Why the Eurovision Song Contest and the Superbowl Are Practically Family

Why the Eurovision Song Contest and the Superbowl Are Practically Family

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…).

Superbowl or Eurovison?

Superbowl or Eurovison?

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?

Marcel Bezençon would have been proud of the NFL

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.

Terry's NFL Superfans

Terry’s NFL Superfans

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.

The spectacle, the singing, and the scoring.

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.

La La La La La,  Hut Hut Hut Hut Hut

La La La La La, Hut Hut Hut Hut Hut

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.

Wogan and Madden

Wogan and Madden

Thanks to the 1985 Chicago Bears, we have the ‘Super Bowl Shuffle‘.  Thanks to Telex, LT United, and Pavel Turcu, we have ‘Euro-Vision‘, ‘We Are the Winners‘, and the infamous ‘Imn Eurovision.

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.

The Bengal Boys, they like to party like nobody, like nobody!

The Bengal Boys, they like to party like nobody, like nobody!

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.

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12 Responses to “Why the Eurovision Song Contest and the Superbowl Are Practically Family”

  1. Matt says:

    Sam, you have done it again with a great piece of writing. I was laughing like a kid when I was reading this because I can kind of relate to it, (just not to the extremes that the Super Bowl has) every year in Australia (but we have 2 national sports).

    The only thing I don’t like is that I can’t watch the Super Bowl ad’s lol.

    I hope you have fun watching the Super Bowl and national final season for eurovision :)

  2. Nick says:

    Let me just get this out of the way: I can’t stand the Super Bowl. I feel the exact same way about all sports, actually. However, I love this piece and its charming Eurovision puns! Just to add my comparison, even the fans are the same. There are the crazed fantasy football people for the Super Bowl to complement the people like me, who will do pretend draws, designs and top XX lists every few weeks. And then, the people who don’t care about the NFL except for the Super Bowl and the many Europeans who only watch the Grand Final.

    This has given a whole new respect for the Super Bowl (even if I still don’t like it). Thank you Sam! :)

  3. NFL doesn't = ESC says:

    Strange then that I should love one so much and despise the other to such an extreme. Goodness forbid that American Football picks up currency around the rest of the world any more than it has.

    And I have to disagree with the concept of “Putting on a Jedward wig or waving a Georgian flag” being “only a half-step away from hoisting a vuvuzela and painting ‘Skol, Vikings!’ on your chest”. American Football continues for months on end (and if it isn’t that, it’s Basketball, Baseball or Ice Hockey). The combination of these games turns american male brains into mush and dulls their senses to the realities of the world.

    As much as some of us may watch many of the national finals before Eurovision, we don’t spend every waking hour working out stats and indulging in fantasy Eurovision band nonsense. Those of us into Eurovision appreciate it is camp and frivolous – we don’t live and breath it to the exclusion of most other things, which it appears many American Football fans do. (I live in NYC and see it every day). Some people can’t carry a decent conversation without entering into football comments or analogies.

    And given that there is a high percentage of gay guys into Eurovision, that suggests another huge continental divide sized difference. American Football is largely intolerant of gays, both in gays playing and gays as fans.

  4. Hi there, “NFL doesn’t = ESC”…thanks for the comment! I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on a few points:

    You’d be pretty surprised at how seriously many ESC fans take the contest! I know quite a few people (beyond those I’ve met in the Press Centre) who can rattle off statistics and facts just as fluently and passionately as any Fantasy Football or Baseball enthusiast. (And I live in Minnesota, so I know more than a fair share of sports nuts!) The Eurovision preseason “opens” on September 1, and doesn’t end until well after the Grand Final in May. I can’t think of many professional sports leagues that go for that long (possibly the NHL, assuming it’s not under a lockdown?) During that brief off-season, there’s the running joke of “Post-Eurovision Depression”. Among the fans, there is definitely an emotional investment involved.

    As for your last comment, about homophobia in the NFL, it’s true that that’s something that is in a state of evolution at the moment. But it’s been documented that Vince Lombardi himself had a zero-tolerance policy on gay-bashing in his locker rooms. In more recent times, I’m sure you’ve heard about MN Vikings punter Chris Kluwe? If you don’t mind more than a fair share of saucy language, check out his open letter to Maryland State Delegate Emmett Burns: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-kluwe/an-open-letter-to-emmett-burns_b_1866216.html.

    In that same vein, weren’t there also major anti-gay demonstrations in Moscow when the ESC came to town? And don’t get me started on what was going on over the border while we were in Baku…it’s not just the NFL that has yet to grow into a state of full tolerance: it’s the world as a whole!

  5. Dimitry Latvia USA says:

    I don’t get American football at all – they play very little and then there is a whistle and the game stops, they show repeat and then the game starts again. I can’t watch these kinds of sports – soccer, hockey and basketball are more continuous and easier to follow for me.

  6. NFL doesn't = ESC says:

    Samantha, we’ll have to agree to disagree on the fundamental point (while agreeing on Chris Kluwe and those who are doing good works currently). And I strongly suspect that your view on this might be colored just a little purple, if you get my drift. My husband has a friend here in Connecticut who is from Minnesota and his constant (yes, respectfully ridiculous) Viking references would try the patience of a saint.

    Also, because you have met a lot of people in the press center who could quote stats on the ESC does not mean it is anything more than limited to a few hundred people among all those hundreds of thousands of ESC fans. Add to that, that ESC has a massively more interesting just because of the shifting political tectonic plates affecting it yearly and the creativity underpinning it. I’m sorry but the NFL has nothing of this drama whatsoever.

  7. “And I strongly suspect that your view on this might be colored just a little purple, if you get my drift.”

    As a third-generation Giants fan, that stings! ;)

  8. Peter says:

    If ESC really is just like the SuperBowl, should we expect the power to go off halfway through the Azeri entry this year?

  9. Ewan Spence says:

    Genuine LOL there, thanks Peter!

  10. BJ Murphy says:

    What next? ESC and the Oscars. Just stick to writing about ESC please

  11. Paul J says:

    Great article Sam and thanks for the mention of dear Celine!

  12. Ewan Spence says:

    If we did go for the Oscars, we’d have to mention Dion again…

  13. […] League’s Super Bowl (born 1967) are practically the same show (and if you’ve forgotten, here’s Sam’s take on the whole ten yards), but Eurovision should sit down this Sunday and take some notes to present to the Reference […]

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