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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Super Bowl LIV showcases strength of NFL

NFL shows no signs of slowing down as another successful year passes

After a two week layoff, Super Bowl LIV is finally upon us. This year’s big game, which caps off the 100th season of the NFL, has given fans a dream match-up featuring two of the most entertaining and historic teams the league has to offer. 

The San Francisco 49ers, representing the NFC, were the talk of the league all season long, jumping out to an 8-0 start and clinching the top seed in the conference. The 49ers boast the top rushing attack in the NFC, which surpassed 100 yards on the ground in 14 of 18 games, thanks to the efforts of tailbacks Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. Mostert put up a record-setting performance in the 37-20 NFC Championship win over the Packers, running for 220 yards and four touchdowns. 

Defensively, cornerback Richard Sherman is the vocal leader of the best pass defense in the NFL, a unit that conceded under 170 yards per game on average. 

San Francisco also has a lethal pass rush, anchored by a group of four first round picks. The team already has nine sacks through two playoff games and will need to be disruptive in the backfield to have a chance to beat Kansas City. 

The team’s 13-3 finish was far beyond the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic fans. Nobody expected San Francisco to make such a significant jump from a 4-12 season in 2018 that landed it the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. The 49ers, an organization steeped in championships and all-time players and coaches, endured a miserable four-year stretch in which the team won less than 27% of its games. After the dismissal of former Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco went through a period of significant turnover in its front office, coaching staff and roster. But those down years allowed the team to rebuild and eventually come out the other side under the leadership of Head Coach Kyle Shannahan and general manager John Lynch. 

The Kansas City Chiefs are making their first appearance in the Super Bowl in 50 years and hoping to finally deliver that elusive Lombardi Trophy to their loyal fans in the midwest. Head coach Andy Reid is also searching for the first title in his 20-year head coaching career. Reid lost to the Patriots in his only other appearance in the Super Bowl, which took place in 2005 when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Kansas City is an offensive juggernaut, boasting the top passing attack in the AFC and second-highest scoring offense overall. Third-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who captured last year’s MVP award when he threw 50 touchdown passes, turned in another sensational performance this season with over 4,000 passing yards in 14 games. Mahomes has a multitude of dangerous receivers at his disposal, including tight end Travis Kelce and wide receivers Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman. 

The Chiefs have seen dramatic improvements in their defense under the guidance of first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who helped turn around a unit that was simply dreadful last year. Kansas City employs a top-10 pass defense but has endured some struggles with stopping the run throughout the season, which does not bode well for their chances against the 49ers. However, the Chiefs should be playing with some confidence after holding star running back Derrick Henry under 70 yards in a 35-24 victory over the Titans in the AFC Championship. 

Apart from the action on the gridiron, the Super Bowl represents so much more off the field and has evolved to become arguably the most commercialized entertainment spectacle on the planet. 

Although Super Bowl Sunday is a pseudo-holiday for millions of diehard football fans across the country, it’s also a day when casual fans tune in for attractions such as the halftime show and in-game advertisement breaks. 

Singer Demi Lovato will perform the national anthem before kickoff, while notable artists Shakira and Jennifer Lopez will handle the halftime show which typically lasts 20-30 minutes. Throughout it all, viewers will be exposed to a heavy dose of commercials, with food and beverage products and automobile companies dominating the scene as usual. Since 2020 is a presidential election year, there will also be a chunk of political advertisements — the Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg campaigns have already purchased 60-second slots. 

FOX, the broadcaster televising the game, is reportedly charging around $5.6 million for every 30-second space. The station had no trouble finding interested suitors as all available ad windows were sold out months before the game for the first time since 2013

The NFL enjoyed a steady rise in its TV ratings for the second year in a row, averaging 16.5 million viewers throughout the 2019 season. 

It was not long ago in 2015 that the league was reveling in its most-viewed season ever, drawing an average of over 18 million viewers, but things took a sudden turn in 2016 and 2017 when viewership dropped as low as 15 million on average. Many outsiders pointed to the impact of a political landscape undergoing great transition, as well as the polarizing protests and fallout involving former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The NFL could not seem to escape the cloud of negative publicity surrounding it and people even started to question whether the league’s best days were behind it. 

Well, that mini “crisis” was short-lived as the NFL rebounded the past two seasons and saw steady growth in its television ratings and popularity. Across the 2019 season, each one of the league’s four broadcast partners — FOX, NBC, CBS and ESPN — witnessed a boost in their ratings. All in all, over 180 million individuals tuned in to at least one NFL game during the fall, and those contests accounted for 46 of the top 50 U.S. television broadcasts in 2019. That’s not to mention the expanded consumption of NFL games via streaming and mobile apps. 

The NFL is hoping a big audience on Sunday will help the league and its partners rebound from a slightly disappointing occasion last year. The highly anticipated match-up between the Patriots and Rams was the first Super Bowl since 2009 to dip under 100 million viewers, but was also the lowest-scoring affair in the game’s history. 

For perspective, Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 brought in an average of over 114 million eyeballs and stands alone as the highest-viewed television show in U.S. history. Although this year’s game might not reach that number, it’s poised to top the 100-million viewer mark as long as the contest is remotely competitive. The 49ers are one of the biggest brands in the sport, playing in one of the largest media markets in the U.S., while the Chiefs are led by a rising superstar in Mahomes and making their first Super Bowl appearance in a half century. 

The NFL is entering a critical period in which the collective bargaining agreement with the player’s association and TV contracts with the big networks are both set to expire in the next few years. The NFL has already begun talks regarding the new CBA, in hopes of avoiding a lockout like the one in 2011. On the television side of things, the league stands to reap massive profits in the next round of contracts and could see its rights fees rise by 20-30%. FOX, CBS, NBC and ESPN currently pay over $5 billion combined per season to show the games. 

In an era when traditional viewing habits are under transformation, with the rise of cord-cutting and expansion of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, live sporting events are one of the few remaining television products still bringing in massive audiences on a weekly basis. Although anybody can binge-watch their favorite scripted shows on-demand at their own leisure, nothing compares to the experience of reacting to a live sporting event in real time. As a result, advertisers will continue to target the millions of sports fans who tune in to watch their favorite leagues and teams. As long as advertisers are willing to keep paying exorbitant sums of money, TV networks will do whatever it takes to land the top sports and entertainment products they can get their hands on. 

With the legalization of sports betting in 20 states now, interest in the NFL will keep growing, which benefits all parties involved on the business side. The Chiefs are currently a 1.5-point favorite at most sportsbooks around the country, with a point total set around 54. In addition to the traditional wagers, the Super Bowl is known for its crazy proposition bets which range anywhere from the length of the national anthem to the color of the winning team’s Gatorade bath. 

The state of Nevada alone is expecting to break its own record and take over $160 million in wagers on the game. Many other states around the nation are preparing for similar circumstances and will be experiencing the chaos of Super Bowl Sunday for the first time. 

For fans hoping to attend the game in South Florida, tickets for Super Bowl LIV are on track to be some of the most expensive in the game’s history, with average prices hovering around $9,000 per seat and the cheapest options starting around $4,000. The newly-renovated Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens holds around 65,000 seats, a relatively low number compared to most Super Bowl venues in recent history. Early weather forecasts show a slight chance of thunderstorms and showers, the same type of weather that occurred when the stadium last hosted this game in 2010. This would seem to favor the 49ers and their run-heavy offensive attack which is equally effective in any weather conditions. 

No matter who lifts the trophy on Sunday night, the NFL machine will keep chugging along. Even in an era when consumer habits are rapidly changing, the league has stayed as relevant as ever and continues to find ways to grab attention in a fast-paced society. The long-term concerns of the sport are well-documented, but there is no denying that football is truly ingrained into American culture.

Written by: Brendan Ogburn — sports@theaggie.org 


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