Sunday, February 10, 2008

Super Bowl XLII Was Wise Not to Crank That Soulja Boy

White. Male. Middle-aged. Conservative.

Four adjectives that characterize the average NFL fan. They also happen to describe the most sizable and powerful demographic in the country. Not coincidentally football is America’s most popular sport. That being said, at first glance it appears Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were a curious choice for the Super Bowl XLII halftime show. If the point of having a musical guest is to attract fans who wouldn't otherwise watch a broadcast, then the NFL failed. Those who followed the NFL regular season were the most likely to tune into the Super Bowl. Coming into last Sunday saturation for the WMMC demography was at its peak; football fans were anxious to watch the championship game. Meanwhile Tom Petty listeners, by and large, can be described as Republican middle-aged white guys. Essentially the halftime program was targeted toward the very people the game itself had already covered, which minimized its attractiveness to other demographics.

In terms of drawing a new audience for the halftime show (and hoping it would stick around to watch the rest of the game) the NFL could have gone in a variety of different marketing directions. Perhaps sign on Kanye West to attract a black crowd. Or parade Carrie Underwood out onto midfield for all the ladies. Maybe try appealing to young girls. Imagine how many teeny boppers, with zero interest in football, would have tuned in to watch Hannah Montana Miley Cyrus screech out a few of her mega hits.

But the NFL played it safe. Why? Because it's smart. Following the Janet Jackson debacle the league's image took a big hit. WMMC, many who watched the live performance with their children, were appalled. For the NFL one slip-up was bad enough. If a trend of bawdy behavior became a trend customers (and advertisers) would simply take their business elsewhere.

Reaction from the league was dramatic. The following year's halftime act? Sir Paul McCartney. After that particularly tame performance the NFL recruited the Rolling Stones. However, the usually family unfriendly group was ordered to censor its lyrics. Then came 2007. Prince was the headliner. It was a puzzling choice that went against the conventional wisdom. It was almost as if the league was begging for something inappropriate. Sure enough, the Purple Rainman did not disappoint.

By selecting Tom Petty this year the NFL deliberately decided on a more conservative choice. The league learned its lesson. Business 101 states it's much easier (and cheaper) to keep a customer than sign a new one. The NFL knows it's better to play it safe and uphold a polished image rather than roll the dice. There's no point trying to entice a few million more viewers by offering a titillating performance if it's going to offend the fan base at large. Better to keep Average Joe Football Fan happy.

I didn't catch the halftime performance for Super Bowl XLII. Like most sports fans I don't give a damn about musical guests, unnecessary hoopla or silly commercials: show me what's happening on the field. I'll go out on a limb and guess the show wasn't terribly enthralling. That being said I'll wager every dollar I have Tom Petty wasn't the worst musical performance ever at a football championship.

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