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SUPER BOWL XXXVI

In case you didn’t know, the Super Bowl is on this weekend. For most Americans, this is pretty close to a national holiday – in fact productivity experts might suggest that the day after the Super Bowl (as well as the first two days of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament) should be a national holiday. Sure, baseball is “America’s Pastime”, but the World Series can last four games or seven – you never know. Super Bowl Sunday brings the modern short-attention-span sports fan exactly what he or she loves most: one game, one champion. The closest thing from an international sports perspective would be the World Cup Final, but it is our patriotic duty as Americans to ignore that great sporting event until we can claim superiority over the rest of the world. It might be a while…and besides, who needs soccer when we’ve got Roman numerals!
There are several ways to enjoy the Super Bowl. Thousands of faithful fans pay hundreds of dollars each for tickets to the game, and thousands more in travel and related expenses. Most of us HBS folks would likely claim such a trip as a business expense or tax deduction, and thus not worry about the money. But as much fun as going to the game in person would be, I think the best way to truly get the “Super Bowl experience” is to enjoy the game in the company of friends. A quick cost/benefit analysis should lead you to the optimal solution: find someone with a big house or apartment and convince him or her to throw a party! Of course, there are a few more variables to consider, but you get the idea. Now, for those of you international students who have never had the privilege of hosting or attending a Super Bowl party, or for those who typically hold up your nose at such “lowly” activities, here are some “best practices” on how to prepare for the big day from the host’s perspective.

Televisions, Televisions, Televisions
Of course the main reason for the party is to watch the Super Bowl. This means that you need to maximize the “television function” along both the quality and quantity axes. For the quality axis, the layman’s rule of thumb is typically “bigger is better”. However, with the advent of digital television (DTV) and especially High-Definition Television (HDTV), one must also take into account other factors such as picture resolution. Now while last year’s Super Bowl was broadcast in glorious HDTV by CBS, this year we’re stuck with Fox, a network which unfortunately feels that HDTV is a waste of bandwidth. That said, Fox is going to broadcast the game in “Fox Widescreen” (a 480p DTV format) in some markets, including Boston. This should result in noticeably better picture quality than what you can get over cable or satellite, but you’ll need a DTV-capable television set as well as a set-top box (STB) with antenna capable of receiving the signal. Plan accordingly.

On the quantity axis, you’ve got to keep in mind that there will be tons of people at your place, and each and every one of them should be able to have an unobstructed view of a television at any given time while in your home. I suggest a TV to room ratio of greater than or equal to 1.0-this goes for bathrooms, kitchens, and any closet over 10 square feet. Obviously, no normal human being owns this many television sets, so encourage your guests to bring theirs, and let the blame rest on their own shoulders if they can’t watch while grabbing another cold one from the fridge. To recap: a good strategy is to plan for one quality TV in the main game-watching area, and as many other sets dispersed around the house as possible.

A few words about pre-game TV shows. There will likely be many to choose from, starting at dawn and going all the way to kickoff. You might even enjoy the inane banter between NFL has-beens. DON’T BE TEMPTED. Leave your TV’s off until game time, except maybe to demo that new PS2 game you got over break. This is a great time to be social and hang with your friends before the insanity begins, so use it as such.

Drinks, Food, and Drinks
To paraphrase the movie Blazing Saddles:
“You said ‘drinks’ twice.”
“I like drinks.”
The first key here is convenience. We’ve all studied “arm’s-length transactions”, so let me just say that your guests should never be more than an arm’s length from that next bottle of beer or bowl of chips. Short of hiring help for the day to make constant trips to and from the kitchen, your best bet are strategically-placed mini-fridges, coolers, and trash cans filled with ice (in that order of preference) stocked with the finest beer money can buy for less than $10 a case. Keep a private stash of the good stuff for yourself, or to impress that “someone special” as need be. Likewise, fine foods such as pretzels [Editor’s note: chew carefully], chips, and salsa should be kept readily available in large and plentiful containers (improvise if you run out of bowls -that shoebox you were about to throw away has some value after all!). Even though you have a television in the kitchen, people shouldn’t have to be going there in the first place.

Secondly, you must go against every economic theory known to man and choose to supply in excess of anticipated equilibrium. You don’t want to be forever known as the schmuck who ran out of beer/chips/whatever before halftime. A recent non-scientific study showed that people at Super Bowl parties generally consume upwards of 150% of their normal consumption rate in food and beverages. This is likely due to the fact that people actually watch commercials during the Super Bowl and are thus more likely to be exposed to nefarious subliminal messages in advertising. While you can rely on strategies such as the “bring your own TV” plan above to distribute the blame for running out of key food and beverage supplies, in the end you will be held accountable.

$5 on First Time Out!
Betting on the Super Bowl is as American as professional wrestling. However, it’s also illegal in many places, so check with your legal team before acting on any of the theoretical activities that follow. Your traditional Super Bowl bet is the “100 squares” pool, which pays out depending on the team scores after each quarter of play. Yawn. Much better to create excitement and interaction with your friends are what I like to call “Anything Goes” bets. Looking for some action on the coin toss? Think you know what company will run the first commercial after the kickoff? Want the over/under on minutes before the first score of the game? Make the bet! Anything and everything during the game has gambling potential – limited only by your creativity and cash-on-hand. This can also keep your guests involved even if the game gets boring-just remember to keep the bets relatively low so that everyone can participate and have fun. Things can get out of hand pretty quickly, so I suggest you get a poster board and pen handy to keep track of all of the bets so people can settle when they sober up later on.

The Comic Relief
Arguably the most entertaining of all the day’s activities and events are the commercials. These are future case studies waiting to happen, folks! I’m not talking about commercials during the pregame show, or during non-game time. .I’m talking about the $1-2 million whoppers. The kind of commercial that either buys your company 15 minutes of water cooler fame, or gets your VP of Marketing canned. Great companies have made their mark right here in these very thirty-second timeslots, and lots of other companies have made millions of television viewers worldwide laugh, cry, or throw beer cans at the screen. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride as the drama unfolds before you.

Not as funny are the overblown production numbers that pregame and halftime have grown into. With Mariah Carey singing the National Anthem, and U2 headlining the halftime show, you can be sure of two things: first, that hundreds of pre-teens will crowd the field to do their version of synchronized flailing, and second, that other TV networks will attemp
t to shark viewers with outlandish specials. Flip over to NBC at halftime if you don’t believe me.

The Game
At some point during the day, the actual Super Bowl will be played. Guys in pads running around, throwing a ball, hitting each other. Sure, the Super Bowl’s fun to watch, but most fun of all is the experience you share with your friends.

January 28, 2002
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