With Super Bowl XLIII right around the corner, author Allen St. John uncovers the history of the biggest game in sports in his revealing new book.
ALLEN ST. JOHN’S biography of the Super Bowl, titled The Billion Dollar Game: Behind-the-Scenes of the Greatest Day in American Sport -- Super Bowl Sunday (Doubleday, $25), is like the event itself in that it’s about much more than just football. In 21 addictive chapters, St. John, a former sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal, offers information and behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the history of what has become the largest (and most profitable) annual sporting event in the world.
“It’s America’s most widely watched live television broadcast,” he writes. “It’s the world’s biggest party.”
But, as he points out in the book, it hasn’t always been this way. The game started simply as a championship game in 1967 between the Kansas City Chiefs, then a member of the now-defunct American Football League, and the National Football League’s Green Bay Packers, who came out victorious. NFL Films’ Steve Sabol remembers that it took years for the game to get its footing. As an example, he tells of the time he arrived in New Orleans with his crew for Super Bowl IV in 1970. There, he learned that half their hotel rooms had been given to attendees of a visiting dry cleaners’ convention. “In the public’s mind, the NFL wasn’t that big of a deal,” he’s quoted in the book as saying.
Such dismissal is laughable in retrospect, given today’s intense competition to host the Super Bowl and the estimated $2.5 billion bottom line of last year’s game in Arizona. That figure includes host city Glendale’s preparation expenses, television-broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorships, legal betting in Las Vegas, and consumer spending. Super Bowl Sunday is the second-largest food consumption day in the United States, coming in after Thanksgiving; approximately 49.5 million pounds of avocados are consumed on Super Bowl Sunday every year, enough to fill a football stadium 19 feet deep. As St. John writes, “If the Super Bowl were a nation, it would have a gross domestic product about the size of North Korea, and its economy would be larger than that of 49 nations.”
St. John believes it’s the event’s sheer size -- the result of years of preparation by each host city -- that makes the Super Bowl an American icon. But with such a spectacle comes the potential for spectacular failure as well. “The more you hear about all the near misses and all the things that could have gone wrong,” St. John said in a recent phone interview, “the more amazing it is that it works the way it does.”
So with his tireless research, does St. John have a prediction for next month’s Super Bowl XLIII and how it will stack up against previous years’ contests? “Just one,” he says. “It will be bigger.”
Football is a game of numbers, and Allen St. John helps readers add them up in The Billion Dollar Game. Here’s a sampling of some of the more surprising figures he uncovered. -- N.D.
? 2.7 MILLION: Cost in dollars of airing a commercial during the 2008 Super Bowl.
? 72,000: Number of Macintosh computers sold in the first 100 days after Apple’s George Orwell–inspired commercial aired in 1984, a 50 percent increase over projected sales. The ad is considered the first Super Bowl advertising event.
? 10,000: Number of cans of food used to build replicas of the University of Phoenix Stadium, where 2008’s Super Bowl XLII was played, and replicas of the helmets of the two participating teams. (The cans were later donated to charity.)
? 25: The percentage of Super Bowl tickets that the NFL retains for distribution to sponsors and other VIPs.
? 20: The percentage increase in antacid sales on the day after the Super Bowl.
? 0: Extant copies of the television broadcast of Super Bowl I.