American football can seem like a mysterious and complicated world to anyone that doesn’t live in the United States. Despite being called “football”, the game is mostly played by people carrying an egg-shaped ball in their hands.
Adding to the confusion, American football is unlike many sports we’re familiar with as play seems to stop every few minutes, when players leave the field and are replaced by others. The Super Bowl can also confuse foreigners as it may not be clear how teams earn a right to play in it or why the game is so culturally important.
American football rules can seem complex, but they’re actually pretty simple.
- Each team has 11 players on the field at once but can have unlimited substitutions, resulting in teams having two separate teams (one for offence and one for defence).
- Games are played in four 15-minute quarters
- Each team must try to advance the ball up the field into the opposition’s “end zone”.
- Teams take it in turns to play the role of offence and defence
- The offensive team has four “downs” (attempts) to move the ball at least 10 yards down the field. If they do, the count resets, giving them more downs to progress further. If they don’t, the defensive team gets possession and can try to score.
Points can be scored in four ways:
- Touchdown – where the offensive team takes the ball into their opponent’s end zone (6 points)
- Field goal – where the offensive team kicks the ball between the two upright posts in the other team’s end zone (3 points)
- Extra point – an additional attempt to score after a touchdown, either by kicking the ball through the uprights or by running the ball into the end zone (1 or 2 points)
- Safety – points scored by the defensive team by tackling a member of the offensive team with the ball in their end zone (2 points)
The Super Bowl
The NFL is structured differently to competitions like the Indian Premier League or the English Premier League. It’s split into the “regular season” and “playoffs”; the Super Bowl is the final playoff game and decides the league’s winner for that year.
The regular season sees teams play a series of games among the teams in their conference (there are two). However, unlike in the IPL, not all teams will play each other. The highest-ranked teams then earn a spot in the playoffs, which is a knockout tournament similar to the IPL playoffs.
The Super Bowl is held in late January or early February each year and is always on a Sunday. The whole of the USA is captivated by the game, with more than 100 million people tuning in to watch each year.
Super Bowl TV Ads
It may sound strange, but television ads are an important part of US culture. Companies put a lot of effort into making their advertisements unique and memorable so that they stand out. Recent examples of this include PokerStars’ I’M IN ad which features clips of events that get your adrenaline pumping and Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ads that took an entirely new angle for promoting men’s aftershave.
The Super Bowl takes this to an entirely new level. The event attracts almost one-third of the entire US population, all of whom are tuned in at the same time, creating a huge audience for marketers to target. Rather than being seen as an interruption, the Super Bowl ads are seen as part of the Super Bowl experience with companies investing in large production budgets for their specially-created commercials
The Halftime Show
Another big part of the Super Bowl is the halftime show. This is a musical performance during the interval between the second and third quarters that has included big names like Katy Perry, Maroon 5, and Lady Gaga in recent years.
Like the ads, the halftime show is one of the most discussed parts of the Super Bowl in the days after the event. It’s also used by most artists as a way to launch their latest singles since the huge 100 million+ audience gets them a lot of exposure.
The NFL Draft
The NFL Draft is the system used for bringing fresh talent into the league. It takes place each spring and involves all 32 teams, with each one taking it in turns to choose a player to sign.
The order that teams pick is based on their success in the previous years, with the lowest-ranked teams getting to choose first. This helps to close the performance gap between teams as those that perform badly get the opportunity to get the best talent for the next season.