Even the most artsy, indie, sports-hating recluse would be aware that one of the most beloved sporting events in America is coming up. I am, of course, talking about the Super Bowl. It’s a huge staple in American culture and has become such a spectacle that it’s almost not even about the football anymore. It is about the football to some degree, obviously, but the main draw doesn’t seem to be loyalty for the two teams playing. If you’re a fan of a team that isn’t even in the game, do you honestly care about which team wins? Not really. So what brings mass appeal to this yearly event? Of the top 10 most-watched programs in U.S. television history, nine of them are Super Bowls. It’s not just loyal fandom or the majestic beauty of giant men running into each other, that draws these numbers; it’s the ads, the halftime show, the gambling and — of course — the food.
Food, of course, is key. You wouldn’t dare sit down to watch a bunch of professional athletes play their hearts out without stuffing your face. The act of eating crap while watching trained athletes do athletic things is a time-honored American tradition. Super Bowl snacks are all over Pinterest boards and grocery store promotions; it’s another huge occasion to incentivize buying more themed food. Do you need cupcakes? No. But you DO need ones decorated like footballs; it is the Super Bowl after all. Here are some facts to demonstrate the lore around Super Bowl food: the American public will purchase around 51.7 million cases of beer, consume 3.8 million pounds of popcorn, eat 1.23 billion chicken wings (that’s more than 100 million pounds of chicken, yikes), 11.2 million pounds of potato chips and order over 11 million Dominos pizzas. That’s just Dominos, people. Let’s not even pretend like Papa Johns or Buffalo Wild Wings aren’t making bank as well.
The competition surrounding betting is another huge draw to the event. Nearly one third of the American population bets on the game, with men making up the greatest portion of that group. It’s the most gambled-on sporting event in the United States. Gambling — especially surrounding the Super Bowl — opens up a whole world world of statistics used to rationalize betting money on burly men and an outcome one can’t control, with fun stats like 17 out of the last 20 Super Bowls have been won by the team that resides in the city with the lower unemployment rate. Do with that what you will.
Commercials are obviously another major draw. Historians have pinned the big boom in Super Bowl-commercial-watching to the Star Wars-inspired Volkswagen commercial in 2011 during the airing of Super Bowl XLV, but no one really knows for sure the exact point when “watching the Super Bowl for the commercials” became a thing. Advertisers go above and beyond to make ads stand out, using everything from celebrity cameos to cute animal friendships to catch the viewer’s eye. Regardless of just how it became a big thing, getting an ad to air during the Super Bowl is a giant achievement; a 30-second spot during this year’s Super Bowl costs an average of $4 million.
The last — but not least — non-football reason to watch the Super Bowl is the infamous halftime show. The halftime shows are hit-or-miss. They can sometimes be enormous hits and live on as some of the greatest shows of all time (like Beyoncé and that time she knocked out the power at Super Bowl XLVII) but also can become lackluster, straight-up weird performances attempting to make old music legends relevant again. The halftime shows have caused some chaos in their day, such as the time M.I.A. flashed the middle finger while performing with Madonna or the time Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson’s top. No one even remembers what Super Bowls those were because those moments eclipsed everything.
Regardless of all of these distractions, there will still (hopefully) be a good game to watch. The biggest football-related questions regarding the event: will Peyton Manning and the Broncos redeem themselves from their Super Bowl appearance two years ago? Or will Cam Newton finish his season historically by becoming the first-ever quarterback to win the Heisman, National Championship, NFL MVP and Super Bowl? No one can really tell at this point, but most of America will be eating and watching.