Sports is a comfortable small-talk topic. However, few Europeans are aware of the Super Bowl, and only a handful will spend the night watching a sport that hardly anyone plays at home. Nevertheless, you can still demonstrate your intercultural skills by explaining how you celebrate the American sports highlight of the year!
On Sunday, I watched the Super Bowl with friends and junk food in front of a giant TV screen. The experience had nothing to do with my first year in the States when we almost died from boredom and went to bed before the game ended. At the time, I remember thinking that the only purpose of the sport was to interrupt the game as often as possible and to tackle opponents brutally.
I didn’t fare any better the second time. I came to think that—forgive my bluntness—American football looks like a war where the general (i.e. quarterback) is white and the soldiers are all black.
Moving abroad always creates challenges, but comprehending the Super Bowl was a challenge I hadn’t expected. It’s not that we don’t have popular sports competitions in Europe. For example, we’ll cheer up for national teams during the Soccer World Cup. The Olympic Games are a beloved event and source of national pride. But, the key difference is that these events only happen every four years!
Of course, I’m sure many will remind me of the Champions League (soccer again), a yearly event. Well, I wouldn’t compare that to the Super Bowl. Firstly, the Super Bowl is an American competition only; in the Champions League, teams from different cities throughout Europe play against each other. Besides aficionados, nobody in Europe really cares about sporting events outside of their city walls.
What do Germans really think about the Super Bowl?
Last year, only 1.23 million Germans watched the 51st edition of the Super Bowl. For comparison, 34.6 million watched the Soccer World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in 2014. Sorry, guys, but nobody really cares about the Super Bowl in Germany.
American football arrived in Germany in 1945 with the American occupation army, but for the next 20 years, the sport was played in the barracks only. In the last 40 years, a small German league developed. However, only 32,000 players on 300 teams are registered. Don’t even try to compare these figures with soccer’s 6.5 million players!
One final note about American football in Europe: German football players represent half of all European players. Clearly, football is simply not popular in Europe.
How do European soccer events differ from the Super Bowl?
Soccer is less brutal than football, but the celebration aspect is pretty similar. Watching the final of the World Cup is like watching the Super Bowl. The sports are different, of course, but in both cases family and friends gather together with beer and chips in front of a TV.
For the last 20 years, public viewing has gotten more and more popular in Europe. People will meet in a park or in a public square and enjoy watching the game on a giant screen. Since the Super Bowl is held in February, it’s nearly impossible to organize public viewings in the US. But, because the World Cup happens in the summer, only rain and thunder can stop public viewings!
Business is booming during the Super Bowl, but it’d be a mistake to think that no money is involved in European sport. The World Cup is peak merchandising season for brands like Adidas, Reebok, and Nike. However, this event doesn’t have a half-time show or huge-budget commercials broadcast during the breaks. Why not?
According to Ad Age, the total spending for ads at this year’s Super Bowl amounted to $419 million. NBC charged just over $5 million for each 30-second spot!
Despite being the biggest sporting event on Earth, the World Cup is a completely different marketing affair. Each half of a soccer game is played continuously with no breaks, which means there’s considerably less time for commercials. Also, remember that Europe is a continent of multiple countries with different languages. As a result, the advertising market is not homogenous: even universal brands like Coca-Cola have to book ads in every country individually.
My personal Super Bowl story
Back in 2013, my husband and I had a vague impression of the Super Bowl. Our children, going to American schools, were better informed. We realized afterward that we’d missed something, as we couldn’t participate in many conversations with friends and neighbors. Honestly, I don’t even remember who played that year and had to google to see if the Patriots were involved. They weren’t: the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Broncos 43–8. It was a one-way game—quite boring for our newbie eyes!
Then, one day, we went to Whole Foods the Saturday before the game and bought chicken wings, which my husband prepared in a sesame sauce overnight. I remember the half-time show with Coldplay and Beyoncé, and reading the rules on my phone felt like a refresher course instead of a complete novelty. We actually had fun that evening!
Every year, watching the Super Bowl gets better. Game interruptions mean more opportunities to watch great commercials. To check the oven. To refill my plate. Or even to visit the ladies room. I didn’t have to check the rules on Sunday even once. What I know is enough. Next year, I may try to understand the referee signs—or maybe not. Who cares when you can be entertained and have a good time with family and friends!
Did you watch the Super Bowl this year?