Has The Super Bowl Brand Lost Its Story?

Madonna is back. With the recent announcement that the once-reigning Queen of Pop will headline the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show, Madonna is, once again, “back,” exactly as she likes to be, reemerging intuitively onto the scene just before we are about to forget about her. She is like musical kudzu. You can’t keep that woman down.

My genuine admiration for Madge aside, I was struck by all the hoopla that surrounded the announcement of her performing at this season’s Super Bowl. To be clear, it is a coup for any artist to get this gig, and Madonna will be in good company with The Rolling Stones, Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake, Janet, Janet’s breast, etc. I just hope that someone has told her she’s going to have to sing live.

However, amid all the talk about the halftime show, the commercials, how much they cost to air and who will be singing the National Anthem, I have to wonder, “What about the game?”

Has the Super Bowl brand changed?

I can’t help but feel that the Super Bowl brand has lost its story as it becomes increasingly disconnected from the great American sport it is meant to celebrate. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the Super Bowl is both ritual and hallowed event for hundreds of millions of football fans: as well it should be. It gives us an opportunity to come together and cheer for something on a Sunday afternoon, paint our faces and eat things that aren’t good for us. And I know that true football fans care deeply about the game that’s buried in there, somewhere, beneath all the show business and spectacle. But the brand of the Super Bowl—the current story of the Super Bowl—has become out-of-step with the grit and determination of the game it represents as well as what true football fans love most about it.

Ask 100 people on the street to tell you a story about the Super Bowl, and I bet the majority of them would talk first about the glitzy, “corporate-fest” this sporting event has become—e.g. the commercials, the show, the performers, etc. And yes, I’m certain some would mention football at some point. But only a few would talk about the Super Bowl as the championship game at the end of a tough playoff series at the end of a long and demanding season. I bet only a few would talk about the Vince Lombardi Trophy that’s won. These things have almost become an afterthought.

In contrast, the stories of the World Series and Stanley Cup Playoffs still feel very connected to their sports. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs I wrote a blog post about this; specifically about how, despite all the spectacle surrounding professional sports, the Stanley Cup remains genuine, authentic and very true to its fans. You see, the Stanley Cup is both an event—the playoffs—and an icon—a trophy that signifies excellence, tenacity and a long, hard road that has just been won. In contrast, the Super Bowl has really become an event and little more. A very big event, to be sure; but still, just an event.

I respect that the NFL has to make money with the Super Bowl and that there has always been a degree of splash and spectacle in professional football. But after this year’s event is behind us, the glitter dust has settled and we’ve wiped the paint from our faces, I would encourage the NFL to take a couple steps back and look at what the Super Bowl has become and try to remember what it used to be. Perhaps they can pull it back a bit towards its roots, reconnecting it to the game. Football fans deserve a story like that.

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