As the latest edition of the Superbowl gets ready to begin I marvel at the marketing wisdom of the NFL.
When it comes down to it football has a lot going against it.
1. Unlike Baseball, Basketball or Hockey It is a “team” sport with two separate components (offense, defense) and even special teams an independent unit from these. They are distinct and tends to direct credit or blame away from “team” and toward that unit.
2. It doesn’t have the flow of Hockey or Basketball where play only stops for a foul, infraction or a time out. By its nature it is interrupted.
3. It has a short season, compared to other sports, only 16 games.
4. It is extremely violent and dangerous sport, yet with rules to protect some players while leaving others vulnerable. It doesn’t even have the interesting twist of Hockey that actually allows fights to go on.
5. And worst of all, the players most key to victory get very little credit. The one thing you can’t do without in a football team is a solid offensive line. You win or lose based on them, but because they don’t tackle, don’t catch and don’t run they get none of the credit while taking heavy punishment on every single play.
However Football for all it’s failings (it can’t hold a candle to Baseball but then again what can?) has the single biggest annual sporting event in the world, a game that captivates tens of millions. Why?
One very simple thing: A single winner take all game.
Baseball, Hockey and Basketball all have best of seven series for their titles. This allows for a lot more games. in the days before TV it meant a minimum of two home games for winner and loser to profit from and perhaps as many as 4. A best of seven tends to reward the best team and makes it less likely for a Cinderella to arise.
The Superbowl however as a single game, is different. Every great play and every mistake is magnified astronomically. While the best team will usually win because a single twist can change everything it gives the game more mystique.
Add to that excellent marketing, a Sunday game that most people have off and you have the ingredients for one of the greatest sports spectacles there is.
Update: Two superbowl comments.
1. The Patriots would not have had the chance for that final drive if Eli Manning took a knee twice and used up most of the clock.
2. There is something fundamentally wrong with a sport where there is a disincentive for a team to attempt to score. This is why football will always be inferior to any other major sport.