Betting, brothels and Super Bowls
America's annual Rorschach test comes to Vegas
In 2020, two months before a global pandemic was declared over Covid, I wrote an article titled “From Super Bowls to Oscars to Politics, a Week Long Celebration of US Imperium,” about Super Bowl week as a celebratory, propagandistic orgy of faux patriotic self-indulgence. The article was published in English in the US, and in Spanish in México and South America.
Here is an excerpt.
The 2020 Super Bowl in a nation that spends $1.25 trillion annually on its military, and in which 30 second TV ads cost $5 to $6 million, was awash in military pageantry to match the calibrated martial violence of the game itself. The entire star-spangled fandango, with F-35 and F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets flying overhead, is fueled by an unquestioning embrace of consumerism packaged in the idiom of pop culture and celebrity fetishism.
In the 2024 Super Bowl, the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers are competing against the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. Forbes projects the largest television audience in Super Bowl history.
The game is being played at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada, a city and state that are the de facto US capitals of legalized gambling and prostitution, thus completing the transformation of the nation’s premier sporting event into a lurid national Rorschach test.
As a gesture of thanks for the enormous upside in customers in the two week run up to the Super Bowl, sex workers at the famed Chicken Ranch brothel 60 miles outside of Vegas are offering a "no-holds-barred orgiastic blowout" to members of the winning NFL team.
The scale of the Super Bowl spectacle brings to mind the old proverb that “The empty barrel resounds the loudest.” The further the empire sinks into decline, the louder, more garish and sensational its entertainments become.
By the numbers, this is what it looks like.
The US has a historic $34 trillion national debt vs. $26.5 trillion GDP
A $1.4 trillion military machine is enmeshed in unpopular wars across the globe
Only 16% of Americans trust the government in Washington to do what is right, the lowest trust measures in nearly seven decades of polling.
Only 22% say they are satisfied with the direction of the country
77 million Americans, one third of eligible voters, did not vote in 2020
63 million who are eligible to vote did not even register
THE SPECTACLE – BREAD & CIRCUS
Ticket price for the first Super Bowl in 1967 was $10 (Green Bay vs. Kansas City)
Average ticket price for the 2024 Super Bowl is $8,600, with Seat Geek selling tickets for more than $12,000 and resellers asking for up to $45,000 for a single ticket on Ticketmaster
In 2003, total ad revenue from the Superbowl was $130.1 million.
Projections for 2024 ad revenue are $650 million with the cost of a 30 second TV ad topping $7 million.
68 million Americans are expected to bet a total of $23.1 billion on the game
The television audience is expected to exceed 115 million viewers
A Super Bowl flyover is being performed by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbird flight demonstration team
The total televised spectacle lasts about 3.5 hours. The game consists of four 15 minute quarters for a total of 60 minutes. The halftime show is 25 minutes. Ads account for 50 minutes. An hour and 15 minutes are consumed for time outs, breaks between quarters, injuries, etc. A total of 80 to 100 ads of 30 seconds will run.
Although the size of the Super Bowl television audience cannot compete against World Cup soccer, the Tour de France or the Olympics, it is nonetheless the most watched sporting event in the United States and among the largest audiences in the world for a single game.
Ms. Swift has 280 million followers on Instagram, and her current multi-year Eras Tour will be the first ever to generate over $1 billion in revenue. She is expected to be in attendance at the Super Bowl after flying overnight to Las Vegas from the final concert performance in the Tokyo leg of her tour.
Marketwatch reports that Swift's impact on female viewership is “a 53% increase among those aged 12-17, a 34% rise in those over 35, and 24% in the 18-24 demographic.”
SUPER DIVISION vs. SUPER COMMUNITY
A University of California Davis survey in 2022 found that 67.2% of Americans believe there is “a serious threat to our democracy” from internal divisons, while 50.1% think that “in the next several years, there will be civil war in the United States.”
Given the dour mood of the nation, the raucous commercial spectacle that is the Super Bowl at least has the potential to act as a giant petri dish for the celebratory impulse still extant across the country.
About half of all US adults will watch the game. Many of them, perhaps a majority, will attend or host Super Bowl watch parties in private homes with their friends and neighbors. In 2024, Americans are expected to spend $17.3 billion on these parties.
I think part of the attraction of such gatherings is that neighbors can watch the star spangled Super Bowl spectacle together. It produces a tenuous sense of unity about national identity, however fleeting, and the capacious show of sportsmanship by the players after the game is one of the few national arenas where opponents openly display an acceptance of both the rules of the game and the outcome.
This is a slender thread at best, but in an oblique way, perhaps it nonetheless highlights a dormant but still active longing for fair minded community.