Burton on the Bay:
This Game's Got the Wrong Name
You Only Think You're Watching Football
There's a sucker born every minute.
-Phineas Taylor Barnum, 1810-1891
Hey PT, one of the Washington Post's advance Super Bowl story's headline read, "The Greatest Show on Earth." Maybe so, but when I was a kid, I preferred your show when it rumbled by train into the city. It lived up to its name: "The Biggest Show on Earth."
Super Bowl XXXIII didn't, nor did any of its predecessors, live up to its name. Tell you what, though, PT, that game last Sunday sure proved you were right, though probably conservative. Methinks every minute there's more than one sucker born.
How else would there have been 800 million worldwide watching the big spectacle at Miami's Pro Player Stadium? "Pro Player Stadium," hey PT, that's a name destined to go down the tube. You see these waning days of XX Century, they give the palaces where professional athletes play names like PSINet.
Come to think of it, PT, you weren't the biggest huckster of all time. You missed a golden opportunity. You could have replaced the PT Barnum name on the main tent with Lydia Pinkham's Extravaganza and stayed up later counting the receipts that came to you in barrels on the backs of overburdened elephants.
Got a question for you PT. How many commercials and promos do you think were sandwiched between TV's rendition of Super Bowl XXXIII? Or was it the game that was sandwiched between the commercials?
A hint: During the game - a football showdown itself lasts for precisely one hour - there was, by my figuring, more time spent airing commercials than running and passing the pigskin. Perhaps they should have called it the Super Bowl of Commercials.
There I was at Maryland Yacht Club on the shores of Rock Creek in North County trying to enjoy the Super Bowl buffet, but I got indigestion when I thought about the $105.5 million the Baltimore Ravens are scooping up just for using that PSINet moniker on the stadium that I and a bunch of other suckers paid for, courtesy of politicians and legislators.
You see, PT, these people who figure our budgets and spend our money, in their infinite wisdom, allowed for a measly $10 million for the rights of a stadium name to be sold to the Baltimore Ravens, who wasted no time in getting a price that in two years will recoup those 10 mills - and the rest is gravy. Pure profit for the team, which, seeing the stadium was a gift from city and state, means that we're the ones getting the proverbial bird.
So that was my mood, PT, as I sat myself down at a table at MYC to watch XXXIII. And I got to wondering. Wondering whether all the suckers hail from Baltimore and the rest of Maryland, or whether the gullible are scattered in all directions.
Sure, I'd watch the play of the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons; I've seen every Super Bowl since the first. But I'd also keep score of the commercials of the Pigskin Panorama played before 74,803 raving fans (no no-shows) who paid from $325 up just to be in the stands - presumably there to avoid the sales pitches that cluttered the TV sets during XXXIII.
PT, when I was a kid, I was befuddled the few times in the Great Depression when I got to see your Super Bowl, three rings playing all the time, clowns dashing here and there, midgets on stilts, toothless lions snoozing in cages and guys selling cotton candy for a dime. But all that confusion was child's play compared to watching football Super Bowls.
Every time a touchdown is made, the chains are moved, a player gets hurt, a period ends, a period begins or just about anything else happens, there come commercials, one after another, so fast you wonder where one ends and another begins.
PT, I ask you, how can one keep track of a game? Just when things on the field get interesting, the commercials blare - and sometimes you don't get back to the game until a big play is already unfolding. It's a XXXIII-ring circus, bewildering indeed.
Look, PT, Denver in its win had possession of the ball 31 minutes and 23 seconds; Atlanta, 28:37. The commercials played more than both teams combined. A one-hour game dragged on for three hours and 18 minutes, including a dreary half-time show of 11 minutes that seemed like 11 hours - though it wasn't marred by a commercial.
By the time the last play ended, the scorecard on my reporter's notebook showed 112 commercials, shots of the Budweiser blimp and other promos; in-between there was some exciting football. I read in the Post the commercials sold at an average of $1.6 million, so all combined the game topped the figure PSINet paid the blackbirds to put its name on the latest Camden Yards facility for XX years. But not by much.
PT, $1.6 million a crack for 10 to 60 seconds, imagine that. Your circus probably didn't take in that much in a year.
I Sold Out Cheap
I've got a confession to make. In Super Bowl X-something-or-other, when the Baltimore Colts squeezed out a win over the Dallas Cowboys, I actually did a Super Bowl commercial.
Local TV stations were allowed to air a few local spots during a game, and on the side I was hawking beer for the old American Brewery. WMAR, my podium for thrice-weekly outdoor shows, and brewery management decided suds sales would zoom via a one-minute commercial with me in an outdoor setting pouring a glass of brew to be aired at half-time.
It took four hours to shoot that commercial, three of them trying to get a picturesque, thirst-prompting head on a glass of the golden stuff as I tipped the bottle on the set, for which I was paid the going AFTRA rate of $360. Production costs were less than $1,000, and the on-air time, I was told, cost $1,000. Total cost for production - including broadcasting and my fee - was about $2,500.
Why, the Budweiser lobster in my favorite Super Bowl XXXIII commercial was probably paid 10 times that, never mind my paltry $360. I should have had you, PT, as my agent, or perhaps I should have waited another 20 or so years, but then my sales pitch couldn't have been so effective, seeing that American beer went down the chute a few years later, which thankfully saved my stomach from more abuse.
By XXXIII half-time, PT, the crowd at MYC thinned out. Seems the viewers could no longer distinguish quarterback John Elway from the lizards, frogs, lobsters and SUVs on the tube as the screen switched from commercials to play like a kaleidoscope.
My attention span was vulnerable, too, but during the commercials I got to feeling sorry for PSINet for shelling out $105.5 million to the Ravens. This undoubtedly angers sufficient fans who only get $10 million of that money back that they will never tune in to Ravens games, me among 'em.
PT, I was wondering if it wouldn't have been more appropriate had Preparation H been the highest bidder in the Camden Yards auction, a.k.a. the Great Train Robbery. Enough said
| Issue 5 |
Volume VII Number 5
February 4-10, 1999
New Bay Times
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