The Super Bowl Belongs to America

Gareth PughCorrespondent IApril 26, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  A marching band performs during the pre-game show prior to the start of Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

The sports world is full of brands. For example, Manchester United is not just a football club from Salford; they are global brand. They tour Asia and Africa to promote themselves and expand their fan base.

And Roger Federer and Tiger Woods are not just great champions; they are their own brands as well, wearing bespoke attire on-court and on the course, resplendent with logos fashioned just for them.

The NFL is the same. It stands for much more than just the elite league for American football players; it is now a globally recognized brand, setting an example for all who want to run and market a stunningly successful annual competition.

So it is only natural that the NFL, like any other brand (whether it be Coca-Cola, Gillette, or McDonalds), would want to continue its expansion and beam its product into the homes of as many people as it can.

The Super Bowl is one the most-watched annual events on the planet and has a vast global audience, but the organizers of the season finale are not content with the match being seen in different countries on TV; they now want it to be staged outside the U.S.

It has been reported this week that the NFL would consider staging the Super Bowl in London as the next step of taking the sport to the rest of the world.

Recent regular-season matches staged at London’s Wembley Stadium have proved to be a huge success, and the popularity of the NFL in Europe has always been high.

Interestingly, actually bringing matches to these shores has demonstrated that fans with no real allegiance to any particular team will spend money just to have the experience of attending a game. So I suppose transplanting the Super Bowl seems like a logical step.

The arguments for the radical suggestion are compelling:

  • The game is already played at a neutral venue.
  • The scale of the United States as a country means that fans are likely to be travelling large distances for the game anyway, so if fans in New England have to travel 2,600 miles to Pasadena, what’s an extra 800 miles to get to London?
  • Beyond the logistical and practical considerations, the NFL could raise huge funds by having cities bid for the right to stage the game.
  • That Super Bowl winners are proclaimed World Champions might finally fall from the height of arrogance, as the teams would now be playing on a world stage.
  • Taking the showpiece of the American sporting calendar to foreign shores would demonstrate the full reach of the NFL and mark the league as a standard bearer for globalization.

But there are, of course, counter-arguments for all of these.

  • American cities waiting in rotation for staging the match will have to wait longer if foreign cities are introduced.
  • Domestic travel is one thing; intercontinental travel and the added cost that it brings is something else. It is only 800 miles further to London from Boston than it is to southern California, but you can’t drive any one of those 3,500 miles across the Atlantic.
  • While offering the match to other countries can certainly make money, there would be huge, perhaps prohibitive cost involved in making it a reality. Though it is doubtful that financial issues would be a major stumbling block, the whole premise must be considered with money in mind.
  • It would be a brave person to argue that the Super Bowl champions are not worthy of the title World Champions anyway, even if it is only a domestic competition.

There is no doubt that the Super Bowl could be played abroad, but the question is, why does the showpiece event of American sport need to be exported?

And this is the key point. The marketers that push brands and bring them into our consciousness through their clever slogans see an opportunity to make money. This may be beneficial to companies with tangible products to sell, but sport is not a consumer good like a razor or a DVD player; it has a soul.

Sport exists because of the people that it affects at a local level. Contrary to the beliefs of the moneymen, sport cannot simply be uprooted and moved to a different location with regards only to maximizing revenue.

The Super Bowl belongs to America. It is their event, their carnival, and their showpiece. The world may well devour the NFL like a fan devours a hot dog and a beer in the bleachers, but this battle of the gridiron is not the world’s event to stage (just theirs to enjoy).

America should fight to ensure that no one has the privilege of playing host to the Championship game of any of its sports.