The 2008 Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Giants — XLII in Roman terms — was watched by 97.5 million people. At the time, no sporting event had ever drawn so many eyeballs. The Super Bowl has set a new viewership record every year since, and this year’s game is expected to eclipse last year’s mark of 111 million viewers.
Not surprisingly, ESPN drenched its viewers in reporting on the Patriots and Giants last week. Mark Gross, ESPN senior vice president and executive producer, said they’ve had 110 hours of live radio and television programming from Indianapolis in the past week, up about 10 hours from last year’s Super Bowl. But the specific matchup between New York and Boston teams had little to do with the coverage, he said.
“The Super Bowl to me is different than a Red Sox-Yankees regular season game in August because the nature of the game,” Gross said. “. . . I know some people may say there’s a Northeast or an East Coast bias, but you can’t argue with the ratings and the interest in those games versus the other games.”
According to the network’s own research, four of the nation’s top 15 favorite pro sports are from either New York or Boston. While teams such as the Yankees, Patriots, Red Sox and Giants appeal to fans in their home markets, their reach extends far beyond the back yard. More than 52 percent of Giants fans live outside of New York, according to ESPN Sports Poll data, and 57 percent of Pats fans reside outside of Boston.
While Super Bowl XLVI will be watched worldwide, life will come to a halt Sunday evening throughout the Northeast. Sam Flood, executive producer for NBC Sports, which is broadcasting Sunday’s game, calls the event a “national holiday.” That probably understates its significance to many. Animosity for the two teams might stretch from coast to coast, but passions run hottest in New York and New England, neighboring markets whose teams usually compete in similar divisions and conferences.
“Once I came to this team in New England, they basically told me the first week I was there, if you're going to hate anybody, hate the New York Jets, hate any New York team,” said Rodney Harrison, who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots during his 15-year NFL career. “That first week of being there, you kind of fell into that whole mind-set: anything New York, you hate.”
That hostility says little about the Giants and Patriots, but it does reveal something about the rest of us. Experts say people gravitate toward underdogs. Teams from Boston and New York have giant payrolls, larger-than-life characters and decades of tradition and success. Losers are lovable, and winners wear targets. Sports fans love to hate, and a Good vs. Evil story line is an easy one to process. So is Evil vs. Evil.
“Sports have always been about rooting against villains,” said Michael Moorby, proprietor of the Web site YankeesHater.com. “And villains are wonderful for sports.”