Competition, Commercials, and Concussions—American Attitudes Towards Super Bowl Sunday

Study investigate the priorities of American football fans surrounding the Big Game

The events of the 2017-2018 NFL season—on and off the field—have divided Americans on many issues.

But a recent study released just days before the Big Game suggests most remain unified on one thing: the Super Bowl is meant to be entertainment. While politics, social media, and advertising have varying roles in the event, the clear preference above all others is for an entertaining football game.

PSB, in conjunction with Burson-Marsteller and Fan Experience, conducted a survey earlier this month of 1,000 fans Americans who plan to watch this year’s Super Bowl and who also watched the game last year. Respondents offered their thoughts on a number of issues and attractions surrounding the contest.

Perhaps most interesting to those in the rehab arena was the relatively low impact of concussion-related stories on game viewership. 77 percent of those surveyed said these stories would not affect their viewership, and two-thirds of respondents feel the NFL has prioritized player safety.

“Fans clearly view this as an important issue, but it’s not going to affect whether or not they tune in for the Super Bowl,” said Jason Teitler, chair of Burson-Marsteller and Fan Experience. “What it will affect is perceptions of how the game is or is not taking care of players, and what it could mean to individuals close to them.”

Fan Experience began in 2010 as a specialty to help advertising clients understand the behavior of fans across numerous sports, using the gathered information to best communicate with what Teitler referred to as “very elusive audiences.”

“Without the science, evidence… the actual data, we’re just going about things blindly,” he said. “When it comes to professional football or any other sport, we need to understand what it is that people are thinking. For instance, we know that casual fans are checking in on the game every so often, while avid fans have more sensitivity to things that affect their coveted world of sports.”

2018 marks the fifth year of the Super Bowl survey, but this year’s study held special significance following a year—and a football season—that brought social and political issues to the forefront. Despite that, 63 percent of respondents indicated that the Super Bowl is not the place for political messages.

Millennials in particular are more welcoming of a political message during the game, with 51 percent deeming the contest a very appropriate (21 percent) or somewhat appropriate (30 percent) venue for such messaging. By comparison, only 20 percent of Baby Boomers feel likewise.

“When you’re dealing with an older generation, you’re talking about people who are purists,” said Teitler. “They want to enjoy the game without the distractions, whereas younger audiences may be looking for a banter around the entertainment venue.”

Teitler indicated this year was especially interesting in terms of studying these opinions or reaction to political messaging during a crucial sporting event.

“Obviously, there have been shifts in the leadership of our great nation, so we felt it would be very important to take the pulse of these attitudes,” he said.

From an advertising perspective, the study dispels the idea that most Americans are watching the game for the commercials. 73 percent of people responded they’d prefer a great game with boring commercials rather than the opposite. Again, a preference for entertainment above all else was clear in attitudes toward advertising, with 67 percent citing funny ads as the priority. 46 percent of respondents said they’d like to learn something new about a product through the advertisements.

Social media was another focus, with 64 percent saying they will interact via some medium during the game. For these people, Facebook is the preferred mode of interaction, with 53 percent calling it their preferred social channel.
Finally, respondents showed a clear preference for smaller gatherings to watch the game, as opposed to large crowds in bars or other locations. Teitler found an interesting connection between the preference for small gatherings and the popularity of Facebook on social media as related to the game.

“Facebook is less about broadcasting your perspective to the galaxy, and more focused on sharing with your friends and family,” he said.

Amidst a changing world and a highly charged political landscape, some things stay the same: Americans want good football and funny commercials on Super Bowl Sunday.

“Please be funny, please be entertaining,” Teitler concluded, summarizing the opinions of American football fans. “But offering education about a product is welcome as well.”

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