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Marketing, Not Football, Is King At The Super Bowl


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: There's a football game tomorrow. Have you heard? The 47th Superbowl starring the San Francisco 49ers, the Baltimore Ravens and a couple of guys named Harbaugh who say please, please, enough about us. Talk about our players. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine joins us now from the studios of member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts. Morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Fine thanks. And let's just surprise a lot of people by talking about "The Puppy Bowl" instead. What do you say? But I read in the paper today that 8.7 million people watch "The Puppy Bowl" last year. It raises the question is the Superbowl becoming a bit of a chore for some people?

BRYANT: Well, I do wonder if it's reached its saturation point in terms of the actual game. The thing about sports is the money continues to roll in. Remember, just back several years ago, it was $2 million for an ad buy there for 30 seconds. Now it's up to $4 million last year. The Superbowl is the highest watched game of all time.

The interesting thing about it is that as the revenues go up and as the spectacle of the Superbowl continues, you've got less quality of the game until about the second half. And then on top of that you had some advertisers this year trying to round out their Super Bowl ads before the game to see if they could get as much bang for the buck, but by paying less. That $4 million is a lot of money.

But still, it's the number one event and the money seems to keep rolling in.

SIMON: We've talked about the Harbaugh boys. Ray Lewis, the great Baltimore Raven's linebackers played 248 games. Tomorrow is going to be his last. But there's a legacy that's still controversial, isn't there?

BRYANT: Well, sure there is, and especially - I mean, people aren't going to forget, especially if you're members of the family, that Ray Lewis was part of a double murder in 2000 and there's a feeling, and I'm very happy that the aunt of one of the victims, a woman named Cindy Lollar-Owens, has been very outspoken in the last couple of weeks, making sure that people didn't forget her nephew, that, you know, this murder pretty much was Ray Lewis as a guy who was part of it.

There was a feeling that he had pretty much bought his way out of it, that his money and his fame allowed him to escape with a misdemeanor charge, that justice wasn't served. There is something very disturbing to me about the fact that he has been the face of the NFL and that the NFL has gone out of its way to really make Ray Lewis the franchise of the shield with this hanging over it. It's distasteful to me.

SIMON: The last time the Harbaugh brothers faced off on the football field, 2011. The Ravens defeated the 49ers in a defensive battle. Does San Francisco have a little bit more offensive pop now than it did last year?

BRYANT: Well sure they do, because they've got Colin Kaepernick and they've got a lot more offense now, but I think the interesting thing about the Superbowl is that it's a matter of just who holds their nerves. The old days - remember back in the '80s, the Superbowl as pretty much a blowout. By halftime, nobody wanted to watch the game because one team pretty much crushed the other one. It was usually the NFC destroying the AFC.

But I think that advertising has actually helped the quality of the game a lot because the game is so big, you get in there and it's not really about the game because it's such a huge spectacle and one team loses their nerve and gets blow out. But I think today, because you have so many commercials in the first half, you get a chance to calm down.

You get a commercial before kickoff, you get a commercial after kickoff, you've got so many stoppages in play it allows you to kind of catch your breath and play. And if you notice the last, I think four out of the last five Superbowls have come down to the final drive. So I think it's going to be a terrific, terrific game.

SIMON: Last week in a science segment, I muttered my prediction - the 49ers by 7. What do you, the expert, say, Howard?

BRYANT: I like that. I mean, the 49ers are 5-0 in Superbowls. I like their offense. I mean, I think it's going to be a really, really close game, but you know, that means it'll probably be a blowout since I know nothing. But I like the 49ers. I like the 49ers in this one.

SIMON: I'm told Raven's fans are very cheered by the fact that you and most people are picking the 49ers.

BRYANT: Well, they should be because I'm wrong on virtually of them.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com, but he'll be back on ESPN The Magazine. Thanks very much, Howard.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.