In the not-so-distant future, a single televised event will unite well over one hundred million viewers from around the world. Cheers, jeers, and tears will rise from fans of all stripes as the eyes of the globe focus on a single venue for a night of entertainment. Debates will be had, miracles will happen, and everyone will argue over key decisions.
You might think I’m referring to the upcoming festivities in Malmö, but I’m actually talking about Super Bowl XLVII, as the Baltimore Ravens face off against the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge American football fan; the only teams in the NFL to which I have a fair-weather allegiance were knocked out before the playoffs even started (maybe next year, Giants…).
That being said, Super Bowl Sunday is much more than just a few hours’ worth of weekend television and a massive pile of nachos and chicken wings with friends. It’s a touchstone for technology and social media, bringing fans from around the world together. It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work by a determined team and their supporters. It’s a televised spectacle with pride and pageantry on display. Finally, it’s an opportunity for statisticians, super-fans, and armchair quarterbacks to fervently debate the facts, figures, and perceptions of a cultural event that might seem trivial to others.
Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
While our beloved Eurovision and the hard-hitting gridiron championship might not look very similar at first glance, they actually have quite a lot in common. The easiest comparison to be made is the audience. According to the EBU’s numbers, the annual viewing figures for Eurovision hover around those of the Super Bowl, both easily surpassing the nine-digit mark. These massive numbers easily translate into a major social media presence. A quick look at Twitter on the night of ‘The Big Game’ or the ‘Grand Final’ at ESC shows an absolute dominance of related trending topics, with the names of nations or singers ebbing and flowing in the same way that players’ names would after a tackle or touchdown.
Even if you take the technological aspect out of the equation, the similarities in the sheer enthusiasm of the fans is enough to blur the lines between the events. The competitive yet collegial atmosphere outside the arena right before Eurovision is nearly indistinguishable from that of an old-fashioned tailgate party with football fans (and, in Düsseldorf, where you could grab a bratwurst and a beer before the show, it felt just like home). Putting on a Jedward wig or waving a Georgian flag is really only a half-step away from hoisting a vuvuzela and painting ‘Skol, Vikings!’ on your chest. Whether you’re watching from your living room, gathering for a party, in a bar, or the stadium itself, the energy sweeps you up and doesn’t let go until the final points have been tallied.
Speaking of points, shows like Eurovision, the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, or any number of major events lend themselves to “armchair quarterbacking”, where journalists and fans alike will throw statistics, facts, and anecdotes around just like confetti in a wind machine. (Speaking of which, have you seen our latest piece on the statistical analysis of the running order?) After a few rounds of beers, everybody knows that “it’s all political!”, “Pastora Soler needed pyrotechnics when she had her key-change!”, “the Ravens should have gone for a field goal!” or “Ben Affleck was screwed out of a Best Director nomination!”
Professional sports aren’t just ‘games, in the same way that Eurovision isn’t just ‘a TV show’. The blend of history, passion and variety of opinion in these pastimes lead to ample opportunities for debate and discussion. And both are genuine contests, keeping score, aiming to treat everyone fairly, and declaring a winner on the night.
Once the actual game gets started, there’s more than enough over-the-top pageantry to go around. From holding our breath to see if whoever’s performing the National Anthem screws it up or not to the spectacle of the Halftime Show (Beyoncé will headline this year’s Interval Act, and you can probably mime what the big debating point will be) to the commercial breaks that draw just as much attention as the game itself (and, this being America, we have a lot of them), there’s a lot more going on than just men in tight pants running into each other. Although, granted, there’s something to be said for that.
There are plenty of other comparisons to be made – grab your Eurovision watching bingo cards and you’ll find you don’t need to work hard to mark them off during America’s big game.
Let’s start with the eye-candy. American Football is known for cheerleaders, and there are sure to be a few shots of the backing dancers. There’ll be bonus points if they’ve lifted Ivi Adamou’s Cypriot dance routine, or any number of moves from the recent Greek numbers. Just be thankful the Dallas Cowboys didn’t make it to the last game of the season.
Set up a bit of choreography, hit the play button, and get everyone off the stage as quickly as possible so another group can come on for the next three minutes. These tiny breaks pepper both Contests, and while the Super Bowl embraces the idea of an over-the-top commercial or five during stoppages of play, we have the postcards selling the host country.
Flags. Oh there are a lot of flags. The Super Bowl uses them to say something is wrong, while Eurovision uses them to denote a Carola Häggkvist key-change (or you’ve got OGAE Greece sitting in front of you).
We can make Paul Jordan happy by pointing out that Celine Dion has sung at both Super Bowl XXXVII and Eurovision MCMLXXXVIII.
Curmudgeonly, avuncular, recently retired broadcasting icons? Terry Wogan, meet John Madden.
Probably the only thing that the Super Bowl is missing is The Barbara Dex Award for the greatest contribution not made to fashion during the contest. Which is a shame, because it would mean the Cincinnati Bengals might have a chance of winning something.
Despite what first appearances might suggest, Eurovision and the Super Bowl really do share a lot of common ground. Whether you look at the two events as the ultimate championships of song and sport or as simply an excuse to party, the spirit of celebration, achievement, and fandom is universal.
Let the games begin.