New York City (actually North Jersey) will host Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford on Sunday, February 2. The championship game, between the Denver Broncos (led by immortal quarterback Peyton Manning) and the Seattle Seahawks (featuring sudden celebrity/cornerback Richard Sherman) will be the biggest sporting event of the year and attract a huge U.S. and global audience on television. Advertisers will spend as much as $4 million for a 30-second commercial to showcase their wares in front of well more than a hundred million consumers.
Moreover, civic and business leaders in New York and North Jersey are expecting the Super Bowl to inject at least $500 million into the local economy – through expenditures made my big spenders at hotels, restaurants, tourist spots and retail outlets. Given the Super Bowl's dominant financial and cultural weight, almost no one is criticizing this high-priced, self-indulgent event, despite the fact that the North Jersey-New York City region struggles with high unemployment rates, income inequality and other economic woes, several years into the national recovery.
This complacency in the football-mad U.S. presents a stark contrast to what is happening in soccer-mad Brazil, where tens of thousands of people have vociferously (even violently) expressed their opposition to their country hosting the World Cup tournament. Despite their deep passion for the game, many Brazilians object to the staging of soccer matches on their soil, citing, among other things, high income inequality in their society and corruption among government officials.
Would Americans – even those angered by this nation's economic malaise – unleash a similar magnitude of vitriol against the Super Bowl? Highly unlikely.
But, for the purpose of conjecture, imagine if an uprising erupted against the NFL championship in North Jersey – such a phenomenon might lead to the following ‘fake’ news reports (based on real news stories about the ongoing turmoil in Brazil:
JERSEY CITY, NJ — Waving flags, carrying banners and chanting "there will be no Super Bowl" at least 1,000 demonstrators protested in Jersey City on Saturday against the NFL championship game that New Jersey will host in a demonstration that devolved into violence late in the night. On its Facebook page, the Anonymous Jersey protest group billed "Operation Stop the Super Bowl" as this year's first act against the football title game. Protests were expected in more than 30 cities.
Demonstrators gathered in front of the Jersey City Art Museum in Van Vorst Park for about one hour before heading out to another part of the city chanting slogans against the Super Bowl. As they approached the downtown area, some anarchist demonstrators attacked an empty police car and tried to overturn it, while others torched a small car and smashed the windows of banks, as they have in previous protests. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, dispersing the crowd. More than 100 demonstrators were detained.
Earlier during the demonstration several protesters chanted "If we have no rights, there will be no Super Bowl." "By rights we mean the people's right to decent public services," said a university student. "We are against the millions and millions of dollars being spent for the Super Bowl. It is money that should be invested in better health and education services and better transportation and housing." Another student said "this is a small sample of the protests that will happen when the Super Bowl begins."
In nearby Newark, about 50 protesters gathered in front of the Hilton Newark Penn Station hotel, holding signs blasting the Super Bowl. After about an hour, the crowd moved onto a main street, halting traffic as police watched from the side. Small demonstrations were also held in several other cities across North Jersey.
PARSIPPANY, NJ- A terrified family in Parsippany, N.J., scrambled out of their blazing car during a riot over the Super Bowl. Their brand new Dodge Durango SUV caught fire after it was driven over a barricade of flames started by protesters. After passers-by helped the family dash to safety, the car erupted into a ball of flames. The occupants of the SUV were caught up in the trouble in Parsippany as 2,500 people took to the city’s streets in protest the $5 million marketing fee of hosting the Super Bowl. Bank windows were smashed, an empty police car was attacked and car tires were set alight to form the blazing barricades. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Demonstrators were dispersed and were seen running through a bar after clashes with officers. Around 120 people were arrested during the skirmishes on Saturday in the city. A protester said: “We are against the millions of dollars being spent. It is money that should be invested in better health and education services and better transport and housing.” Protesters said this was the first rally in their ‘Operation Stop the Super Bowl’ campaign. Most of the demonstrations in 36 other New Jersey and New York cities passed off peacefully.
HOBOKEN, NJ- Demonstrations against the Super Bowl descended into street riots in Hoboken, NJ Sunday as an anti-inequality protest movement launched a campaign against public spending on sports extravaganzas. Cars were burnt in the streets, shop fronts were vandalized and bank windows were smashed. Police clashed with the crowd of up to 2,500 in running battles that at one point forced bystanders to seek refuge from the fighting. As many as 128 people were detained by the security forces. While the rally was dominated by the middle class at the outset, it was joined by anarchist groups known as the violence started.
Solidarity protests were also staged in Weehawken and Hackensack, as organizers attempted to set in train a series of mass demonstrations in the run-up to the Super Bowl. Many New Jerseyans resent the scale of spending poured into hosting the Super Bowl. Banners carried in the business districts of Union City proclaimed “NFL go home”. Despite the popularity of the game, some demonstrators took aim at the earnings of players. “Wake up America, a teacher is worth more than Peyton Manning” was one slogan.
Of course, these things will never happen – the United States is a vastly different society than Brazil, although there are some similarities in the resentments harbored by the poor, working classes and middle classes over the ever-widening wealth gap. Pro football is hugely popular in the U.S., regardless of one’s income of political persuasion – any criticism of the game (which is also a huge mass media extravaganza) would be tantamount to high treason.
Even New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, a left-wing liberal who has made income inequality and uplifting poverty the foundation of his new administration, has praised the Super Bowl taking place in his backyard. "It's going to have a fantastic impact on our local economy," he said, according to NY1 TV channel. "It's going to be great for New York City."
But there are also doubts that the Super Bowl will actually deliver on the promise of injecting between $500 million and $600 million into the regional economy. A study called "Super Bowl or Super Hyperbole?" co-authored by economist Victor Matheson at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, declared: "The evidence indicates that at best the Super Bowl contributes approximately one-quarter of what the NFL promises."
Matheson told the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper that the gross impact of the Super Bowl may approach $500 million. "But when it comes to the net -- how much benefits the locals -- we get numbers ranging from $30 million to $125 million." For example, Matheson explained that money spent on overpriced hotel rooms before the game will not accrued any benefits to low level employees. "Even though hotel prices are three to four times normal, that’s not increasing the wages of the desk clerks and maids," he said. "That money goes back to the shareholders of the hotel chains."
In addition, football-mad fans are spending thousands of dollars to purchase scalped tickets to the Super Bowl – the first time the game has ever been held in the New York City area, making it a historic event. If one can shell out such money to sit in the bitter cold for a few hours to watch a game, one is either quite wealthy or simply obsessed with the NFL.
Consider that according to the Census Bureau, for the 2008-2012 period, the median household income for the state of New Jersey amounted to $71,637 (which is significantly higher than the $53,046 for the country as a whole), but a pittance compared to what NFL stars make.
Indeed, the biggest superstar in the Super Bowl, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has a base salary of $15 million base salary and earns at least as much in commercial endorsements annually. This means that Manning’s annual earnings are more than 400 times bigger than the median income in the state of New Jersey, where he will play next Sunday. He also has a total estimated net worth of some $165 million.
Now, that is extreme income inequality. And no one in America will protest.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.