NEAL CONAN, host:
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Step aside, Christmas, Election Day, Oscar. Bow down, New Year's Eve. One day in America surpasses all others in, well, in everything - in numbers, dollars, interest, even food consumption. The Super Bowl is our single biggest event - an astonishing mix of sports, party, marketing miracle and unofficial national holiday. It's even got its own myths. So, before you go out to buy your wings, place your bets, get psyched for the ads, put on your jersey and stock up on Maalox, take a little time with writer Allen St. John, who got extraordinary behind-the-scenes access to the stadium, the TV show, the sidelines and a hundred other places to write a new book about our biggest day.
Later on, Chicago and Barack Obama called a few of us here in D.C. snow wimps yesterday. We want to hear from the snowier parts of the country. What's your threshold to cancel school, show up late to work - a dusting? A little ice? Three feet? You can email us now, email@example.com.
But first, everything you wanted to know about the Super Bowl, from the game itself to the intense marketing, the making of the TV show, halftime, security - anything. Our phone number - 800-989-8255. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org, click on Talk of the Nation. Allen St. John's new book is called "The Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Day in American Sport" and he joins us now from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you on Talk of the Nation today.
Mr. ALLEN ST. JOHN (Author, "The Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Day in American Sport - Super Bowl Sunday"): It's great to be here.
CONAN: And all of us got to see the competition last year between the Giants and the Patriots. You got to see the party competition between Maxim and Playboy.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Yeah, it was really pretty amazing. And the thing that's actually amazing now is there isn't going to be any competition this year. Playboy cancelled their party.
CONAN: That is such a change. In a way, you covered the last Super Bowl of the millennium.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Well, exactly. I mean, it really seems like it's a whole new world out there. On the other hand, I mean, to say that it's the last of anything - you know, what goes around comes around.
CONAN: Yeah. Nevertheless, the Super Bowl and its - well, the extravaganza surrounding it has been accused of excess - I'll put it that way.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Wretched excess.
CONAN: Wretched excess. Describe the Playboy party last year.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Well, again, I mean, you know, it was just an amazing, amazing thing. What was really the best part of it though, was seeing it a few days - few months and then even a few days before. I mean, it was basically this gigantic - it wasn't even - somewhere between a tent and a building that's about the size of an airplane hanger, and it didn't really have walls on the side. And when I first saw it, there was this kind of odd little Christmas display - just this kind of sad little thing that was sitting off on the side.
And all of these was basically taking place backstage at a place called Rawhide Pavilion, where they basically do sort of Wild West recreation kind of things. And it was just this really - the oddest place in the world, and in fact, so far away from Phoenix that the Giants actually - the NFC Champion actually had their hotel on the property to basically keep them out of the way of temptation. Well, Playboy brought the temptation right there. It was really an amazing thing. And I'm looking at this place and wondering, what are they going to do with it?
And on the other hand, I'm with the Playboy Super Bowl team, and they knew exactly. They - you know, these are women - four women, basically, who come in and they could just look at a building or a space, and they can envision what it's going to be like on party night. And on party night, you know, it's amazing. I mean, everything from, you know, Hugh Hefner here to, you know, to Nick Cannon doing the DJ work to, you know, again - and even the New England Patriot's cheerleaders kind of doing a little turn on the dance floor. It was - it's amazing.
CONAN: It's almost as if, you know, they import a little piece of Las Vegas and implant it wherever that party happens to be.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Exactly. Well, this is actually almost kind of taking the Playboy mansion in a way, and that's really the vibe that they're looking for. But again, I mean, you know, the other thing - the best part of it from my point of view was actually watching people try to schmooze their way in. That was - that was the funny thing.
CONAN: I was going to ask (Laughing) who gets to go to these things. Yes.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Exactly. Well, the - one, of course, you know, people with connections of this kind or that, people with a lot of money, because I actually saw people looking to trade tickets for - go two for one - two Super Bowl tickets for one party ticket. And again, 65,000 Super Bowl tickets and basically 1,000 people on the guest list for the party. But the funny thing was of course, watching - you know, I got to be friends with these people, and I would just sort of sit there beside them as they were guarding the guest list and people would come up and say, well, Lauren Malone sent me. And then I'd - and they'd - not realizing they were talking to Lauren Malone.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Anything to get in. And some of us would say that the Super Bowl is a fundamentally frivolous event. You disagree.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Well, no - well, that's, I mean, compared to what? I mean, you make frivolous sound like a bad thing. I mean, I think perhaps we need a little bit of frivolity, and in fact, I think it's a good thing. I think that's one of the things that people like about the Super Bowl. I think that's why the Super Bowl has grown in the way that it has. It is the ultimate frivolous holiday. It's the holiday where it's kind of low stress, no stress.
It's about going off your diet, eating junk food, you know, it's the second biggest guacamole-eating day of the year. It's a day that you don't spend with your family. You spend it with the part of the family you like, and you spend it with your friends and your neighbors and whomever. And it's really just an excuse to kind of, you know, veg out in front of the TV - a very American thing - and, you know, eat junk food and, you know, watch some commercials, watch a little halftime with, you know, Bruce Springsteen or Prince or Paul McCartney and then - you know, and maybe even a little bit of football.
CONAN: (Laughing) Maybe even a little bit of football. Pretty good game last year, as opposed to some of them we've seen in recent years, but that almost seems beside the point sometimes.
Mr. ST. JOHN: It really is. It seems to make absolutely no difference as to one, who's playing. The ratings are virtually the same whether you have a great match-up, the way you did last year, or you know, a match-up that might be on the surface, you know, less than desirable. I mean, you know - and again, you see this in the NBA finals or in the World Series, where it really does seem to make a difference. But for the Super Bowl, again, it really just doesn't make a difference.
And again, it also doesn't matter if the game's good or not. Even if it's a three touchdown blowout, people still want to hang around because they want to watch halftime, they want to watch the commercials.
CONAN: Speaking of the commercials, there are going to be some this year. Well, we are in different economic times for Super Bowl XLIII than we were for Super Bowl XLII, and here's one of the ads that we're going to be getting a chance to actually see on the broadcast on Sunday.
(Soundbite of CareerBuilder.com Super Bowl ad)
Unidentified Man #1: It can be hard to know when you need a new job. As a rule, if you hate going to work every day, it may be time.
(Soundbite of screaming)
Unidentified Man #1: If you hate going to work and your co-workers don't respect you…
Unidentified Man #2: Hey, dummy.
Unidentified Man #1: It may be time.
CONAN: It may be time. (Laughing) A lot of people looking for work right now.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Well, that's exactly the point. I think that that's a really interesting spot, because that is very much a spot that could have run last year. I mean, that's spot was, I think - is that CareerBuilder.com?
CONAN: Yup, it is.
Mr. ST. JOHN: And indeed - and the point is it was a gosh, you know, I hate my job; I hate my co-workers kind of spot. Well, there are, quite frankly, a lot of people who love their job, and they want to really hold tight to it. And they figure that maybe the human resources department is going to take care of the annoying co-workers. So, as far as that's concerned, it's really - you know, it was - it's an interesting spot in that it's sort of choosing to sort of ignore the news of the day.
And it's gong to be interesting because really, and you're talking about both ad agencies and the advertisers, they really have kind of three choices: They can either sort of say - just sort of pretend that the recession's not going on, in which case they might seem a little bit out of touch, or they can sort of embrace it in some way. And one way could be to sort of do something that's kind of warm and fuzzy and feel good and all of that.
CONAN: Hey, we're all in it together. Yeah.
Mr. ST. JOHN: We're all in it together - something like that. But again, you know, it might be seen as, you know, a little corny, maybe even a little bit - yeah, which may not go over. On the other hand, the third way is to make a joke of it, and we all know how jokes can backfire.
CONAN: We're talking with Allen St. John about his book "The Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Day in American Sport." Of course, he' talking about Super Bowl Sunday. If you'd like to know anything about the game, the television broadcast, the myths, whatever - the security. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Donna's calling, Donna's with us from Santa Clara in California.
DONNA (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Hi, Donna.
DONNA: Well, I don't follow football, but I do love Super Bowl Sunday because it is the best day of the year to shop.
CONAN: To shop? (Laughing) Because everybody else is watching the game.
DONNA: There's no one in the stores.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DONNA: And so, I look forward to Super Bowl for that reason.
CONAN: It's interesting - one of the chapters you have in your book, Allen, is about the myths surrounding the Super Bowl, one of them being that it's a great day to go Disneyland.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, that's the point - sort of people - Super Bowl Sunday is one of those days when America stops in a certain way. And there are only a few days like that during the course of the year. And either you are watching the Super Bowl or at least at a Super Bowl party, maybe not watching the game but participating in it in some way, or sort of actively, like Donna, not participating in the game.
And really, you know, there's just a few opportunities like that during the course of the year. However, the problem of course is that the more - you know, Donna goes off and tells everybody, hey, it's such a great day to go shopping. The problem, of course, with that is more and more people are going to go shopping, in the same way that they, for example, have started to go in increasing numbers to Disney World and Disneyland and places like that. It's a little bit emptier than a regular Sunday, but it's not a ghost town, unfortunately.
CONAN: Donna, have...
Mr. ST. JOHN: Well, maybe fortunately for the company but maybe - but not so much for the people on lines.
CONAN: Donna, have a great time shopping.
DONNA: Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate the phone call.
CONAN: Let's go now…
Mr. ST. JOHN: The world's on sale for Donna.
CONAN: Let's go to Paul, Paul with us from Louisville, Kentucky.
PAUL (Caller): Hi there. I want to talk about one of the myths of Super Bowl, which is that it's the single worst day for domestic violence in this country.
CONAN: And that was something you looked into, Allen St. John.
Mr. ST. JOHN: That is. It's funny because that was - this initially came about, you know, any number of years ago. And what - and it was really kind of one of those studies that - it was such a small sampling that basically somebody took the number - took the percentage number - without actually kind of looking more carefully at actually the raw number of actual of increased cases. And basically, we're talking about a literal handful of increased cases. It was a very, very, very small sample.
And now, the thing is - some other people took this up, and they looked at it subsequently, and they found, actually, it's a lot more complex than all of that. And they did studies that actually indicate that the point spread and that sometimes when the local team is an underdog - that actually seems to have some sort of an influence on the number of domestic violence cases. The point of course is domestic violence is, one, a very serious issue, two, it's a very complex issue, and three, when you're actually looking at this in a broad way, I mean, you'll find that there - that people who've done serious research on this suggest there are any number of other days where you have the same kind - similar or even greater increases and - you know, even a day like Christmas.
CONAN: Paul, thanks very much for the call.
PAUL: Thank you.
CONAN: We don't have a blowout halftime show and no million-dollar commercials either. This is public radio after all, but up next, why this year's big game might be a little less super. We're going to talk about what happens to a glitzy, billion dollar game during tough times - more of your calls as well. What did you always want to know about the Super Bowl but were afraid to ask? 800-989-8255; email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Bottom line - some $2.5 billion traded hands, thanks to last year's Super Bowl - more than half a million each for the TV rights and for tickets alone. All those ads took in an estimated $160 million. Allen St. John's compiled those factoids and many more in his new book, "The Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Day in American Sport - Super Bowl Sunday" - comes to the conclusion that in fact, the Super Bowl alone has a greater cash value than the annual gross domestic product of North Korea. You can read more about those incredible numbers in an excerpt at npr.org/talk.
So, what do you want to know about the Super Bowl, from the game itself, to the hype, the making of the TV show, halftime, security, anything? 800-989-8255; email, email@example.com. You can join the conversation at our Web site. That's at npr.org, click on Talk of the Nation. Allen St. John is with us from our bureau in New York.
And Allen, I wanted to take you through - one of the things you do is talk about the television production and the television announcers, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, who were there last year in the booth. And they go through what turns out to be, well, a critical play in the game - the critical play in the game, perhaps, you describe it; I'm not going to argue with you - maybe the greatest play in the history of the Super Bowl, and that's of course, Eli Manning's pass to David Tyree. And we're going to begin with the start of Joe Buck's call.
(Soundbite of clip Super Bowl XLII game)
Mr. JOE BUCK (Commentator, Fox Sports): Third down and five.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
Mr. BUCK: Pressure from Thomas off the edge. Eli Manning…
CONAN: And you describe that as the most important pause in Joe Buck's career.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Indeed, because what - you know, having talked to Joe Buck after this, what Joe Buck was about to say - and Eli Manning is sacked or goes down or something like that. And of course, Eli Manning wasn't sacked. He didn't go down. He squirted out of that pile like a grape. He rolled to his right, threw the ball. David Tyree, who went to Montclair High school, right down the road from where I live, somehow or another grabbed the ball by his head, flopped down, kept possession of it and got a huge, huge first down for the Giants, kept that drive alive.
And you know, again, it was a question of - not only of the timeliness of the play and the sort of subtle greatness of the call. But the fact was too, there was a beautiful, beautiful replay of this. And again, if you can go back to a DVD and check this out, it's really interesting because I followed these guys - followed the guys in the Fox Sports truck. And it's really all - for them, it's all about the replay. It's all about those last few seconds between plays that basically try to explain what just happened.
CONAN: And this is the moment, you say, for a moment, because their setup is slightly different - different from an ordinary game - they can't find the replay. And then, of course, they do. Here's how Troy Aikman described it.
(Soundbite of clip Super Bowl XLII game)
Mr. TROY AIKMAN (Commentator, Foxs Sports): Oh, my God. This ball's thrown and Tyree just goes up for it like a basketball player, Harrison trying to knock it down.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
Mr. AIKMAN: And Eli Manning - I don't know how he got out of there. I thought he was on the ground, and then he came out of the pile and just slings it.
CONAN: And that, of course, you describe as, well, a picture as good as a poem, something a film director would've spent days trying to set up. Yet, it's just brilliant.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Yeah, it was just - and it was live, and it was an improv. That said though - I mean these guys won, you know, as people may or may not know - the whole broadcast crew pretty much fought - they stay together throughout the whole course of the season. They go from game to game to game. This is what's called Fox's A-Team. And not only the announcers, but all the technical guys and a guy named Richie Zeins(ph), who is kind of - as I call him - you know, he's almost like the Kurosawa of the replay.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ST. PAUL: I mean, he's the guy who will take this and slice it up, you know, "Rashomon" style, and show you not only, you know, the sack and the guy celebrating the sack and something like that, he'll show you the guys who were covering the wide receivers that allowed the guy to get the sack. And in short, he'll show a lot of action off the ball. And in short, it's a little bit like, you know, "The Paper Chase" with John Houseman, were he'd call on you when you least expect it.
And that's what the all the cameraman had to learn - that they had to really stick with their assignments. And there were a few times during the course of the year where that didn't quite happen, where guys sort of just didn't quite fight against that impulse strongly enough and made a few key mistakes, which of course drives these guys crazy. And here was a moment where all of that discipline and just all of that teamwork just came together perfectly, you know, and again, after that heart-stopping moment where they thought, where's the play?
CONAN: Right, because the Giants had five wide receivers, Tyree the least of them. The cameras should've been on the other people, but they had one on him, and it was great. Let's get some more listeners involved in the conversation. Let's go to Tucker, Tucker with us From Lynchburg, Virginia.
TUCKER (Caller): Thank you, sir. I used to work in advertising, and I remember buying 30-second radio spots and TV spots from anywhere from $500 to $3,000. So, I was curious - what kind of money are advertisers spending on the Super Bowl this year?
Mr. ST. JOHN: Three million dollars a spot, approximately. That's basically the rate card, and actually, NBC, despite, you know, the news of the day, they're basically able - from what we can tell - to sell on the rate card or close to it. They didn't have that many cancellations.
And the thing is though, you have - and now, it seems like an awful lot of money, but the other thing you have to realize is the whole rest of the year, when you're putting an ad on TV, there's an opportunity to pick up the remote and zap it, to go to one of the other 900 channels on cable. There's - you can - people TiVo it, people watch it On Demand. There - people watch things on DVD.
There are so many other - so many ways to avoid watching commercials. Super Bowl Sunday however, is the one day of the year where people actually flock to the television to watch the commercials, and not only watch the commercials, but rate the commercials and ultimately talk about the commercials on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. So, these - you know, they're getting a return on investment here.
CONAN: Tucker, thanks very much. You said $3 million a spot - that's for 30 seconds?
Mr. ST. JOHN: That's for 30 seconds, yeah.
CONAN: All right, Tucker. Thanks very much.
TUCKER: Thank you.
Mr. ST. JOHN: And by the way, no, they - although, somebody asked, they're not going to slice it up so you can just, you know, buy a second and a half or something like that. You have to buy the whole half minute.
CONAN: Go to Nick, Nick with us from Denver. Nick? You there? I guess Nick has left us. Let's see if we can go instead to Mary, Mary with us from Roseburg, Oregon.
MARY (Caller): Yes, I was wondering if the first Super Bowl was played in 1967. And where it's Super Bowl XLIII, what happened to the math?
CONAN: That's my bad math. I apologize, and in fact, Allen was incredibly polite not to correct me. But I stated the year wrong.
MARY: Well, what year was the first Super Bowl played?
Mr. ST. JOHN: It was 1966 actually, but yes. But the point of - but again, one of the things that's interesting is the whole Roman numeral thing, because I am convinced that that is the only reason why kids actually still learn Roman numerals in school.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ST. JOHN: I mean - and the reason why - and in that first Super Bowl - the first Super Bowl was actually kind of an accident in a certain way. Because what happened was, they had the AFL - the American Football League - and the NFL, and they were basically, you know, fighting in certain ways over players and everything. And it was - and basically, it was kind of a destructive war for both of them.
And at certain point, they realized, hey, why don't we just get together and make this one big, happy football family and all of that and basically, you know, grow the sport instead of fighting against each other? And one of the first things they had to do was come up with a championship game. And they, one, decided that they would do it in a neutral site, unlike the championship games in the NFL previously, which had been played, you know, in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field and all of that.
So, they said, we're not going to argue about this right now. We have too many other things to argue about. And they said, warm weather site, neutral site, hopefully, for a big crowd. The first couple, they didn't really get that. It was about three quarter - you know, three-quarters full, and people were literally trying to give away tickets and couldn't.
But that said, you ended up with a really kind of, you know, that interesting situation. And of course, you needed a name for it. Pete Rozelle, who was the commissioner, said, this would be the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. On the other hand, a guy named Lamar Hunt from the AFL - you know, these were the guys who signed Joe Namath, and they sort of shot from the hip a little bit - watched his kids playing and they said - and said, so, what is that? And they said, it's a Super Bowl, Dad. And he's like, hey, that's a football…
CONAN: There's something that you can sell.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Pete Rozelle also, at some point, wanted to call it The Big One. I'm not even going to touch that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ST. JOHN: But the Roman numerals actually came about - but Pete Rozelle hated the Super Bowl name. And Lamar Hunt, again - just as kind of tossing a bone to Pete Rozelle - said, well, why don't we - we'll put an Roman numeral after it. That'll give it a certain level of gravitas. So - and again, it was a couple of years before the NFL actually just finally gave up and said, hey, OK, we're going to call it the Super Bowl, too. It wasn't really until Super Bowl - kind of to Super Bowl III was sort of transitional, and by Super Bowl IV, they had just kind of given up that fight.
CONAN: Here's a couple of quick email questions. Dan in Georgia - How about the myth that a large number of people who watch will go and use the facilities, and the result is that everyone flushes at one time, the water pressure in major cities drops significantly. Could we expand the myth by using the drop in water pressure to identify commercials (Laughing) that aren't worthy of watching?
Mr. ST. JOHN: That is actually really true. And I would encourage everybody to just wait until after the game, if you want to just - if you want to preserve your local sewage system.
CONAN: And this question...
Mr. ST. JOHN: But seriously, folks, the answer to that is actually - it goes back to actually the days of the radio serials, when we had these very primitive, you know, plumbing systems, and you would occasionally have a water main break or sewage break because of that. And then it got to the point where, again, it just sort of - the myth took on a life of its own, and people would report it and say, you know, there's a water main break. There was one - a big one in Salt Lake City at a certain point, and they reported it as being a Super Bowl water main break and brought - dredged all this other stuff up without actually talking to the public works guy, who pretty much said, yeah, it was old and it was rusty.
CONAN: Here's an email from...
Mr. ST. JOHN: (Laughing) A better story. I mean, believe the myth.
CONAN: Here's an email from Margaret in Little Rock. If Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest guacamole-eating day, what's the first?
Mr. ST. JOHN: Oh, thank you so much. That's - it is Cinco de Mayo. But the question of course is how much? Forty-nine point five million pounds of guacamole. Now - I mean, I don't really have an idea of just how much that is, you know, visually. Well, actually that would fill a football stadium. If you make it into guacamole, it will fill a football stadium nine feet deep.
Now, that seems like an awful lot of guacamole. But the guacamole council or something, they decided that that just didn't seem enough. So, they actually reconfigured this to figure out how many avocados you could get into the stadium, and it turns out that, once you're factoring in the peels and the pits and the air space and all of that, it's 19 feet worth of avocados that will fill a typical NFL football stadium.
CONAN: And what...
Mr. ST. JOHN: So, that's an awful lot of guacamole.
CONAN: But leaving themselves open to the observation that how do you get that measurement? It's the pits.
(Soundbite of groaning)
CONAN: Allen St. John is our guest. He's the author of "The Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes on the Greatest Day in American Sport - Super Bowl Sunday." And you're listening to Talk of the Nation coming to you from NPR News. All right, let's go through these quickly, if we can. Here's Bill, Bill with us from Lakeville, Indiana.
BILL (Caller): Hi. I have to be in Vegas for Super Bowl Sunday.
CONAN: Have to be in Vegas?
BILL: For work, not by my own choice. Not a huge fan of Vegas, but was thinking about...
CONAN: But what happens there stays there.
BILL: I'm sorry?
CONAN: But what happens there stays there.
BILL: Yes, especially losing money. I have to - I was thinking about wandering down to the sports book and putting a bet on one of the teams. And it occurred to me that gambling on the Super Bowl must be a huge industry in Las Vegas.
CONAN: Well, there's two kinds of gambling, those would be legal and illegal. Can you help us out here, Allen?
Mr. ST. JOHN: Yes, the legal betting is about - last year, it was about $92 million, which is an awful lot of money. It was not actually quite a record. Everybody sort of - they were expecting it to break that magic $100-million mark, and it didn't. It was actually - you know, it was a kind of average type of year. And again, which is interesting because there was a really big line against the Giants. And the other point is that of course they would have actually, you know, lost a lot of money if there had been more that was bet. It really wasn't a good year for the bookies.
On the other hand, and as for the illegal betting - well, of course, nobody really calculates it. But that said, you know, it goes well beyond of course, you know, just the guy on the corner who's taking a $10 bet. I mean, there's a huge offshore industry in all of this. And again, you know, that is a - you know, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars - possibly into the billions - you know, of money that's bet on the Super Bowl at all levels, illegally or quasi-legally.
CONAN: Thanks, Bill. Good luck on your trip to Vegas.
BILL: Should I pick the Steelers or the Cardinals?
CONAN: I'm not sure we can help you there.
Mr. ST. JOHN: I think I'd take the Cardinals in the points. But, hey...
BILL: I love it.
CONAN: All right, thanks, Bill.
BILL: Thank you. Bye-bye.
CONAN: We're talking about the Super Bowl, first played in January 1967, now played on the first Sunday of every February. Let's go to Brad, Brad with us from St. Louis, Missouri.
BRAD (Caller): Hi. I was calling because I had heard the myth that the NFL actually regulates the television size for bars and private groups that you can only have it on so large of a size, and if you want have it on a larger size, you have to pay more money.
CONAN: So, if you wanted to put it on a JumboTron, you'd have to pay the legal royalty of some sort. Any truth to that, Allen?
Mr. ST. JOHN: That is indeed true. And - it was kind of a difficult situation for the league. I mean, the league, at a certain point - you know, they've had this policy in place, and on the one hand - and you've had all sorts of people sort of run and afoul from it. On the one hand, it was like the Las Vegas casinos had some problems with that. And then on the other hand, it was like - I think the New England Aquarium was one of the places that ran afoul of it. And more recently, there have been some church groups that have had issues with this.
And again, you know, it's one of these cases where you can sort of find the silver lining in all of this. Several of the church groups that sort of ran afoul of this got sort of cease and desist letters from the league and all that. It never got to the point of actually - of anybody actually suing anybody, but more or less saying, hey, this is what our rule is, and just - and, you know, obviously, you could be subject to legal action if you don't abide by it.
And some - it turns out that actually some of the churches took this as an opportunity, one, to use that publicity in a positive way, and on the other hand, to just do different kinds of Super Bowl parties, something that would be smaller at the congregant's house, something like that. And in a way, it sort of ended up being - you know, there was a silver lining to the whole situation.
But yeah, the NFL was, I think, a little bit nervous about the sort of - about the negative publicity that they were getting. I don't think this is something that they were really trying to do, and I don't think they probably even realized just how many church groups there were who, you know, use this as a way to sort of just get people together on Super Bowl Sunday.
CONAN: So, Brad, what size screen are you going to be watching the game on?
BRAD: Oh, I'll be setting it up on about a 15-foot screen. So, am I breaking the law, as far as the NFL is concerned?
Mr. ST. JOHN: I'm not going to tell if you don't.
BRAD: (Laughing) Good to know. Well, thanks for answering my question.
CONAN: Thanks, Brad. So, as you look at this game, it is extraordinary - similarly to last year - you have a highly favored AFC Team and a little regarded NFC team. Is the spread this year bigger than it was last year?
Mr. St. JOHN: I think it's a little bit less than it was last year, but again, the point is that's why they play the game. And last year was a perfect example, and you could even see this despite the fact that, you know, you didn't have any thought of what was going to be happening in terms of the economy. There's still this idea that you could see that people were just pulling back a little bit and returning the focus to the game because after all, that's what this is about. I mean, the fact is, yeah, you have the commercials and you have the halftime and you have Bruce Springsteen and all that, and that's great. But really, this is sort of reality TV at sort of its highest level. I mean, nobody could've predicted that David Tyree was going to be the newsmaker of the day.
CONAN: We'll talk more with Allen St. John, take a few more of your calls about Super Bowl Sunday. What did you want to know but were always afraid ask? 800-989-8255; email, firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll also talk with Eugene Robinson, a columnist for the Washington Post, about the dis the president gave to the snow wusses in Washington yesterday. This is NPR News.
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CONAN: In a few minutes, the president calls out Washington, D.C., for being snow wimps. We'll hear from one of those wimps and your calls on that. But right now, everything you wanted to know about the Super Bowl but were afraid to ask. Allen St. John is with us. He's the author of "The Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Day in American Sport - Super Bowl Sunday." And let's see if we can go through some callers. And this is - go to Josh, Josh with us from Tulsa.
JOSH (Caller): Yeah, hi. I'm trying to enter my name into the lottery for Super Bowl tickets this year. And I was wondering if there was any advice, maybe sending multiple letters from different address. I know they only want one letter per household. And also, I was going to ask about the face value of tickets for this year.
Mr. St. JOHN: Again - well, I don't know. I guess there's not necessarily a way that they're going to probably track that down, so I guess you could certainly, you know, get your mother-in-law to mail in one for you. And the face value actually has - and weirdly, because some of the face values have gone down for the lowest priced tickets but the - also the highest priced face values have exceeded $1000 for the first time. On the other hand, the street value of a Super Bowl ticket is anywhere from about $3,000 to $10,000 and up.
CONAN: What you really want, Josh, is the purple vest that Allen got to wear last year, which was what? All access?
Mr. ST. JOHN: Well, it was much access, and that said - anybody wants the purple vest, I'm thinking about selling it on eBay.
CONAN: (Laughing) It was only good for...
Mr. ST. JOHN: It doesn't do you much good right now.
CONAN: This year, but it was - but it would've been great last year. Here's an email from Brian. This is my favorite myth. If an old AFL team wins the game, the stock market will decline during the calendar year. If an original NFL team wins, the Dow Jones industrial average will rise. Since both teams are original NFL teams, we're in for a good year.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Hey, you know, he pretty much summed it up right there. Again, it's one of those things which I think initially was something like a sort of, you know, a coin coming up heads 11 times in a row or something. It doesn't - it was just kind of a weird statistical oddity, and it was known to relatively few people.
At a certain point though, as it leaked out and people - it became sort of the ultimate outsider information, something that everybody could sort - had equal access to. And people sort of latched on to it, and what you would see is really large increases in volume, both before and after the Super Bowl, as people seemed to actually sort of jump into the market, trying to take advantage of this in some way, shape or form.
CONAN: And if you'd done that last year, you would've taken a bath because they - of course, the stock market went way down, even though an old NFC team won. Tim, Tim on the line with us from Seattle.
TIM (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
TIM: Yeah. I heard that there's less bandwidth use - Internet use - during the Super Bowl than any other time of the year - 4 a.m. on Christmas, more people are using the Internet.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Interesting. I must say, I hadn't heard that. It certainly wouldn't surprise me, because again, Super Bowl is one of those moments where you kind of either watching the Super Bowl, or you're just actively sort of doing something else. That said, I wonder, you know, if there aren't people who are kind of sitting there with their laptop. I mean, it's the sort of thing that I'll do occasionally - sit at there with a laptop and look things up, look for a replay of an old game, look for some stats, something like that, because it doesn't have to be an either/or situation. I don't know.
TIM: I'd be too busy eating nachos to have a laptop.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Well, exactly. I mean, you know, I end up spilling some guacamole on my iBook, and I'm in real trouble.
CONAN: Tim, have a good time on Sunday.
TIM: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And finally, Allen St. John, you said earlier that, you know, it's really all about the game, and the great game that we had last year restored people's faith in that. A lot of people would argue with that, say, look, it's really (Laughing) all about the money.
Mr. ST. JOHN: Well, it's all about the money, I mean, of course. But I think the fact is that, you know, there's something else here. I mean, this is really an opportunity to again, just kind of get people together and just kind of have fun in a sort of low stress, no stress kind of way. And I think that's the thing that's driving it, and the money follows that. The - we sort of just have this need for, you know, a time - you know, we snow wimps all over the world - to basically be couch potatoes - be social couch potatoes for a day. And the money follows that.
CONAN: Snow wimps - more on that in just a minute. But Allan St. John, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Mr. ST. JOHN: It was great to be here.
CONAN: Allan St. John's book is the "Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Day in American Sport - Super Bowl Sunday." And yeah, we'll get to those wimps. Stay with us.
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