Friday, January 25, 2008

Daily Super Bowl Hype Meme: Neilsen and Schrodinger

Recent articles on, and Yahoo! (among others) have been dedicated to speculation that this year's Giants-Patriots Super Bowl will be a Neilsen ratings bonanza, possibly even the most-watched Super Bowl of all-time.

at right: a highly-rated Neilsen

The premise of the articles is tough to dispute (popular large market teams + history on the line + Tom Brady is dreamy = cash in your pocket), However, the two big questions (one frivolous, one fundamental) raised by the article might be more interesting. To wit:
1. Are there really people who are only occasional viewers of the Super Bowl?

According to the article, last year's Super Bowl between Indianapolis and Chicago was seen by about 93 million people. It goes on to speculate without a lot of detail as to methodology) that this year's viewership could top 100 million.

So where the hell were those 7 million people last year? Do they lack both friends and televisions? Do they hate both beer and hot wings? Are they somehow ordinarily averse to the spectacle of chemically-enhanced mogoloids running around crippling each other? In short, are they not entertained?

Could it be true that about 7% of Americans are terrified enough of falling behind the cultural curve that they will tune in to a game about which they do not care simply because they understand it to be more popular than usual? Sounds about right to us.

Our theory here at the GRBG is that these additional people will watch this year's Super Bowl mainly because articles like those cited above have told them in advance that everyone else will be watching.

In other words, the mere act of writing about the popularity of the game will cause that popularity to change. To the extent that dead cats and sportswriting can overlap, they have done so here.

above: an awesome illustration of Schrodinger's Box, from

That's what makes this such a genius meme: it's self-fulfilling in a way that a prediction about the game itself could never be. But that clever bit of reality invention by the articles doesn't address the second, more fundamental question they raise, which is . . .

2. Who f#$%ing cares?

That's a pretty big question--in fact, it's arguably the big question for any piece of journalism. At the most basic level, when you sit down to write an article for a sports website, it seems as though you'd try to touch in some meaningful way on, well, sports. Yet somebody was (presumably) paid to write an article describing the popularity of a game, rather than the game itself.

As such, these articles are the opening salvo in an expected week-long barrage of meta-coverage of the Super Bowl. (We recognize that this blog is arguably also such meta-coverage; however, we're not passing our posts off as actual news, while the mainstream meta-coverage still presents itself as something other than mass media onanism.) As the football-related angles dry up to the point where hardcore fans long for the halcyon days of boot p0rn, writers are reduced to covering the coverage of the game, rather than covering the game itself.

This is an abomination to the true sports fan, with the notable exception of the official Super Bowl media day, which has now been anti-hyped to the point where it may, in first-order terms, be underappreciated. But more on that next week. For the time being, let's give a solid 7 to writing about watching.

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