Ahead of the big game, America’s new favourite mom went on TV to talk about the Super Bowl.
We have grown to know Donna Kelce via her proximity to Taylor Swift in luxury boxes around the NFL. Swift brings the glamour; Kelce mère brings the family values. It’s a marketing combo that crosses the blue/red divide.
The campaign has hit a hitch before the Super Bowl. Donna Kelce may lose her place in Swift’s band of courtiers and be forced to watch the game among the merely very rich.
“As far as I know, I’m in the stands with everybody else, because it is a pricey Super Bowl,” Kelce told NBC’s Today show.
The median price for a single Super Bowl ticket on the secondary market is cresting US$10,000. “Everybody else,” indeed.
Only in the United States could a woman whose children made a combined US$25-million this year go on TV and, with a straight face, cry poor. The Super Bowl really is for every sort of person.
It is the last event in which every kind of American can see themselves, or someone very like them, reflected. For instance, Donna’s son Travis shills for Pfizer. His all-pro teammate, Harrison Butker, is not vaccinated because he is “a child of God.”
If these two guys worked at a diminishing cultural concern – a podcast company or a public theatre – they’d be carpet-bombing each other on X/Twitter. But Kelce and Butker work in the last cultural growth industry. As long as you don’t insult the crown, there’s room for every sort of idea in football’s kingdom.
The people who were predicting 10 years ago that the game was dying from the feet up never got its real appeal. It isn’t violence. It isn’t even sport. It’s that football is America’s last safe space. You can say anything there, and no one will care. As long as you’re good and you don’t cross the big, bright line.
This is why Swift’s incursion into the game caused panic in some quarters. Nobody minded that she’s a dilettante or that she’s leveraging the sport to maximize her own clout. That describes all fans of every sport.
What made people jittery was the possibility that Swift’s gravity could distort the boundaries of this DMZ of American politics. So far, so good on that score. Like everyone else, Swift seems content to respect football’s hippie spirit of ‘Freaks Welcome’.
The story of the past few years in sport is the incursion of the real world into a fantasyland. Sports once influenced culture. That works the other way around now. Something bad happens and everyone wants to know what the backup point guard thinks of it.
At the outset of this new era of awareness, many players and coaches were delighted to share their undercooked thoughts on gun control and federal elections and whatever else. Then the blowback started. Now they can’t hustle away fast enough, with their fans in close pursuit.
For the next time, here’s a rule of thumb – the need to be seen as relevant is the easiest route to becoming irrelevant.
Football escaped this trap. If someone tipped over a political fault line, they were cut out of the herd. Everyone else got the message: ‘Say whatever you like, but whatever you say is on you.’ This is the upside to running a sport in which anyone can be de-rostered from any team at any time, and often has been.
As the NFL repeatedly laps its competitors, the football itself matters less and less. Unlike baseball or hockey, football is not match-up dependent. It doesn’t need two top-10 markets in the big game to drive interest. All it needs is a time and a place and it knows America will show up.
Last year’s Super Bowl was the most watched TV show of any kind in U.S. history. Goosed by Swift’s Santa Claus routine to get to the game from a show in Japan, this year’s iteration should be even bigger. We’re talking 120 or 125 million American viewers and that’s probably an undercount. How many of those are seriously invested in a particular outcome? A fraction, maybe.
This is what real cultural power looks like. It’s what Romeo and Juliet or I Love Lucy had. It’s creating a virtual gathering space both so popular and so welcoming that everyone feels not only the need to be part of it, but great ease in doing so. Two star-crossed lovers, a lady who can’t keep up at work gobbling chocolates and a bunch of very large men running into each other. What does it all say about us as a society? Nothing. That’s the appeal.
But let’s say you don’t like football. How about halftime acts? You like those? They got those. You can’t afford tickets to the game? Okay, can you make it to the parking lot beforehand? Because there’s a party there, too.
You don’t feel comfortable signing on to a program of thought or being seen to take a political side? Great news. The NFL doesn’t do that. The only cause it supports is an old-timey vision of a United States where everyone gets along and expresses that contentment by buying things.
It’s a big, ruly family where the angry uncle is just as welcome as the easily offended college kid. How does the NFL bridge the divide between generations and beliefs? By never talking about it.
Shouldn’t we think about doing that? No, and if you do, maybe you should think about getting the hell out of the NFL’s house.
Americans are now so at home in football that the Super Bowl itself has become superfluous. Think back on encounters of the recent past. The action is a blur. At best, it has been reduced to single plays. David Tyree’s helmet grab or Seattle choosing to pass on fourth and goal.
What everyone remembers are the halftime acts and at least a few of the commercials and that time Gisele freaked out when Tom lost to the Giants. But mostly they remember the warm feeling of getting together with friends to guzzle carbs, get day drunk and yell at each other about plays they only half understand. It is a cartoon vision of Western culture. And it works.
Kansas City by six.