Bring On the Nachos and Beer -- It’s the National Huddle

Mike Berland and Doug Schoen are partners at the research firm Penn, Schoen & Berland in New York.

This week, Americans will celebrate this country’s 11th national holiday -- Super Bowl Sunday. In a nation of highly polarized red states and blue states, what else do we all join together to celebrate? Only the Super Bowl can truly claim to be a uniter, not a divider.

Think about it: The outrage over the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” at last year’s halftime show was not so much about the partial nudity as about the desecration of what we all think is appropriate to this national celebration.

According to a random sample survey of 1,735 Americans we conducted this last week, Americans now treat Super Bowl Sunday the same way they treat Christmas or the Fourth of July. They make plans. They do “something special.” They spend it with others. In fact, half of all Americans would rather go to a Super Bowl party than a New Year’s Eve party.


And Super Bowl celebrations are no longer thrown- together beer-and-pizza bashes. In a growing trend, half of Americans plan well ahead for Super Bowl Sunday, usually before the final teams have even been determined. On average, Super Bowl plans are made 41 days in advance, our research shows. (By comparison, New Year’s plans are made 35 days in advance; anniversary plans are made 30 days in advance; birthday plans are made 25 days in advance.)

Why is Super Bowl Sunday so powerful in our culture? Maybe because Christmas and Thanksgiving are family holidays, and we each have our own traditions. Fourth of July fireworks and parades are celebrated city by city across the country. But Super Bowl Sunday is unique -- a shared, nationwide social event organized around a single stage at a single time.

In the beginning, the Super Bowl was about a football championship. Now, two out of five Super Bowl watchers are not even football fans. Even people who will never watch another game all year will tune in to be part of this one national event.

The Super Bowl brings together the key elements of our entertainment culture -- glitz and glamour, the single most anticipated athletic contest of the year, and superstar entertainers at halftime.

In addition, the Super Bowl has become advertising’s big contest as well. A solid majority (58%) of our survey respondents said they would rather take their bathroom breaks during the game than miss the commercials.

Over a couple of hours in the dead of winter, the Super Bowl offers us community in real time. Amid challenges around the globe and partisan hard-lining at home, we can still count on the fact that George W. Bush and John Kerry will both be watching the Super Bowl, participating in a unifying, uniquely American ritual.