Super Bowl 50 – All You Need To Know

We explore The Super Bowl, the biggest sports event in North America with over 110 million viewers. Check out this guide to the essential facts.

Aah… San Francisco. Home to Haight-Ashbury, the Golden Gate Bridge and, this February, the biggest annual sporting occasion in North America. Yes, the city that gave birth to hippy counter-culture is about to welcome the Super Bowl. The match that Americans understatedly call “The Big Game” is taking place on Sunday February 7, at the home stadium of San Francisco’s own 49ers.

At this point, we should really mention that the stadium itself isn’t in San Francisco itself – but actually about 40 miles outside the city limits, in Santa Clara. So you’ll need to drive. All is not lost though, as it gives you the opportunity to also explore both Santa Clara and nearby San Jose as part of a wider Super Bowl excursion – allowing you to really get an authentic flavour of the Bay Area.

The 49ers themselves are among the franchises to have played in London in recent years – a further three NFL matches are coming to the UK capital in October 2016 – but for now all eyes are on the grand prize in San Francisco. American Football’s showpiece event routinely draws TV audiences of more than 110 million, but how much do you know about it? Here’s our guide to the essential facts.

It turns 50 this year

Super Bowl 50 Yard Line

The 2016 final is being billed as the “Golden Super Bowl”. Why? Not only is it being played in California, the so-called Golden State, but it’s also the fiftieth edition of what has become America’s biggest annual sporting occasion (only the UEFA Champions’ League final draws bigger viewing figures worldwide). The Super Bowl is celebrating its golden anniversary. Not only that, but with the match taking place at the home of the 49ers – a team named after the 1949 Gold Rush – we’re provided with yet another “golden” link.

The match is a championship showdown between two “conferences”

Super Bowl 2016

The Super Bowl itself represents the season’s finale, pitting the winners of the American Football Conference (AFC) against their table-topping counterparts from the National Football Conference (NFC). Both leagues contain 16 teams from around the US, and they’re fairly well matched historically – NFC teams have won the trophy 26 times over the years, compared to 23 victories by AFC teams.

The final routinely takes place in front of a capacity crowd, with last year’s attendance well in excess of 100,000. But the stat that really tells you how popular the event has become? “Super Bowl Sunday” is officially the second largest food consumption day in the US, after Thanksgiving.

Its name was inspired by a child’s bouncy ball

Bouncy Ball

The event’s name was coined by a sports promoter named Lamar Hunt in the 1960s, who had been watching his kids playing with a synthetic rubber toy known as a Super Ball. Combining this with the American habit of calling championship college football matches “bowl games” (the “bowl” in question being the stadium), he came up with the now-familiar title. In a letter to the sport’s commissioner in 1966, Hunt wrote “I have kiddingly called it the Super Bowl, which obviously can be improved upon.” The media thought more of the name than Hunt seemingly did, however, and it was adopted from the word go.

This year’s Halftime Show comes from Coldplay

Madonna Halftime show by SAB0TEUR, on Flickr
Madonna Halftime show” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  SAB0TEUR 

Halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl has become as big a talking point as the action itself. Long gone are the early years, when spectators were serenaded only by university marching bands. These days, it’s A-list mega-artists or nothing. Taking up the mantle this year are the UK’s own Coldplay, who follow in the sizeable footsteps of acts like Bruce Springsteen, U2, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Madonna. The London foursome are far from being the first Brits to headline, of course: past performers also include The Who, Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones. Sets can sometimes be up to nine songs long.

An advertising slot will now set you back five million dollars

Super Bowl Times Square

A sporting contest of this scale is a natural magnet for big-name consumer brands – but it’s far from cheap for advertisers to get involved. It’s been reported that the host broadcaster is now demanding $5 million for a 30-second commercial during the event; an astronomical rise from the $37,500 that was being quoted back in 1967 for the very first Super Bowl. And big-buck corporations aren’t the only ones expected to dig deep – a helping of “souvenir popcorn” cost a cool $15 at last year’s final.

Predicting the winners isn’t straightforward

MRR_0152.JPG by SteelCityHobbies, on Flickr
MRR_0152.JPG” (CC BY 2.0) by  SteelCityHobbies 

In contrast to many sporting tournaments around the world, the Super Bowl throws up a thoroughly democratic range of champions – the past nine years have seen eight different winners. The most successful team to date are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have lifted the trophy six times (including four times between 1974 and 1979). And pity the only four current teams never to have reached the Super Bowl final: the Detroit Lions, the Houston Texans, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns. The latter are sometimes known, unkindly, as the “Cleveland Clowns”.

The host cities tend to be world-class travel destinations

Pacific Coast Highway

The first ever Super Bowl took place in Los Angeles in 1967 (the year of the “Summer of Love” further up the coast in San Francisco) and the event has been back to the LA region six times since. Even more established as host cities are Miami and New Orleans, which have both witnessed finals on ten separate occasions. The upshot? The potential for turning a Super Bowl holiday into an unforgettable road trip is generally very high. On which note, if you’re in the San Francisco Bay area this time around, don’t miss the chance to take in the Pacific Coast Highway.

If you’re planning well in advance, next year’s Super Bowl takes place in Houston in February 2017 – which also happens to be within easy driving distance of Texas’ famous rugged terrains of “hill country”. So get ready to saddle up…

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