Why I Hate the "Big Game"

by Joe Loong on February 5, 2010


It’s been a few years since I was forced to pretend to care about awards shows and sporting events that I’d otherwise had no interest in. When you’re trying to program content for a general audience, not only do you have to be superficially aware of who won what in the Grammys, Emmys, Oscars, Golden Globes, People’s Choice Awards, CMAs, MTVs, etc., but you also have to be awake and publishing when it happens. (Protip: In headline-land, people rarely get nominated for awards — they get “nods” — it’s much shorter and gives you more room to play with. At least, that’s how it was before search engine-optimized headlines became the law of the land.)

It was the same thing with sporting events. Even though pop culture awards shows usually kicked the snot out of most sporting events, traffic-wise, and the hardcore sports folks bypassed your stuff, anyway, you still had to give passing coverage, if only to show you were on top of things.

The Super Bowl was kind of an exception, because of the spectacle around the game and the commercials, primarily because everything was focused on one night’s event, unlike the World Series, NBA finals, Final Four, etc. (Though the actual game itself was pretty much incidental, just as long as you got the teams right.)

I remember when Web sites started posting video online of the Super Bowl commercials: As this was during the first Internet bubble, this was perhaps more than a bit self-serving. Now that I think about it, dotcom companies throwing stupid amounts of money into Super Bowl commercials may have helped cement the “Super Bowl as broad-based family entertainment,” instead of just a sporting event.

Alas, looking at AdAge’s history of Super Bowl Advertising from 2007, this doesn’t really hold together — if you look at a graph based off their data, you can see things trending upward from Bud Bowl times (around 1989 — see this history of Super Bowl ads). Though things do get wacky in 1999, then go downright bonkers in 2000:

Super Bowl Advertising Rates in 2007-adjusted dollars

Anyway, one of the most annoying things about programming around the Super Bowl was that you couldn’t (with rare exception), actually use the words “S*per B*wl” in headlines or promotional copy. Unless you’re doing actual news, talking about the actual game, or are an actual official sponsor, the NFL frowns on that sort of thing, which is why you see “The Big Game” used so frequently in advertisements for big screen TVs and bean dip in the January/February timeframe.

Names matter, of course, and the Game That Is Played Between the National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship Teams is far from alone on this. The folks who do those International Games Every Four Years (You Know, the Ones With the Rings and the Medals) have an even stricter reputation. Even the silly pop culture awards shows have guidelines on how they can be referred to (e.g. in ways no regular mortal human ever writes, like GRAMMY — all-caps.)

Now, if you’re not running a big, high-traffic, high-profile Web site, you don’t have to worry too much (although there’s this thing called “Google” I keep hearing about). The NFL isn’t going to be knocking on your door if you send out an Evite to your friends for your “Spectacular S*per B*wl Extravaganza.” (Probably.)

So, this was my Super Bowl entry, tangentially-related to social media, marketing and advertising. Enjoy the, ahem, big game.

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