Category Archives: Sports & Sports Entertainment

Baseball Parks: Risk Vs Reward for Fans

Photo courtesy of Reuters

Photo courtesy of Reuters

Thursday Review’s Kevin Robbie looks at the issue of fan safety in the sport of baseball, a game where proximity to the field and intimacy with each play may be putting fans at greater risk of injury.  Are the risks worth the rewards in the classic American game?  See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/BaseballFanSafety.html

Miracle 1980: Cold War on Ice

Photo: AP/Fotalia

Photo: AP/Fotalia

Thursday Review’s Kevin Robbie looks at the 1980 U.S. hockey team and its stunning, longshot wins in the Winter Olympics that year–especially its incredible win over the vaunted, much feared team from the Soviet Union; Features Page article: Miracle 1980: Cold War on Ice; Kevin Robbie; Thursday Review.

Where Sports Met Style: Stuart Scott, RIP

Image courtesy of ESPN

Image courtesy of ESPN

Thursday Review’s Earl Perkins and Alan Clanton offer their own retrospectives for the life and times of Stuart Scott, the game-changing sportscaster who became the face of ESPN and brought millions of younger, hipper viewers to sports talk. See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/StuartScottPasses.html   Also at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/StuartScottRetrospective.html

In the Best Interests of Baseball: A Look at the Role of Baseball Commissioner

bbcommissioner

By Kevin Robbie, Thursday Review contributor

(Originally published on August 12) On August 14, 2014, the owners of the thirty major league baseball franchises elected the tenth Commissioner of Baseball. Alan H. “Bud” Selig has held the position officially since July 9, 1998, but he held it as de facto commissioner from 1992 to 1998 while the post was vacant. His 22-year tenure is the second longest among commissioners.

The record of 24 years was set by the first man to hold the office.

The first Commissioner of Baseball assumed office in January, 1921. A former federal judge in Illinois, he was described as a firm, solid, decisive man and this description of his personality matched his middle name. Kenesaw Mountain Landis was born the year after the end of the Civil War when baseball was still a new game played and seen by relatively few people. Landis grew up on a farm in Illinois, and was born the sixth of seven children. He was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1891 and was appointed to the federal bench by Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 after building a successful corporate law practice. Landis was also prominent in Illinois state politics. He was known as a tough, colorful and sometimes unpredictable judge. For example, he frequently handed down harsh sentences to criminals but was almost impeached for his leniency toward the destitute. Not easily intimidated by powerful figures, Landis once levied a fine of 29 million dollars against John Rockefeller and Standard Oil. That steadfast quality would stand him in good stead when Landis became the first Commissioner of Baseball in 1921.

In the latter years of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, America grew and became an economic dynamo. The popularity of baseball grew with it, becoming the National Pastime. By 1903, major league baseball was organized into the National League and the American League with eight teams per league. The game’s popularity grew quickly.

The office of Commissioner of Baseball was created in 1920 in response to the so-called “Black Sox” scandal of 1919, when eight Chicago White Sox players were caught in a deal with gamblers whereby the players would throw the World Series. The owners of the sixteen franchises were prodded into action by the loud public outcry over the scandal and calls in the media to “clean up” baseball. Up to that time, baseball was governed by a three-man board called the National Commission, established in 1903 when the established National League recognized the American League as a an equal entity. The commission ultimately proved unworkable because its members all had vested interests in particular teams. For example, in its seventeen years of existence, the commission only had one chairman, August Herrman, who was also president of the Cincinnati Reds.

In response to the Black Sox scandal, the National League owners proposed establishing a non-partisan commissioner’s office as set forth in the Lasker Plan, named for its author, Arthur Lasker, who was a part-owner of the Chicago Cubs. The document recommended the election of a man of “unquestionable reputation in a field other than baseball, whose mere presence would ensure that the public interest is served…”

After reaching a compromise with the American League concerning the parameters of the new office, a new Major League Agreement was ratified to establish the office of Commissioner of Baseball and to provide rules for governing and administering the game. This agreement superseded the Agreement of 1903, and it exists today, in modified form, as the Major League Baseball Constitution.

Judge Landis was recommended in an article in The Sporting News, and he was formally elected on January 21, 1921. The legalistic framework of the Major League Agreement provided the structure and parameters within which the former judge would carry out his mission. Although Landis was a baseball fan his legal background gave him the necessary ability to be as impartial as possible in his day-to-day duties. Article I of the Major League Agreement specified the duties of the commissioner and provisions as to how a future commissioner was to be elected. Judge Landis himself drafted many of the conditions of his employment. His salary was set at $50,000 annually and it could not be reduced. The commissioner could not be fired. In addition, a decision by the commissioner could not be appealed—even to a court of law, in any jurisdiction—and those decisions were binding for all involved parties. Furthermore, the commissioner was to be the sole (and final) arbiter of any dispute or issue involving major league baseball, its players, franchises or other officials or entities.

Privately, the owners of the teams were reticent to allow Landis such unfettered power. However, they had boxed themselves into a corner by collectively stating in public that the game would be vigorously cleaned up and policed. They also were worried about their bottom line, fearing the public would begin to stay away from games in light of baseball’s tarnished reputation. Landis was certainly the man for the job in terms of his background and temperament and the owners were confident Landis would understand that he worked for them. As commissioner, Landis didn’t see it that way. His vision was that the commissioner would be the protector of the image and legacy of baseball as a cultural institution—a sort of trustee of the National Pastime. With his shock of white hair, solid jaw and steely gaze, Landis also projected to the public an image of integrity and honesty. As commissioner, Landis even had a sign placed on the wall outside his office. The sign read simply “Baseball.”

During his 24 year term, Judge Landis succeeded in cleaning up baseball regarding the gambling activities which had brought so much public scorn. The eight White Sox players were banned for life from professional baseball and their expulsion remains in force today. Gambling is still an issue the commissioner’s office takes very seriously. Following Landis’ precedent, Commissioner Bart Giamatti handed down a lifetime ban against Pete Rose in 1989. Rose’s was the first ban since 1943, when Landis expelled Phillies owner William Cox from the game after Cox was found to have associated with gamblers and bet on his own team. Fifteen other players were banned from baseball by Judge Landis in other gambling incidents.

Landis also put an early stamp on the game by suspending Babe Ruth for 30 games in 1922. Ruth and several other major leaguers had violated a rule against players “barnstorming,” playing exhibition games around the country in the offseason. Ruth ignored the commissioner’s warnings and organized a barnstorming tour. Landis recognized and respected Ruth’s importance to the game. Nevertheless, if Ruth was allowed to defy Landis, the commissioner might become a glorified office manager, or worse. Ruth was suspended. Ruth’s appeal was denied and he served the suspension.

There were other developments in the game during Judge Landis’ tenure as commissioner which exist today as part of his legacy. The “farm system” of minor league teams was formalized and rules governing the minor leagues were instituted. In 1933, the first All-Star game was played, an innovation Landis, an enthusiastic fan himself, encouraged. He attended every all-star game played during his term. Further, the commissioner’s office acquired full jurisdiction over any issues concerning the World Series. Kenesaw Landis loomed like a mountain over baseball for a quarter of a century. He accomplished his appointed goal of removing the influence of professional gamblers from the game and provided a largely impartial voice to issues regarding the game. The All-star game and the minor leagues were formalized into the game’s structure. Commissioner Landis also restored the game’s image in the eyes of the fans. Baseball also entered the “live ball” era, which greatly enhanced the game’s popularity.

With his formal, though autocratic powers, Landis had been tasked by the team owners to act “in the best interests of baseball,” as he interpreted them. It was a move for public show as far as the owners were concerned, as they viewed themselves as the arbiters of the game. However, Landis took the job seriously. His interpretation of the commissioner’s authority would ultimately prove to be problematic: team owners were uneasy with the powers they had contractually granted the commissioner. It is not an accident that the most powerful Commissioner of Baseball was also the first one.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/BaseballCommissioner.html#sthash.PIjZ7qix.dpuf

Wrigley Field at the Century Mark

wrigleyfield1928

By Kevin Robbie, Thursday Review contributor

(Originally published June 7, 2014)  2014 marks the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, also known as “The Friendly Confines.” Only Fenway Park in Boston is older than Wrigley Field. Of course, the team ownership has been marketing the stadium’s anniversary and Cubs fans have been turning out in impressive numbers as they typically do in any given season.

And, as in a typical season, the Cubs are struggling to field a competitive team. As of the middle of May, they are in last place and show little indication of significant improvement this season. However, the season is still young and hope springs eternal in baseball. The Cubs don’t have a very good team but they have a jewel of a stadium.

Wrigley Field, located at 1060 West Addison Street, opened on April 23, 1914. The stadium was constructed at a cost of $250,000. To put that cost in perspective, there is a current plan to renovate Wrigley at a cost of $500 million dollars. Team ownership would foot most of the bill.

Wrigley Field is a unique and iconic structure. It is known for the ivy growing on the walls of its outfield. The ivy factors into the ground rules for the field. If a batted ball is hit into the ivy and the outfielder signals with his hands that he cannot find the ball, the umpire can rule the play a ground-rule double. However, if the outfielder tries to find the ball or pull it out of the growth, the ball remains in play and the batter can advance along the bases. Other features are a red marquee over the stadium’s front entrance and unpredictable winds blowing in from Lake Michigan.

Wrigley Field has the distinction of being the last of the major league baseball parks to add additional, modern lighting. At a cost of $5 million, and after a protracted political fracas over the question of whether the new lights would ruin the iconic stadium, high-intensity lighting was installed in the spring of 1988. On August 8, Chicago Cubs fans packed the stadium to watch their beloved Cubs play the Phillies in improved lighting, but ironically the game was rained out after only a few innings. The first complete game under the new lighting was played the next night.

The stadium also is known for its quirky outfield dimensions, which are essentially unchanged from 1937 when the outfield bleachers were renovated. These dimensions give Wrigley the deepest foul lines in the major leagues but a relatively small ground foul area. These characteristics, along with the winds from Lake Michigan, have given Wrigley the distinction of being a hitters’ park, meaning it tends to be easier on hitters and harder on pitchers.

One extreme example of this tendency was a game between the Cubs and Phillies on May 17, 1979. Considered to be the wildest game in modern baseball history and the holy grail of high-scoring games, the Phillies defeated the Cubs by the football score of 23-22. The combined forty-five runs are a modern record and haven’t been approached since.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Crash Landing: The 1969 Seattle Pilots; Kevin Robbie; Thursday Review; March 5, 2014.

Remembering Tony C and the Impossible Dream; Kevin Robbie; Thursday Review; October 26, 2013.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/WrigleyField100.html#sthash.4NXagRey.dpuf

Crash Landing: The 1969 Seattle Pilots

seattlepilots69

By Kevin Robbie, Thursday Review contributor

As the tumultuous decade of the 1960’s drew to a close, America had witnessed significant social upheaval and change resulting from the war in Vietnam, the Kennedy assassination, the civil rights movement and other events, including the zenith of the American space program. Against this backdrop of change and uncertainty, many people sought comfort in familiar activities and habits such as baseball.

Baseball is regarded as the major sport most rooted in tradition and the most prone to gradual, incremental change. During the early and mid-1960’s major league baseball had expanded to twenty teams from the original sixteen. In addition, the National League had returned to New York after the Dodgers and Giants moved to California and baseball’s western momentum had seen teams added in Los Angeles and Houston. The population of the western United States had grown and the interstate highway system had expanded as well. Baseball’s regular season had been increased to 162 games to reflect the greater number of teams. Otherwise, the structure and pace of the game remained largely intact and baseball was still the game which many fans had grown up enjoying.

By late 1967, the urge to expand had returned to the major leagues and was motivated, in part, by the potential legal ramifications of the move of the Kansas City Athletics to Oakland. The A’s owner, Charlie Finley, had moved the team after several seasons of futility and financial hardship in Missouri. Stuart Symington, an influential Missouri senator, threatened action in Congress to abolish baseball’s anti-trust exemption, which tied a player to an organization in the era before free agency.

Although voters approved a bond issue for a new stadium in Kansas City, Finley moved the team to Oakland, where construction of a new stadium was already underway. Senator Symington blasted Finley on the floor of the Senate and uttered his threat against the antitrust exemption. Major League Baseball responded by announcing another round of expansion, guaranteeing an American League franchise to Kansas City. American League owners selected Seattle as the second expansion franchise. The National League, not to be outdone, added Montreal and San Diego.

During the 1960’s the city of Seattle had enjoyed sustained economic growth—developing and maintain major defense contractors, avionics, and airplane manufacturing, to name but three—and the city hosted the World’s Fair in 1962. The fair turned a rare profit. The exposition left behind several cultural and sports venues, including the 605-foot Space Needle. One purpose of the fair was to provide a glimpse or gateway into the potential of the future in terms of lifestyle and technology.

Many Seattleites believed their city was ready to shed its provincial reputation. The world’s Fair was one method for doing so. Major league sports was seen as another avenue for civic pride and image-building. To that end, Seattle was awarded an NBA expansion franchise, the Supersonics, in 1966. The future appeared bright for the prospects of major league sports in Seattle.

Seattle had a rich history of minor league baseball, dating back to 1890. Seattle fielded a team, the Rainiers, in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) from 1919 to 1968. The team, in brief interludes, had also been nicknamed Indians and Angels. Seattle’s PCL team won seven league championships during those years and enjoyed impressive attendance from 1938 to 1952. They also won the league pennant in 1966. However, in the late 1950’s attendance at minor league games declined in general, due in part to increased television coverage of major league games.

Local brewery magnate Emil Sick purchased the team in 1938 and a stadium was built for the team. Sick’s popular “Rainier” beer was sold at the games which certainly did not hurt attendance at the new venue. The stadium was named “Sick’s’ Seattle Stadium” after the owner. The name “Sick’s” became highly appropriate by the time major league baseball arrived in 1969.

Seattle’s new major league team, the Pilots, was owned and operated by two brothers, Dewey and Max Soriano. The Soriano brothers were lifelong residents of Seattle and both of them had worked for the Pacific Coast League, Dewey serving as league president. The brothers had extensive experience in the business aspects of professional baseball but the Sorianos lacked one vital resource – money. Most of the money used to pay the expansion fee and to pay the team’s start-up costs was borrowed from a man named William Daley.

Dewey Soriano met William Daley in 1965. Daley was the former owner of the Cleveland Indians and had once considered moving that team to Seattle. He continued to believe that the city could be a viable market for major league baseball. The Sorianos asked Daley for a loan to pay the expansion fee and offered him a significant ownership stake in the franchise. He agreed and the Soriano brothers undertook to run the day-to-day operations of the team.

Although the fledgling franchise was initially greeted with enthusiasm it was beset with problems from the start and a dark cloud seemed to hover over it like the rain clouds prominent in the Seattle sky. The aforementioned stadium, Sicks, was at the center of the problems. The Pilots were handcuffed by an onerous lease which compelled team management to charge high ticket prices. Thus, fans paid major league ticket prices to attend games in a run-down minor league venue. Voters in Seattle and in King County had earlier approved a bond issue to construct a new, domed stadium which was supposed to open in 1972; an affirmative vote on the issue had been a prerequisite for major league approval of the franchise. In the meantime, the Seattle city government promised renovation of Sicks to bring it up to minimum major league standards, including an expansion in capacity to 25,000 fans.

The renovations began only in January, 1969, a mere three months before opening day. Work began in the midst of the worst Seattle winter in decades and the weather seemed a metaphor for the already frosty relations between team management and the city. City officials were determined to complete the work as cheaply as possible as cost overruns became apparent. As of opening day, seating capacity was only 17,000 and the stadium’s low water pressure was problematic all season and caused problems flushing the toilets. Most of the seats were either wooden benches or folding metal chairs and many of the seats had obstructed views of the playing field. In addition, the teams’ clubhouses were second-rate. The Pilots attendance reflected both the decrepit stadium and the team’s woeful on-field performance – Sicks failed to sell out even once in 1969 and saw only a few crowds in the 20,000 range.

Extensive renovations of Sicks weren’t made previously because the stadium was purchased by the city in 1965 in anticipation of the property being utilized for the new Thomson Expressway. Another problem was that baseball expansion was expected around 1971. When the planning was moved up to 1969, the issue of the condition of Seattle’s stadium became magnified. However, the city council and mayor were of the opinion that their responsibility was simply to furnish a stadium, not attract a baseball franchise. The mayor, Dorm Braman, never attended a Pilots game. Baseball was a low priority for the city government and the city frequently clashed with the main contractor responsible for stadium renovations.

As of opening day, April 11, part of the right-field fence was incomplete and some fans were watching the game, for free, through the gaps. The scoreboard installation was only completed the night before and carpenters were still installing wooden benches after the game was underway. Fans who had paid for reserve tickets ended up sitting wherever they could find a seat. The condition of the park and the huge delays in the renovations had created an atmosphere of animosity between team ownership and the city. The team claimed from day one that the city was unresponsive to complaints about the stadium and the city would accuse the team ownership of trying to renege on the lease.

Bill Sears, the Pilots public relations director, once related in an interview an example of the stadium’s issues in microcosm. He told of an incident when a drunken fan had become accidentally locked inside a portable toilet after falling asleep. Sears offered the story as symbolic of the Pilots’ season. He also stated that the condition of the stadium was a deterrent to fans attending games. The Pilots also had a very limited marketing and advertising budget. The team had secured a favorable radio contract but was unable to negotiate an equitable television deal. According to Sears, the local TV stations claimed the team’s owners wanted too much money. Also, the cost of the AT&T line was high enough that advertisers were leery of paying the fees for the broadcast lines. Thus, team revenues were to become more dependent on ticket sales. That’s a valid idea if the team performs well on the field.

The team won its inaugural opening game at home, 7-0 over the White Sox, after the Pilots had split two games with the Angels in Anaheim. As late as June 28th, the surprising Pilots were only six games out of the division lead. But then injuries hit, the team roster’s lack of depth caught up to it and the mediocre attendance dropped precipitously. The Pilots were a dismal 15-42 over July and August, including a 0-10 homestand. They finished the season with a ledger of 64-98, in sixth place, 33 games out of first.

In early September, the team’s creditors began to go public regarding money they were owed. Principal owner William Daley also went public and issued what amounted to an ultimatum – “Seattle has one more year to prove itself,” he stated to the press. Privately, he had already decided to not invest any more money into the sinking ship. His ploy with the media backfired as resentful fans continued to stay away. The issues regarding Sick’s stadium showed no sign of being solved soon and construction on the new stadium hadn’t even started. The dark clouds following the team all season had turned black.

At the conclusion of the season, Daley and the Soriano brothers decided that the only viable option was to sell the team. Initially they attempted to find a local group to keep the Pilots in Seattle. When several groups were found wanting for various reasons, the Sorianos filed bankruptcy. During the 1969 World Series, they agreed to sell the team to Milwaukee businessman Bud Selig (currently the Commissioner of Baseball) and the Seattle Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Pilots are an obvious example of how not to operate a baseball franchise. They are the only team in the modern baseball era to move after its inaugural season. Ultimately, they were grounded by a series of blunders, bad decisions and misfortune. The owners were seriously over-leveraged, under-capitalized and could never catch up due to bad attendance and a roster in continual transition. The city failed to properly renovate Sick’s Stadium which led to a contentious relationship with Pilots ownership and motivated the fans to stay away. In addition, the team was never adequately marketed. Finally, Seattle had experienced an economic downturn in 1969 which combined with the high ticket prices to further impede attendance.

In spite of a legacy of mismanagement and shattered expectations, the Seattle Pilots retain an odd mystique. The ephemeral quality of the team is certainly a factor. Pilots uniforms and caps are popular with collectors. Many former players recall fond memories of their time in Pilot’s blue and gold. Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four” has also contributed to the team’s legacy. Former Pilots outfielder Mike Hegan, recently deceased, once said “it’s like the Pilots have a cult following or something…” Outfielder Steve Whitaker once stated “We were the orphans of the league, the mutts.” Jim Gosger added “The Pilots were quite a collection of guys, very laid back and very likeable. There was no pressure because we knew the team wasn’t very good.”

1969 was the season on the fly for the Seattle Pilots. The ultimate reason for the demise of the Pilots was baseball’s rush to expand for the ’69 season. If the original plan for expansion in 1971 had held, the franchise might have begun its life on a more secure foundation. Assembled in slap-dash fashion to be ready in 1969, the Pilots were undermanned, underfunded and, perhaps, underappreciated.

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Big Bang Versus Big Bucks

Composite image by Alan Clanton and Lisa Herrin; images courtesy of CBS and NFL

Composite image by Alan Clanton and Lisa Herrin; images courtesy of CBS and NFL

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

(Originally posted February 6, 2014) Big Bang Theory may be really big on CBS, but NFL is bigger. The NFL had its best year yet in 2013, and the most recent Super Bowl, despite being a one-sided affair in which the Seattle Seahawks ran roughshod over the hapless Denver Broncos, still managed to retain viewer loyalty right to the end—and, in fact, became the most watched TV event in history with 111.5 million viewers.

In one word: Bazinga!

CBS took notice, and recently concluded negotiations with the NFL for next year, at which time CBS will carry Thursday Night Football for the first eight Thursday games of the 2014 season. The Thursday pro football telecasts will supplement CBS’s already highly rated coverage of the AFC on Sundays.

But there is a slight problem: Big Bang Theory, one of CBS’s most popular sitcoms, airs weekly on Thursday nights, right in the middle of what will be NFL football games starting in the fall. That presents an explosive problem for ratings-centered programmers.

It’s Sheldon versus Sherman, so to speak.

The deal between the NFL and CBS was viewed by all parties involved as advantageous. The NFL wants more viewers to their pro games on Thursdays, games which typically receive the lowest viewership when compared to Sundays and Monday nights. The NFL has made no secret that they would like for the Thursday games to rival Sundays in ratings, and they saw CBS as the right vehicle for that wider audience. CBS also saw much to gain from grabbing those eight games. CBS outbid Fox, Turner Networks, NBC, and ESPN/ABC (both owned by the same parent company, Disney), but will gain the brief loyalty of the ever-growing audience for pro football, along with those ad dollars that follow.

Though figures have not been released officially, industry analysts believe that CBS paid approximately $250 million for the eight Thursday night games. That means CBS is betting big on more football.

The question remains: what will happen to the highly rated Big Bang?

Though CBS has not made a decision, most TV analysts suggest CBS will simply move Big Bang to another prime time location for that eight week period. Others have suspected that CBS might try to find a new permanent home for Big Bang Theory, disruptive though the move might be.

No matter what CBS decides, now everyone knows where the real clout resides when it comes to the ratings and the dollars. That means that for Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter (played by Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki), those hilarious Cal Tech physicists with the astronomically high IQs, brute force and brawn trump brains, at least on Thursday nights. Bazinga!

Related Thursday Review articles:

Super Bowl Sets New TV Ratings Record; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; February 4, 2014.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/BigBangVsNFLonCBS.html#sthash.uGwH9J5n.dpuf

Super Bowl Sets New TV Ratings Record

Image courtesy of Fox Sports

Image courtesy of Fox Sports

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

(Originally published Tuesday, February 4, 2014) The Seattle Seahawks blowout victory over the Denver Broncos last Sunday was exactly the sort of lopsided affair which delivers partisan fans endless joy, but gives those marketing experts and those big-budget television advertisers heartburn and grief.  After all, how many TV viewers will remain glued to the big game once it becomes apparent that the outcome has already been handily established?

The answer, sports fans, is a lot.

According to Nielson ratings released by Fox Sports and News Corp (the ratings were based on surveys taken during and immediately after the game), Sunday’s Super Bowl drew in a staggering 111.5 million viewers, which makes it the most watched event in all of television history.  The previous all-time viewership record was set in 2012, also in a Super Bowl game.
When scored by percentage, Sunday’s game in East Rutherford, New Jersey tied the 2013 Super Bowl aired by CBS.  Both games were viewed by 46.4 percent of TV households.

Conventional wisdom holds that a lopsided game will drive viewers away from the event in search of other distractions, even changing the channel in search of something else to watch.  Such was not the case this past Sunday, and that was good news for Rupert Murdoch’s Fox and for all those advertisers who ponied up millions of dollars to place their 30 second and 60 second ads in the biggest football event of the year.

Even this year’s halftime show, which featured Bruno Mars and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, topped Nielson’s charts, pulling in 115.3 million viewers and besting previous records set by Beyonce in 2013 and Madonna in 2012.

Why the viewer loyalty so deeply into such a lopsided game?

Some entertainment, sports and TV analysts suggest that several factors might have been at work.  One is the organic growth of the Super Bowl itself, now a sports institution in its own right even larger than the NFL on its best Sunday.  Many people choose to watch the Super Bowl even if they have not kept up with teams during the regular season, and still others participate in watching by way of parties and special events.  Those numbers appear to have grown steadily over the last decade, much in the same way that, in previous decades, millions who would tune-in watch the World Series had in fact seen few baseball games during the same season.

In addition, Super Bowl parties have become social events found in every neighborhood in every city and town.  Weeks of advertising by grocery stores, fast food chains, delis, restaurants and bars, as well as by the major retailers like Target and Wal-Mart, heighten the narrative and encourage a holiday-like spending spree for what amounts to the first big party event after New Year’s.  Retailers compete fiercely for this social event spending, and year after year that bar has been raised.  And this year, a particularly sluggish holiday season meant that many big box stores and food companies were looking for a way to close that gap in sales.  Indeed, spending on pregame advertising also hit a new record for Super Bowl XLVIII.

Sports analysts, and dedicated pro football fans in general, also point to the unusual nature of the 2013-14 season in which Seattle—a team which has never won a Super Bowl—channeled so much energy and generated so many headlines through their combination of stifling defense and explosive offense.  This was the first year in which the two teams rated number one in defense and offense at the start of the season both made it to the end of the season intact—and it was the first season in which teams ranked number one in the conferences, the NL and the AL, met in the big game.  These factors meant that fan loyalty was running high all season long for both Denver and Seattle.

According to Brien Sorne, who runs the marketing agency ALCOM in Tallahassee, Florida (as much as sports-centric a town as one can find) generational changes are affecting the way we view the game.

“Welcome,” Sorne says, “to the new NFL: young, brash, outspoken, holistic, unselfish, fierce, and unrestrained by conventional thinking.”  Sorne sees the new and rapidly evolving style of play as a challenge to the old school.  “Like American minute-men challenging the might of the British regulars, the rules of war have changed.”

Sorne cited the classical Homeric narrative in the weeks leading to the big game, that of the noble warrior Peyton Manning, a battle-worn commander, bravely deploying his forces “against a younger, hungrier team.  If knives and swords were part of the game, we would have seen Peyton at mid-field near the end, while the Seahawks finished him off.”

Another factor seemed to be the commercials.  Many viewers indicated that they do watch the big game for a look at some of those much-talked about, much-hyped ads.  This year was no exception, and—pregame hype about the content of those ads reached an all-time high.  Many of the ads were widely discussed beginning weeks in advance, and this year a record number of ads were already being characterized as “controversial,” “emotional,” and in some cases “too hot for TV” ten days before kickoff.  The examples are too numerous to list here, but include Soda Stream’s “banned” ad featuring actress Scarlett Johansen, the widely-promoted Budweiser spot shot in Winter Park, Florida and portraying a war veteran returning home, and ads for high end cars like Jaguar and Maserati (perhaps the most expensive products ever advertised in a Super Bowl game).  Dozens of ads were “banned” altogether, but received millions of views on You Tube by internet users curious about the content of the spots.

“Super Bowl XLVIII was engaging for those ads,” Sorne told us.  “We watched just to be sure we had seen every commercial, hoping the next one would be better that the last.  Like fireworks shows, we won’t stop watching until we know we have seen the finale.”

Much to the delight of marketers and advertisers, those ads become objects of entertainment, and become the instant source of conversation on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Monitoring social media during the game, Thursday Review writers noticed that the chatter quickly shifted from Seattle’s gathering victory—which seemed inevitable from the first quarter—to the content and caliber of the ads.  “Radio Shack 1980s ad best so far,” one friend posted.  A few minutes later another friend posted, “couldn’t Ford have saved a few dollars on over-the-top ads and passed that along to car buyers?”  Still another friend posted “I am losing track of where the reality ads begin and end, and what’s an ad and what’s part of the game!”

“The Super Bowl is not a football game,” Sorne says, “It is a national holiday.  Like Christmas, you don’t have to believe in the virgin birth to participate.  We are an entertainment-oriented society in which anything that can stimulate us a bit further is worth watching.”

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