Yanks a lot – GAA could learn from US extravagance

LAST Sunday night, some 166.8 million people tuned in to watch the show the Yanks term ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’: The Super Bowl.

The viewing figures make it the most-watched show in US television history, according to The Nielsen Company.

To those of you whose interest in American Football could be measured in a teaspoon, it’s probably unfathomable that there are those of us who gave up a night’s sleep to watch a gripping and dramatic win for the New York Giants over the New England Patriots that left us subsequently trundling drearily through what passed for Monday.

The Super Bowl is the ultimate roadshow of indulgence and no-one does exaggerated glitz and glamour quite like the Americans.

Super Bowl XLVI last Sunday in the Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, was typical of the American way in a sport – played upon a field that passes for a tribute to trigonometry – that continues to both fascinate and confuse the masses in such an electrifying manner.

Half-time in most other sports means a chance to draw breath; analyse the half just gone and for the players to get regrouped. Not in Super Bowl. No sir. Last Sunday it was Madonna who strutted her stuff in the half-time show that has, to many, become as big a part of Super Bowl Sunday for Americans as the game itself. The Black Eyed Peas, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and U2 have all entertained during the half-time interval – a far cry from the GAA’s rolling out of Jedward and The Rubberbandits!

And the advertisements that fill the screen during the many ad breaks that are the big turnoff for the unconverted are an entirely different subject matter altogether.

The point about the Super Bowl is that the actual game itself – and the contest between the Giants and the Patriots was one of the epic Gridiron climaxes ever witnessed  – is just a small part of what has become, as one US paper put it last week, a week-long trade fair, a great hearty lollapalooza of a blow out!

Super Bowl Sunday has become a de facto American national holiday – and, as peculiar statistics go, the fact that it’s the second-largest day, after Thanksgiving, for US food consumption, is right up there.

So, what, you wonder, is the point?

Well, sometime around that point where night becomes morning on Sunday night-Monday morning I couldn’t help but feel that the powers that be in the GAA could and should take a look to many aspects of American Football when it comes to promoting and selling their own wears.

Consider that the NFL is to the United States what the GAA is to Ireland. It is a national sport of which each is considerably proud; a national sport ingrained on the psyche of its people.

Despite what the Americans would like to believe, the Super Bowl does not capture the amount of imaginations outside of the US as they say. Like the All-Ireland final in many ways, the Super Bowl is a patriotic occasion.

It’s a measure of the stranglehold the GAA has on Ireland that 82,300 folk filled Croke Park for September’s All-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry – two teams with a storied rivalry that is not at all unlike that of the Giants and the Patriots. For Sunday’s clash in Indianapolis, some 13,000 less (68,658 to be precise) watched Eli Manning and the Giants gun down Tom Brady and the Patriots.

The Championship, granted, is the be-all and end-all in the GAA, but last weekend signalled the start of the GAA’s own NFL. Yet how many advertising campaigns did you witness to herald the start of the League. It felt, at best, like tokenism and in these days of different sports playing tug-o-war with players, it was a chance missed for the GAA – as last week also saw the commencement of the 6Nations rugby.

Sure, rugby has gone profession and, unlike the American Football alluded to also, the GAA remains an amateur sport. But for all intents and purposes the GAA at the top level is a professional organisation and a big player in the market. It should have done more last week to promote the start of what is an important competition, and as a whole could make a hat-tip across the Atlantic when it comes to promoting its games and making a real song-and-dance out of what is, essentially, ‘only’ a game of football.

The Americans even take their college football so seriously than some colleges have an average of over 100,000 attending a match with one recent high school game attracting 46,000 fans. Compare that to Gaelic football locally, where at times schools games aren’t even promoted to the media and fixtures become a guessing game. A little organising could go a long way – and it’s something, to be fair, that has greatly improved in Donegal schools football lately. But perhaps a proper place in what is a complex calendar could give schools and colleges football a proper forum to promote their games.

Maybe GAA chiefs could link up with their American Football counterparts later this year when Dublin – albeit the Aviva Stadium – plays host to two of the biggest names in US college football as Notre Dame and Navy will play an official NCAA game in the capital in September.

One other point that interested Shoulder Charge last week was an incident in Indianapolis where New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora missed a media session for the Super Bowl. He was promptly fined the princely sum of $20,000 for his absence.

Umenyiora’s response was interesting.

“Players are the product, and the fans are the customers,” he said.

“The only way that we can reach them is through you guys, the media, so we have to be responsible and speak to the people.”

In these days where cliché is king, it would be a welcomed alteration of the GAA would go down the rout of making media duties mandatory. We live in hope.


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