The Super Bowl; or how sports lost its dignity

Ladies and Gentlemen. Roll up, roll up. The greatest show on turf is upon us once again! The Super Bowl, for one night only, the visible from space extravaganza and finale of the American football season. The behelmeted behemoths that take to the field on the first weekend in February every year show that it is maybe not sport that the people want to see, but the entertainment that goes along with it. Did you know that the average amount of on field, ball in hand action seen in each Super Bowl amounts to a meagre eleven minutes? That is to say, seven hours of television coverage could easily be condensed into a twenty minute slot after the news!
The boxing/wrestling-esque entrances, half time mini-concert and hyperbolic celebrations will have come to an end by the 7th of February and the Super Bowl’s day in the global sun will be over for another year. What is most striking however is how much the face of sport has changed due to the presence of the NFL final on the calendar. The Super Bowl is now in its forty fourth year and is one of the most viewed sporting events on an annual basis. The television spectacular that the game has become has indeed taken some of the dignity from the sport. The music, pyrotechnic displays and exuberance heralded by the event is more a part of what the Super Bowl is known for, instead of the tactical plays, crunching tackles and powerful running.
I will not lie, I love the Super Bowl. No 9 a.m. tutorial can stop me from staying up until four in the morning to see if the Indianapolis Colts or New Orleans Saints capture the Vince Lombardi trophy. However, in recent years other disciplines have copped onto the commercial power of sports. The Super Bowl made the sporting world look up, over and beyond full stadia. Manchester United has more fans in the Far East than in England. Korean men and women pay ever escalating prices to have Wayne Rooney’s name emblazoned on their backs. Even cricket, that last bastion of sporting stiff upper lip attitude, has turned its eye to the global stage. Since the establishment of the Indian Premier League, players have been attracted with stratospheric wage packets to play for the representative teams of Delhi and Mumbai. These are but two examples of how the world of sport has been transformed from the heart of the locality, to the centre of business.
The Super Bowl of course, isn’t to blame for every overpaid footballer in their respective leagues or each pouting athlete on billboards across every continent. However, it was behind the impetus for the development of sport as a global brand and medium. You no longer need to have “world” in the name of the championship to make it global. This has had many effects on sport as an entity. The dignity of many disciplines has been compromised because of the need to entertain. Lengthen breaks for advertising purposes, shorten playing to ensure more exciting games. It tells us many things; sport in the 21st century cannot survive without television coverage and huge inputs of money from foreign investors. Does it also say that sport, in its various forms, has lost more than a modicum of dignity? Is it so consumed with its own spectacle that it has forgotten how to conjure up the magic of old? Competitions such as the FA Cup provide these glimpses of magic, whether it is a lowly team taking on the role of heroic giant-killer, or Premiership sides slugging it out like two heavyweight boxers. The stripped down, back-to-basics honest glory of the FA Cup is every sports fans dream.
The positives and negatives of global brand sport will take up column inches upon column inches for many years to come. It has benefited many sports enormously over the past twenty years. The way in which their general popularity has increased due to commercialisation should be lauded. However, the dignity is slowly seeping from this noble pantheon. In a world where people would rather watch a gesticulating man falling uncontrollably to the turf, than a young hopeful steadily rise through the ranks of his respective discipline, we must understand that there is a hefty price to pay for unparalleled commercial access and television coverage.