The Super Bowl. Such a stupendous and grand event, which started with something as petty as two leagues arguing over who was really #1. In 1967, this argument gave birth to what is today the most anticipated and viewed sporting event in the U.S. The rise of its popularity has turned the whole event into a tradition that many wouldn’t miss for the world, while others prepare themselves to monitor it for “offensiveness” at all cost (the Parents Television Council comes to mind).
Anyway, we were wondering how we got from squeaky clean marching bands and musicians to nipple shields and middle fingers in just four decades.
Halftime, the name given to the interval between the two halves of the game, is typically just a brief period used to swap the ends of the fields of play for the teams, and allow competitors to rest briefly in the midst of a decidedly physical sport. Somewhere along the way, this innocuous event became the love child of mass media and marketing.
The first Super Bowl halftime shows featured marching bands from universities, and then, as they got bigger, performances by Disney and Broadway stars, with themes ranging from tributes to America to tributes to football. Back then, a commercial segment during the broadcast was just $42,000, and we could be certain that expectations for a grand halftime show weren’t at their highest, either.
Production companies and marketing teams are playing all their cards, nowadays. With big-ticket spenders (the average price of tickets for Super Bowl XLVI was $4,000) and commercial segments going for $3.5 million for just 30 seconds (plus around $2-3 million for production and celebrity fees), expectation for EVERYTHING in the Super Bowl now reaches stratospheric levels, given that we live in a society that has seen it and heard it all, or so we think. It’s no surprise that everyone wants more.
It is in wanting more that we might have ended up with more risqué or vulgar scenes during halftime. It is with wanting more (if you are paying $3.5 million+ for 30 seconds) that commercials are getting, according to some, a bit too hot, offensive and even sexist. A whole campaign went off during this just passed Super Bowl to tag commercials that viewers might consider sexist under the #imnotbuyingit tag.
But with all the controversy from past mishaps or Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII “wardrobe malfunction,” there is still out there a crowd that is getting harder and harder to please, and production and marketing teams that are overwhelmed with trying to find ways to please without offending.
So, the next time we see a Super Bowl commercial involving whipped cream, a couch made of bikini clad women, Beckham in underwear or Adriana Lima in a state of relative undress (which is always good), we can thank all the people behind multiple marketing teams trying to please us and their bosses.
We also can thank the halftime producers who are on a mission since we evolved beyond marching bands to provide shows that blow us away (or make us double take), with top performances by the best artists: Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige, Sting, U2, No Doubt, Janet Jackson, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and The Black Eyed Peas, to mention just a few. And, of course, Madonna, who’s Super Bowl XLVI performance ranked as the all-time most watched halftime show in TV history, with 114 million viewers.
We are sure there will be more bumps in the road ahead just as classy as flipping the middle finger to 114 million viewers, as well as more amazing performances as flawless as Diana Ross’ halftime performance in 1996’s Super Bowl XXX, which ended with her departing by helicopter, hanging from a ladder as she was lifted off!
We are also sure that more regulations and fines are ahead, so secure your bra, hold down your finger and chill a bit, or we are going to end up watching marching bands again!
P.S. – Marching bands are amazing, just not when you’re paying four grand.