Americans and the Super Bowl Phenomenon

by Jeffrey M. Jones and Joseph Carroll

Most expect Colts to win

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The yearly national phenomenon of Super Bowl Sunday is set to take place this weekend, and a recent Gallup Panel survey delved into Americans' views of what is the single most watched event of the year. While the football action still takes precedence for most viewers, a substantial minority say they will enjoy watching the commercials more than the game itself. More pro football fans will be rooting for the Indianapolis Colts than for the Chicago Bears, and most expect the Colts to emerge victorious. All eyes will be on Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning, whom fans regard as the greatest active pro football player, as he attempts to improve his standing among the sport's all-time greats.

The Game vs. the Commercials

The Super Bowl transcends the sport of football, and many people who do not consider themselves fans of the sport will still watch the game. Super Bowl Sunday has also become as big a day for advertisers as for the teams, so much so that much of the Monday-morning quarterbacking focuses on the performance of advertisers as well as players, and television specials now look back at the "greatest commercials" in Super Bowl history.

Given the prominence of advertising in the telecast, it is appropriate to ask whether people who plan to watch the Super Bowl look forward more to the game itself or to the commercials. Clearly, the game still takes precedence for most viewers -- 66% of those who say they plan to watch the Super Bowl say they enjoy watching the game more than the commercials -- but a not trivial 33% say they enjoy the commercials more than the football action that takes place between commercial breaks.

A majority of both men and women who plan to watch this year's Super Bowl say they enjoy the game more than the commercials. But female viewers (44%) are twice as likely as male viewers (22%) to say they prefer the commercials.

Younger viewers are also more likely than older viewers to say they enjoy watching the Super Bowl commercials, although a majority of both younger and older viewers prefer the game. Forty-one percent of viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 say they enjoy watching the commercials more than the game. This compares with only 20% of viewers aged 50 and older.

The combined effects of age and gender result in a majority of younger female viewers (56% of those below age 50) who say they are more interested in the commercials than the game. At least 7 in 10 older female viewers and male viewers of any age prefer the game rather than the commercials.

Colts vs. Bears

The poll asked self-identified pro football fans for their predictions of the game's outcome, as well as to reveal their rooting preference between the Colts and Bears.

Fans seem to be following the lead of the oddsmakers, who have installed the Colts as the favorite by about a touchdown. Sixty-one percent of football fans predict the Colts will win, while 36% believe the Bears will. And by a 60% to 38% margin, football fans say they want to see the Colts rather than the Bears win the game. The Colts last won a Super Bowl following the 1970 season, when they represented Baltimore. The Bears' last win came in their only Super Bowl appearance, following the 1985 season.

As expected, most fans (73%) are consistent in their rooting interests and their predictions of the winner. Forty-eight percent of fans want the Colts to win and think they will actually win. Meanwhile, 25% of fans want the Bears to win and think they will do so. Thirteen percent of fans will be pulling for the Bears but think the Colts will probably win, while 11% will root for the Colts but believe the Bears will prevail.

Super Manning?

If the Colts win, Super Bowl XLI may serve as a coronation of Indianapolis quarterback Manning. Arguably the top quarterback in the league this decade, the only seeming hole in his résumé is the lack of a Super Bowl championship.

The poll finds that pro football fans already regard Manning as the top active football player by a comfortable margin over the reigning league Most Valuable Player, San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, and three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. Twenty-eight percent of fans say Manning is the greatest active player, compared with 14% for Tomlinson and 9% for Brady. Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre (7%) and Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher (2%) are the other players who receive substantial mentions. The Bears' and Colts' appearances in the Super Bowl no doubt aid Manning's and Urlacher's standing on the list.

It is clear that winning an NFL championship is nearly a requirement for being considered one of the game's all-time greats. When Gallup asked pro football fans to name the greatest player of all time, just 4 of the 16 players who received significant mentions did not play on a championship team. One of those players is Manning, while the other three are former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders, former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, and former Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus. All four of those players rank in the latter part of the list, named by 2% or less of all football fans.

At the top of the fans' list of all-time great players are quarterback Joe Montana (11%), winner of four championships, and running back Walter Payton (10%), a member of the Bears' 1985 championship team. Running back Jim Brown (8%) and quarterback Johnny Unitas (6%) carry the flag for the players of the 1950s and 1960s era. Quarterbacks John Elway (4%), Joe Namath (4%), and Roger Staubach (3%); running back Emmitt Smith (3%); and wide receiver Jerry Rice (3%) also make the list. Butkus is the only defensive player on the list.

Opinion of Greatest Football Player of All Time,
Pro Football Fans, January 2007 Gallup Poll


Player

%
Mentioning

Years of NFL
Championships

 

 

Joe Montana

11

1981, 1984, 1988, 1989

Walter Payton

10

1985

Jim Brown

8

1964

Johnny Unitas

6

1958, 1959, 1970

John Elway

4

1997, 1998

Joe Namath

4

1968

Emmitt Smith

3

1992, 1993, 1995

Roger Staubach

3

1971, 1977

Jerry Rice

3

1988, 1989, 1994

Barry Sanders

2

--

Bart Starr

2

1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967

Terry Bradshaw

2

1974, 1975, 1978, 1979

Dan Marino

2

--

Brett Favre

1

1996

Dick Butkus

1

--

Peyton Manning

1

--

 

 

Other

23

 

No opinion

13

 

Usually, debates about the greatest players in any sport show generational differences. That applies to these data as well. Among football fans aged 50 and older, the top players are Brown (13%) and Unitas (11%), with Montana (7%) and Payton (5%) trailing. Montana and Payton (14% each) are the choice of fans under age 50, with only 5% mentioning Brown and 3% Unitas.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup Panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,008 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 25-28, 2007. Gallup Panel members are recruited through random selection methods. The panel is weighted so that it is demographically representative of the U.S. adult population. For results based on these samples, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on sample of the 716 adults who plan to watch the Super Bowl, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 588 professional football fans, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Turning now to sports,

14. PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL FAN DEMOGRAPHIC FOR SCREENING PURPOSES ONLY

15. (Asked of professional football fans) Who do you regard as the greatest professional football player active in the sport today? [OPEN-ENDED]

BASED ON 588 PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL FANS

 

2007 Jan 25-28

%

Peyton Manning

28

LaDainian Tomlinson

14

Tom Brady

9

Brett Favre

7

Brian Urlacher

2

 

Other

18

No one

1

No opinion

22

16. (Asked of professional football fans) Now thinking about all the players who have ever played professional football, who do you regard as the greatest professional football player of all-time? [OPEN-ENDED]

BASED ON 588 PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL FANS

 

2007 Jan 25-28

%

Joe Montana

11

Walter Payton

10

Jim Brown

8

Johnny Unitas

6

John Elway

4

Joe Namath

4

Emmitt Smith

3

Roger Staubach

3

Jerry Rice

3

Barry Sanders

2

Bart Starr

2

Terry Bradshaw

2

Dan Marino

2

Brett Favre

1

Dick Butkus

1

Peyton Manning

1

 

Other

23

No opinion

13

17. PLAN TO WATCH SUPER BOWL DEMOGRAPHIC FOR SCREENING PURPOSES ONLY

18. (Asked of adults who plan to watch any of the Super Bowl) Which do you enjoy more when watching the Super Bowl on television -- [ROTATED: the game itself, (or) the commercials]?

BASED ON 716 ADULTS WHO PLAN TO WATCH THE SUPER BOWL

 

Game itself

Commercials

No opinion

2007 Jan 25-28

66%

33

1

19. (Asked of professional football fans) If you had to choose, which team would you like to see win the Super Bowl -- [ROTATED: the Chicago Bears, (or) the Indianapolis Colts]?


BASED ON 588 PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL FANS

 

Chicago
Bears

Indianapolis
Colts

No opinion

2007 Jan 25-28

38%

60

2

20. (Asked of professional football fans) Regardless of which team you favor, which team do you think will win the game -- [ROTATED: the Chicago Bears, (or) the Indianapolis Colts]?

BASED ON 588 PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL FANS

 

Chicago
Bears

Indianapolis
Colts

No opinion

2007 Jan 25-28

36%

61

3

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