A first class experience awaits you.” No doubt.
The Rolling Stone Party and the DirecTV Party round out the “Core 4.” The ESPN Party has been cancelled or there presumably would be a “Core 5.” Beyond this there are a multitude of other parties including The Commissioner’s Party, the NFLPA Party, the Pregame Party, and the Official NFL Tailgate Party, to mention but a fraction of them.
As always the commercials are the main attraction, not the game. Nearly all the commercials are released before the day of the game, and they are available on-line seemingly forever. Ad Age Magazine now maintains a website containing an archive of over 1000 Super Bowl commercials. For those who like vicarious consumption, a category noticed first by Veblen, this is a bonanza.
Returning to the Super Bowl commercial lineup for the ninth straight year is KIA. Amazon will have two offerings: a 90-second spot featuring Alexa losing its voice and a 60-second Amazon Prime spot. Anheuser-Bush, holding exclusive beer rights, will advertise all four of its brands with Stella-Artois appearing for the first time since 2011. It will be two spots for Bud Light, one of 60-seconds and the other at 30-seconds. Budweiser and Michelob Light will get spots. Bud Light will continue its “Dilly, Dilly,” theme and will feature the “Bud Knight.” Don’t be shocked when the Clydesdales do not appear.
Avocados from Mexico will be on hand for the fourth consecutive year. Doritos from PepsiCo will be back with Doritos Blaze and it will be paired with Mountain Dew Ice. Coca-Cola will promote Diet Coke in a 30-second ad. And on and on it goes through more food products, automobiles, and household items, entertainment, financial firms, and even Groupon.
The average cost of a thirty-second commercial will be over $5M, slightly more than the $5M that FOX collected for Super Bowl LI. A comparable 2016 World Series commercial cost $500,000 and the 2016 Oscars cost was $2M per.
This listing of events and costs and parties approaches Super Bowl Infinity, but two other points attracted my attention. Justin Timberlake is the featured halftime entertainment as he returns to the Super Bowl for the first time since his active role in the wardrobe malfunction. His career has moved forward since then, while that of Janet Jackson crashed and burned in the face of boycotts of her music. Apparently the “exposer” is not to be blamed, only the “exposee.” That should sound familiar.
Timberlake also made headlines yesterday when he announced that he his son will not play football. In another reminder of the human cost of this sport The New York Times today has an op-ed piece by Emily Kelly, the wife of Rob Kelly a former NFL player, who has suffered horrendous headaches, memory loss, and personality transformation. It is a reminder of the cruel consequences that have been visited on a large number of former players and their families.
These are the things that the NFL would rather not have you discuss, especially on this National Holiday, or any other time.
On Sport and Society this is Dick Crepeau reminding you that you don’t have to be a good sport to be a bad loser.
Copyright 2018 by Richard C. Crepeau