- The Washington Times - Friday, February 5, 2010

MIAMI

North Americans call it “the greatest show on earth,” but in reality, not much of the world is really paying attention to the Super Bowl.

Sunday’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints will be broadcast in 230 countries and territories, but the evidence indicates that in most parts of the world, few people will be organizing their days around the game.

It once was described regularly as having a “potential global audience of a billion,” conjuring up images of sports bars around the world packed with NFL fans tucking into chicken wings, but the figures indicate something different.

The annual survey by Initiative Futures Sports and Entertainment showed last year’s Super Bowl was beaten in the top spot in annual sports events, for the first time, by the final of European soccer’s Champions League. Last year, there was no soccer World Cup or Olympics, which regularly beat the Super Bowl.

Last year’s Super Bowl was watched by a global audience of 162 million, but the vast majority of those tuning in were in the United States, with neighbors Canada and Mexico the next-biggest markets.

There is no doubt the Super Bowl is the biggest sports and television event in the United States, but it is limited in its global impact by a kickoff time that is unsociable in many parts of the world and rules that casual fans find unfathomable.

Not that the NFL is not trying - the game kicks off at 7 a.m. on Monday in Beijing; NFL China is hosting parties, and the New England Patriots cheerleaders will be in attendance after completing a nine-day tour of China.

Sports fans in Beijing certainly know the game is on - the NFL’s China operation has paid for billboard advertising on the Beijing subway and online.

But in the end, like most of the Super Bowl parties in the world, China’s will be attended by expat Americans and people educated in the States.

‘Lost interest’

In India, the NFL even was dropped by the television network Ten Sports at the end of the 2008 season because the viewing figures were so poor, with a target rating point of 0.01.

“It didn’t go that great over here,” a Ten Sports spokesperson said. Although ESPN-Star has picked up the league, it remains a tiny niche audience that watches.

“Friends of mine who returned from the States followed NFL for some time, but they soon lost interest as the rest of us only relate to cricket, soccer, tennis and motor sports,” said Chennai, India-based sports fan Vasanth Chandrasekaran.

U.S sports events certainly have the ability to penetrate the Asian market - baseball fans in Tokyo will get up early to watch World Series games, but not many do the same for the Super Bowl.

The NFL targeted Europe heavily in the past, even creating a developmental league, NFL Europe, in 1995, but that venture, despite some successes, was closed down in June 2007.

The league featured franchises in the Netherlands, Germany, Britain and Spain. London continues to receive attention with a regular-season NFL game every year, but Germany is arguably the strongest market for the sport.

German fans

“We have some fan bases in Germany where people know the game, know the rules and are excited about the Super Bowl,” said Philipp Hofmeister, NFL commentator with ARD television, in Miami to cover the game.

“Super Bowl Sunday says something to people by now,” he said, “and so you will find a bunch of parties at sports bars.”

In most of the world, however, the NFL and its premier game remain well outside the sports mainstream, as Indianapolis Colts right tackle Ryan Diem found out after his team won the Super Bowl three years ago.

“After we won the Super Bowl, my wife and I went to Australia and New Zealand. I was wearing my Super Bowl hat, and there were only a handful of people who recognized it and who knew who the Colts were, which was a little surprising,” he said.

The odds may be stacked against the NFL ever becoming a truly global league but the league continues to make efforts with educational programs all over the world, through the Internet and television.

Ultimately, though, there is no better vehicle for winning new fans than the Super Bowl itself, as Saints cornerback Jabari Greer noted.

“We realize that when the Super Bowl is on, it is the only game in the world at that time, and we really want to put on a great show,” he said.

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