It started in what looks like an airplane hangar in the bowels of the Los Angeles Convention Center. There are tables, desks, some lonely coolers, and a section of booths off to the right. That’s where the media picks up their credentials for Super Bowl week. It’s a bit more of a process than normal — as far as I know, I’ve never been to a Super Bowl before — with COVID restrictions and vaccination requirements.
It ended in the press room, with a 10-minute warning that the food was going to be put away, as splotches of confetti decorate random places on the carpet, and the chicken fingers and mini Nathan’s hot dogs are being condensed on the buffet. The cooler here that is much less lonely — and also free — gets ransacked by reporters after we display how much less athletic we are than the athletes we cover. We’re all exhausted after walking up seven flights of steps from player media availability in the basement — in fairness, a lot of us are in business attire.
Between all of that is a whirlwind of price gouging and finessing known as Super Bowl week. And as a reporter who doesn’t have to pay for much, I have to admit that this week of consumer exploitation is a lot of fun.
For Super Bowl week, an entire city turns into a commercial for the NFL, and its sponsors. I’ve consumed more Pepsi products this week than I have in the last decade — that includes my sixth bottle of Aquafina on this 80-plus degree day — and mysteriously I haven’t seen any Miller Lights in the cooler at my local 7-Eleven in recent weeks, but there have certainly been extra rows of Super Bowl LVI-branded Bud Light.
The NFL takeover hit Los Angeles as hard as it could in this sprawling metropolis, where it takes an hour to drive from the Cincinnati Bengals’ media availability to the Los Angeles Rams’ in moderate traffic at 1 p.m. There’s no way to paper over all of that with Super Bowl banners, but the NFL tried. Downtown L.A. has been only half-accessible, with streets and parking spaces blocked off all around the convention center. Tom’s Watch Bar is DraftKings’ house for Super Bowl week.
At the convention center in Downtown L.A. is the NFL Experience. Folks over 12 years old pay $40 to enter a temporary cathedral to the NFL. In the hallway that connects the NFL Shop to the part of the convention center that houses the NFL Experience, people can read about the history of the NFL from its origins to the present. The NFL shop sells $48 T-shirts, so one can only imagine what an autographed helmet might cost. People walk out of that place with multiple bags full of merchandise.
Once through the hallway, the first refreshment stands are visible. It’s reasonable to want a beer after the walk. Every beer on that cart costs $15 except for the Bud Light, which is $9.99. Dodger Stadium charges $16 for Bud Light and other common domestic beers after tax, but at least those are tall cans.
A walk back across the hallway takes those with credentials to the media center. This is where almost every football podcast and sports radio program in America broadcast from during Super Bowl week. Pat McAfee can be heard clear across the room at nearly all times, but he might have had the best quote of the week: “What the fuck am I gonna do with millions of dollars if I got no one to party with?”
Radio Row is mostly a place where athletes trade 5-15 minutes at a time on a platform and in exchange they get to spend at least a 1/4th of that time advertising supplements, CBD, Old Spice, NFT’s. I don’t know, I’m a writer, so I can’t do the radio row exchange unless my article turns into a press release for a mattress company.
Outside of Radio Row are the same refreshment options — sans the beer —that are offered to the fans upstairs, $12 cheeseburgers that don’t come with a drink. And parking at the convention center, good luck finding a lot in reasonable walking distance that costs less than $30 Super Bowl weekend. Not even a media credential can buy that for someone. The NFL Experience and downtown upcharges don’t even compare to the thousands of dollars necessary to purchase a Super Bowl ticket and the $1,000 it would cost to tailgate in the parking lot.
However, it’s done because it can be done. Usually, more than 100 million people watch the Super Bowl, not simply because the NFL is the most popular league in America, but because of the grand spectacle. Celebrities sing the national anthem, perform at halftime and wave from the luxury boxes that didn’t require them to pay admission. All week, the media hypes up this event as if there aren’t other sports playing actual games while talking to players — whose teams have been eliminated — about consumer goods.
The Super Bowl is a super spectacle, and being part of that feels good. Sure it’s easier to have buffalo chicken dip at a friend of a friend’s house on Super Bowl Sunday, but participating in that weekend is an experience a person will never forget, from the parties to the stair climbs that can count for a leg day.
So of course the NFL is wringing its customers for every cent that can be squeezed out during Super Bowl week. However, for that one week, at least the NFL puts on its best show.