Stories the NFL Only Tells Its Friends

A Not-That-Close Reading of Every Single Commercial from One NFL Game
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Ford wants you to buy one of their automobiles, a lot. Denis Leary wants you specifically to buy a Ford F-150 truck and is not above saying some weird, overly dramatic stuff to make you comply. Some gibberish numbers about towing capacity. There are a lot of words flying around the screen that sort of synch up with what Denis Leary is saying. The general tone of this truck commercial is quietly very neurotic, like the truck is nervous that you won’t like it. Former opera singer Mike Rowe doesn’t seem to care which kind of Ford you purchase—he’s sticking with genial blandishments.

Meanwhile, Pizza Hut somehow continues to exist despite no one purchasing their food since 1994. Something is happening on CBS involving Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, both of whom look like a box of melted crayons poured onto high-end wigs. There is a TV show called Hardcore Pawn starring a dude who looks like Gallagher after a meth-and-hair-product spree. Marg Helgenberger wears a year’s supply of make-up and shoots a gun; Ted Danson doesn’t know what to say.

***

My personal hindsight is only about 20/80, but I have discovered some science facts about Saturday’s Broncos-Pats game, and the phenomenon of televised football as a whole. The spread on this game was too low, for one thing. My big discovery is that the game was terrible. In fact, I saw this coming, along with most of the adult population. Since I didn’t anticipate having much to say about le morte de Tebowmanie, I decided to undertake some serious sociological research in pursuit of a new angle.

The NFL is pretty much the only thing all of America can agree on, as far as civic religion goes. Television advertising money is the lifeblood of the NFL—so I decided it was time for some hematology. I watched every single commercial aired during the New York CBS broadcast of the game. Ordinarily, we see but don’t read the ads, fast-forwarding through commercial breaks via DVR magic, or stepping out to the dining room to share some KFC Hot Wings by candlelight with our attractive, diverse friends. Some people, myself included, make formally ignoring commercials a precondition for watching the games. On Saturday, I had to train myself not to wander off, take a pee break, stare out the window, or just zone out. It was a challenge, but I stayed the course and logged every single paid commercial that aired from pre-kickoff to postgame show. I felt drowned afterward.

***

Leather-clad vampire lady or possibly vampire-hunter shoots at people and does parkour (relatively sure this is a movie commercial, not local news teaser). A tiny version of former NFL coach Dennis Green screams at you about light beer. Nicolas Cage’s uncanny-valley hairline bursts into flames and whips you with a chain. Harry Potter catches tuberculosis while tripping. Black fighter pilots. Dale Earnhardt Jr. suggests Nationwide Insurance. Someone made a narrative-fiction motion picture of Steve Harvey’s non-narrative non-fiction book Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady. CVS fills drug prescriptions reliably, according to CVS. The guy who played the Christ in The Passion of the Christ is furiously glowering about police-related stuff in a CBS show. A nerdy guy with sideburns is skeptical about the Christ’s glowering acumen. A blond version of the manic pixie dream girl is shaming me for not owning a Honda crossover. Denzel Washington is in a movie with Ryan Reynolds. Your car flipped over but you have Nationwide Insurance. The Masters are coming to your TV later this year. Aaron Rodgers seems quietly desperate to get out of these State Farm ads. BJ Raji’s face.

***

The universe of American consumers that an NFL game’s worth of ads imagines is a mammoth wad of contradictions, just like the actual real universe of Americans. After inhouse CBS promos (more than 30, counting floaters, although most of the promos were 15-second quickies), the leading category of product pitch was for car companies. I live in New York and am one of those perverts who doesn’t drive. But the people I know from the old country, who do drive, don’t get a new car every other week.

The ads come in different flavors: CBS promos and movie spots are earnest, simply displaying the wares with no snark. Some auto ads follow suit. Acura and Toyota basically just show you a car driving and suggest that you might want to buy it. Other car spots—the Denis Leary F-150 ads really do sidle up to hate-crime status—are so juiced with ironic anxiety that they make my eyes dry out.

A 30-second spot during a national NFL telecast sells for roughly $350K, as of 2010. There were something like 90 ads aired during Saturday’s game, depending on how you count. A lot of those were CBS promos, so no cash changed hands. At least 40 full-length non-CBS ads ran, which would hint at revenues in the ballpark of $10 million; I suspect the actual house take was higher. The rates for the playoffs likely spike, especially for a game as hyped as Denver vs. New England that isn’t pre-sold like the Super Bowl.

Last month, the NFL made deals worth close to $28 billion dollars with Fox, CBS, and NBC for rights to air games from 2014 to 2022. Access to our attention spans is being marked up more than cocaine paste. (I spend all day with myself, and I have yet to see any kind of cash reward for simply watching things). Saturday’s game hauled in 30 million viewers, which was viewed as kind of disappointing.

***

There is a movie called Act of Valor, the plot of which is: army guns. They apparently borrowed real army guys to fire the guns. This seems like it should just be a video game. Mike & Molly is about fat people, which is either social realism or some kind of crude analog SEO strategy. Not clear if show is about being fat or simply involves being fat. Liam Neeson is in a movie that involves Liam Neeson either protecting his family from a wolf or getting revenge on a wolf for killing his family, which is basically the plot of every movie Liam Neeson has been in recently. Verizon FiOS doesn’t want you to share your home internet service with the creepy neighbor. The one guy from Oz is still mumbling unpleasant scenarios involving insurance on behalf of Allstate. Sprint has iPhones now. Tom Selleck’s mustache is geological. Big Bang Theory appears to be a show about '90s nostalgia. Vern Schillinger from Oz is in an insurance commercial too. He seems to have backed off his Nazism since prison.

***

My research was watered down a bit in the second half of the game. It wasn’t the ads that got to me, it was Phil Simms. During the second-half lead-in, I hallucinated that I could see inane comments seeping out of Simms' skin in a yeasty vapor. (A friend accurately pointed out that there was still plenty of inanity left inside him). I couldn’t stand listening to him talk any more. My host put on a Born Against record (because of Tebow) and we listened to that a few times. Instead of whatever Focus on the Family or Phil Simms had to say, I enjoyed Sam McPheeters.

***

Now a tiny version of Herman Edwards is screaming at twenty-somethings about Coors Light. Rob Schneider has a sitcom. How I Met Your Mother is still on TV, proof that the formula “Friends, but for dicks” is a winner (I have never seen this show). DirecTV just showed me a guy in an eyepatch getting beaten up by gang members. I think it was supposed to be funny. The Gatorade Sport Science Institute is still cranking out research despite not existing. If I get a Verizon smartphone I can have “Circles” which will allow me to talk to all of my ex-girlfriends or an entire soccer team at once, neither of which I have ever wanted to do.

Domino’s has artisanal cheesy bread, which is more or less the same arrangement of soft tissue as their pizza except you dip it in tomato sauce, instead of the tomato sauce sitting between the cheese and bread. The brunette from 2 Broke Girls [sound of respectful knuckle chewing]. Olympic hero Michael Phelps is eating an entire six-foot sub by himself and other party guests are bummed and hungry. A coal miner named Kevin suggests that you try Weight Watchers for Men. On Undercover Boss, a rich white guy dresses up to spy on his minimum-wage employees and then somehow presumably discovers a way to treat them even worse after he is disappointed by their lack of corporate self-love. GMC has SUVs that do not have a measurable miles per gallon; these ads seem too sexy and I am not sure why. The E*TRADE baby is still working his one gag, which is that he is an asshole.


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