Two-Thirds of America Doesn't Care About the Super Bowl

INDIANAPOLIS (MainStreet) -- Super Bowl Sunday is a melange of full-contact sport, carpet-bombed advertising and pizza/wing/chip-fueled gluttony for the more than 110 U.S. million viewers who tune in. For the rest of the country, it's just Sunday.

The NFL, NBC ( CMCSA) and dozens of advertisers and retail outlets really want America to believe that the world grinds to a halt on Super Bowl Sunday and any activity that takes place after kickoff has to be of the towel-snapping, beer-quaffing, prop-betting, cheer-yelling variety. With the kind of money they're betting on the big game, they can't afford the alternative. NBC just joined Fox ( NWS) and ABC ( DIS) in renewing a broadcast deal with the NFL that will increase the league's TV revenue from $1.9 billion a year now to $3.1 billion in 2022. Advertisers, meanwhile, have dumped $1.7 million into Super Bowl ads during the past decade, according to Kantar Media.
While the Super Bowl is vital to some, viewers of the big game are outnumbered 2-to-1 by people with better things to do.

It's tough to blame them for going all in. Super Bowl viewership jumped from an average of 97.4 million in 2008 to a record average of 111 million last year. But there are 313 million people in the United States, which means 65% of America was either just checking in on the Super Bowl every so often last year or avoiding it altogether. While it's borderline unthinkable to all the principals involved that a potential viewer would deign to miss American Idol artifact Kelly Clarkson sing the national anthem, Lady Gaga template Madonna do a jukebox medley of hits or the New England Patriots and the New York Giants play a game most casual observers swear they saw just a few years ago, there are going to be plenty of folks skipping out on the privilege.

The Super Bowl only seems ubiquitous, but is as easy to avoid as NBC on any given night. Though last year's game broadcast on Fox dominated the Feb. 5 prime-time schedule, millions of Americans opted for reruns of Undercover Boss on CBS, America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC and Who Do You Think You Are on NBC. The postgame for what was supposedly the most riveting Super Bowl in history ranked behind a ABC-sanitized version of Judd Apatow's Knocked Up -- the second-highest rated network broadcast during the Super Bowl broadcast -- in the eyes of several million viewers.

That's if they weren't checking out the Food Network's ( SNI) Worst Cooks In America or Showtime's Shameless. Those were the highest-rated nonsports cable shows last year and drew more than 3 million viewers combined away from the Super Bowl, according to Nielsen.

Even some of those capitalizing heavily on a Super Bowl windfall realize there's a much bigger picture than what's on one network on the first Sunday of February. The National Chicken Council gleefully projects 1.3 billion wings weighing 100 million pounds will be consumed during Super Bowl weekend. In the same breath they use to proclaim that 23% of all Super Bowl watchers will be chowing down on wings, they acknowledge that there are still about 200 million Americans who will not tune into the game.

"Chances are good that those people not watching the Patriots and Giants battle for the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 5 will be at home eating their normal Sunday night dinner," says NCC Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Bill Roenigk. "Chances are very good that some other part of the bird is on their plates, too."

The chicken folk aren't being contrarian, they're just exercising both common and good business sense. As fervent as the Super Bowl's following sounds when a CouponCabin.com survey claims 23% of respondents would skip a vacation to see it, 21% would skip work and 20% would skip a wedding or family function, the larger percentage on the other side of those numbers tells something closer to the true story. Not only would a majority not take any of the aforementioned action, but that same survey found that 33% of men and 54% of women are OK with not seeing the game at all.

It's still a Sunday, after all, and for those who don't have to work that day it's one of only 52 Sundays they get a year to relax, hang out with friends or loved ones or do the things they actually love doing. If there's a restaurant you've been trying to get a table at for weeks, reservation site OpenTable says reservations on Super Bowl Sunday are roughly half that of the Sundays before and after, thanks to that 6:30 p.m. kickoff. If you prefer to travel, airlines note that traffic is much lighter on Super Bowl Sunday.

Want to go to the movies? The audience usually drops 65% to 75% on Super Bowl Sunday from the Saturday before and 50% to 70% from the last week for films that have been around a while, but studios and theaters still bring in millions the day of the Super Bowl. Folks at 2,500 theaters nationwide opted to see the Leighton Meester-driven Single White Female remake The Roommate instead of watching the Super Bowl last year. That decision scored $1.7 million for Screen Gems and led a Top 10 that included Oscar hopefuls The King's Speech ($1.4 million), True Grit ($629,000) and Black Swan ($608,000).

It's business as usual for Hollywood again this year, with at least seven films opening in broad or limited release on Super Bowl weekend. Even when she's on stage belting out the hits in Indy, Madonna will banking on some Super Bowl snubs as W.E. -- the film she directed about the affair between King Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson -- opens in select cities.

All of those options are heresy in pockets of the country where football is a religion second only to services attended earlier that Sunday, but this is hardly an era in which sitting out the Super Bowl is tantamount to atheism. There are two full weeks of analysis and coverage before the big game that make even game day dilettantes aware that New England's Rob Gronkowski's ankle isn't 100% and that Eli Manning may be the best quarterback in his family if he wins on Sunday. That's followed by even more analysis and parade coverage in the week that follows and tons of speculation about whether a Giants loss costs Tom Coughlin a spot in football's Hall of Fame or if a Patriots win solidifies Wes Welker's status as the best short-yardage wide receiver in Super Bowl history.

With companies such as Volkswagen and Honda ( HMC) putting out their Super Bowl commercials well in advance of kickoff and ESPN going into NFL Draft mode almost immediately after the confetti drops, it isn't such a surprise that two-thirds of Americans tune out the Super Bowl. If anything, it's astonishing millions more don't join them.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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