question of the day: Why do Americans love the Super Bowl so much?

The numbers are now in.Turns out a lot of people watched the Super Bowl this past Sunday. From Broadcasting & Cable:

Super Bowl XLV Sunday night on Fox averaged 111 million total viewers, according to Nielsen fast-national ratings, making it the most-watched television program in U.S. history, overtaking last year’s Super Bowl XLIV ratings record of 106.5 million viewers.

It is the fourth consecutive Super Bowl to set a viewership record. The game scored a 46.0/69 household rating/share, tying the 1996 Super Bowl as the highest rated Super Bowl since 1986.

Some outlets chose to frame the numbers like this:

NEW YORK, Feb. 7 (UPI) — Super Bowl XLV was the most-watched television program in history, preliminary ratings from the Nielsen Co. indicated Monday.

That’s from — that is, United Press International, which you’d think, because of its name, would know better. As Mediaite explains:

The Super Bowl has smashed ratings records for four years running–in the U.S. The game averaged 111 million viewers, up from 106.5 million last year. The last episode of M*A*S*H held a U.S. ratings record for years, from 1983 to 2010, with an average of 106 million.

But as big as the Super Bowl was, it can’t claim the most-watched show in TV history. 600 million people watched the Apollo 11 landing on the moon way back in 1969, and last year’s rescue of the Chilean miners is estimated to have reached a global audience of one billion viewers. The opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics hit a viewership estimated at anywhere between 600 million and one billion.

And even in a direct head-to-head matchup of sports final to sports final, the mighty Super Bowl takes a backseat to that other “football” the world watches. The World Cup final last year between the Netherlands and Spain hit an estimated global audience of 700 million.

What’s more, as Mediaite commenter Hawk11 notes:

MASH had 106 million viewers in the US is 1983 when the population was around 230 million.

The Super Bowl games that beat MASH happened with a population of over 300 miliion in the US.

Still, a huge percentage of the United States was glued to their televisions on Sunday. Why?

Why do Americans love the Super Bowl so much?

I sort of like the only half snarky explanations Robert Lipsyte offers in the Alternet essay “Why Our National Superbowl TV Party Has Become the Last Supper for the US Empire”:

American exceptionalism is alive and thriving on Super Bowl Sunday. National Football League franchises are overwhelmingly owned, managed, and manned by American citizens. Neither immigration nor foreign capital has made a perceptible dent in the game…

American football is barely played outside the country. Call it a failure of colonialism (as baseball and basketball might), but it’s really a tribute to good old-fashioned protectionism.

And this:

Football is the last estrogen-free zone. No wonder high school and college teams have such bloated rosters. (College teams routinely “dress” 85 men, compared to a pro team’s 53.) This gives more boys the chance to imagine themselves in the testosterone club, even if many of them hardly ever get into a game. Later, as jock alums, they will donate to alma mater and speak reverently of how old coach taught them to be men — or at least not women.

But then, I’m only an America-hating feminist socialist… and one who’s left the country to boot!

What do you think?

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