The last job I had before founding Deadspin in September 2005 was as a reporter for Registered Rep. magazine, a monthly trade publication for stockbrokers and financial advisors. (I was not good at this job: I apologize, everyone, for not seeing the housing bubble coming.) One of the most important aspects of my beat was to go to big financial advisor conferences, at anonymous convention centers in Las Vegas and San Francisco, and go sit in on panels and schmooze with advisors about what was going on at their firms. I spent much of 2004 in random Hotel Marriott conference rooms by the airport, listening to people wearing sad plaid ties talk click a PowerPoint and droning on about "Maximizing Your Clients' Long Term Wealth Management Solutions."
As you'd suspect, there isn't much in life more boring than that, and when I got a chance to write about sports for a living, I jumped at it. I was convinced I'd never have to sit through a soulless corporate gathering like that again, that I was freed of industry confabs full of shameless marketers desperate for publicity, cash and free buffets. And I was: Until I went to the Super Bowl.
As a fan, I'm sure you're already pretty tired of the Super Bowl, and the hype week hasn't even started yet. But for all the talk about the ridiculousness of Media Day and the Harbowl and the cavalcade of Ray Lewis nostril investigations coming, trust me, it's a lot worse if you're actually there. I freaking hate the Super Bowl.
Now, don't get me wrong: I love the game, particularly now that we've had so many good ones over the last decade-plus. (Youngsters, trust me, we olds remember the two decades when every Super Bowl was a damned blowout.) But it's everything that surrounds the game, on the ground, that represents all that is terrible about sports.
The Super Bowl is the ultimate corporate convention for the people in the world of sports who are less interested in sports and more interested in separating money from your wallet. The coverage of course is insanely over-the-top -- Richard Deitsch's rundown of the media overkill is honestly gruesome to look at; that's like the end credits of a snuff film -- but that's not what horrible about the Super Bowl. After all, you can just ignore all that.
No, it's the money at the Super Bowl. All the little startup companies, the smaller ones wanting to be bought up by ESPN or the NFL or just wanting to hob-nob with the countless former athletes who invade during Super Bowl week, they all have booths and are all wearing placards and passing out business cards and basically sucking all the life and fun out of the Super Bowl long before it can ever start. The first time I went to the Super Bowl was in Arizona in 2008, to cover the event for the New York Times. I was more qualified to cover it than the Times even could have suspected: It was essentially the same experience as covering a Raymond James conference back in 2004.
Everything at the Super Bowl is for sale: People go there solely to sell things. This goes for everyone. You can always count on the sadness of watching Joe Montana, whose post-career financial ventures have consisted of one disaster after another, making his way through Radio Row, hocking some sort of energy bracelet or something. Media people, wading through a rapidly evolving industry, try to make connections and sell whatever they can, while they can. And of course there are the sports marketing folk, the ones on the outskirts of sports but desperately trying to get in, grabbing everything and everyone they can. I will say that Super Bowl week is a terrific time to get free, branded beer cozies, key chains and bottle openers.
Listen, I get that sports is, in fact, a business, one that makes billions of dollars. (And I remind everyone, by "make," I mean "we all just give it to them.") This is what sports are about, at their core, no matter how much we try to fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. But it's never more apparent and overwhelming than at the Super Bowl. The reason media people all want to go to the Super Bowl isn't because they want to cover the event, or feel that they have something to add: It's because it's a week where they can drink with their colleagues and be wined and dined by industry folks and go to big parties sponsored by vodka distributors. (And by "go to big parties," I mean, "stand awkwardly in the corner, having debates about Colin Kaepernick's tattoos, while pretty people actually dance.") It's worth noting that there isn't much actual reporting at the Super Bowl: I love that the Super Bowl has more sports journalists than any other event, and the league still just allows one pool reporter for each team throughout the week. (It's almost like, uh, nobody else needs to be there?) It's sports at its most decadent and self-serving, and it's all concentrated in one place.
By the time the game actually starts, I've found, most of the people who flock into town have already left: The game is beside the point, of course. When you host a Super Bowl party, you'll notice the large number of people who just show up to watch the commercials. Well, on-site, it's the same way. Except those people are the ones actually in charge. When I was there in '08, as I wrote for the Times, I was so worn down by the oppressive corporatization that I found myself in dire need of a tailgate, a place to drink some beer with some actual people who loved football. Unfortunately, the usual tailgating spot in Glendale was unavailable, rented out for the The NFL Experience Built And Sponsored By Home Depot. $17.50 for adults, $12.50 for children under 12. I am so, so glad to be staying home this year.
Some reporters really work their arse off at the Super Bowl, and I salute them for it. Especially since I'm sure all the other reporters are all making fun of them for it. Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you're yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you're pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I'll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.