Growing up in America, Superbowl Sunday was always the largest sporting event of the year, amassing over 100 million viewers every year. Everyone, from those that don’t even understand the rules of football to those who had watched every football game of the season would come together on that Sunday afternoon to watch the two best American football teams face off.
The Superbowl has something for everyone. Some watch the Superbowl just to see the commercials, which have become a cultural phenomenon as Budweiser, Coca Cola, and Doritos battle over the best advert at the whopping cost of $5.6 million per thirty-second slot.
Others watch the Superbowl half-time show, whose headliners have consisted of everyone from Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake to Coldplay and The Who. The halftime show is responsible for internet sensations such as Left Shark and Backpack Kid as well as controversies involving Janet Jackson, MIA, and more. The Superbowl represents much more than just football – it is a culmination of American culture.
Most people watch the Superbowl at viewing parties where friends and family come together and gather around the television. There’s pizza,wings and all other types of American junk food.
Many parties partake in Superbowl squares pools where people bet on the last number in the score of each team at the end of every quarter. Conversations tend to revolve around whether that commercial was funnier than the last and offhand remarks about how good a team’s quarterback or defence is.
It was seemingly the one schoolnight a year where my parents didn’t care about my bedtime. Looking back, I tend to remember the parties and commercials better than the games themselves.
Coming to St Andrews, I was prepared to leave behind American sports for the next few years, and for the most part, that was largely the case. Basketball and football games simply come on too late for me to follow my teams.
My first semester at St Andrews was a dramatic cultural shift. Instead of watching football games, I learnt the rules to rugby and pestered my British friends about how to score a try. I went to the Blue Stane, learning how to play darts and asking questions such as “why do we start at 501?”. Instead of updating basketball scores on my phone, I followed Arsenal matches, none of which I had cared about a year earlier.
American sports are in a unique position at St Andrews due mostly to the relatively large American population at the University. Whilst it would be impossible to field an American Football team,other American sports have quite a large following at the University. As far as viewing American sports goes, most professional games simply come on at too late of an hour to have much of a viewership. However, that is not the case for the Superbowl.
Much to my surprise, the St Andrews Student Union puts on a Superbowl viewing party every year. Much like a viewing party in America, the Union has massive screens showcasing the game, all while providing hot food, drinks, and couches. And due to the game not starting until 23:30, the Union stays open much later than its normal close.
When I attended the Union event during my first year, I was expecting to find only Americans interested in the game. Instead, the Union was packed with people from all around the world staying up on a Sunday night to watch a game of American football. There were so many people that I struggled to get to the bar. The night was spent with my British friends who were extremely interested in the game. Just as they had walked me through the rules of rugby and cricket, I found myself in the same position, only reversed. The game was spent not watching commercials (which unfortunately are not part of the British broadcast), but rather with me explaining the rules and strategy of American football.
The rising popularity of American sports in the United Kingdom is not unique to only St Andrews. Other universities including Glasgow, Durham, Cambridge, and more all have viewing parties. Dozens of bars and restaurants in Edinburgh and London are keeping their doors open late to watch the largest game of the year. In 2018, nearly three and a half million Brits stayed up to watch the game. Sky’s coverage of the NFL has been steadily increasing in viewership year on year. Beginning in 2007, the National Football League has been hosting annual games in London’s Wembley stadium and recently expanded into both the Twickenham Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium.The large success of these games in London has made the league consider a permanent expansion team in the United Kingdom, with goals of establishing a franchise here by 2021.
American sports, like so many American exports before them, are here to stay. American football joins a long list of cultural exports commercialised and lapped up by the British public. Will we soon see the rise of competing halftime ads on our own British screens? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, however: you’ll find me on a couch in the Union at half eleven come Sunday evening, revelling in the sport that reminds me of home.