Of the myriad of foreign, domestic and micro-brewed ambers, ales, lagers, porters, stouts, IPAs and fruity variations of such…a can of Budweiser is inarguably one of the worst beers you could possibly imbibe. Unless you’re donning a “wife-beater” or have the discerning palate of a college freshman, you’ll likely not be seen in public holding a can of Budweiser. And yet, look how well it sells. Bud Light is #1. Think that’s impressive, look at its brand value: Budweiser is #25 in the world. Seriously, the entire world.

So how does one explain this juxtaposition of brand and bleah!? The same way the NFL sells its mind-numbing charade of a sport. It’s all in the marketing.

Budweiser didn’t gain it’s fame by producing a superior product. It gained its fame by reproducing a mediocre product. There were many breweries back in the day, but Adolphus Busch was the first to use pasteurization and refrigeration to ship his product so that you could find a “Bud,” not just locally, but in many towns across America. That said, the product has probably always sucked. Adolph preferred wine over his own brew and the local St. Louis drinkers didn’t care for it either. But none of that mattered because the Busch family bought licenses and paid rent to bar owners in exchange for serving their brand. Post WWII, the Bud brand really made strides when it started sponsoring stars like Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra…then sponsoring sporting events and eventually branding stadiums. By the 1980s, the Budweiser brand was firmly planted in American culture and its reputation (fabled or true) soon preceded it.

Similarly, it was in the 1890s that professional football was developing in Pennsylvania. As local athletic clubs engaged in increasingly intense competition (hiring ringers and placing bets on games) the underbelly of the sport surfaced to eventually become modern day professional football. Only, unlike one of the worst beers in the world, the modern era of football was popularized by its original content, not by its brand. An offshoot of rugby, it caught on as a new and exciting sport that challenged the braun and speed of men…a challenge not availed by baseball or basketball. A few players became the “town’s men” and soon the brawn and speed of one town’s men would rival that of another…and so on.

Skip ahead a hundred years or so. Not much has changed…at all. Budweiser, the anti-Christ of ale, hasn’t markedly improved its formula. But my-oh-my how it has wrapped itself with a purdy bow. Crowning itself the “King of Beers” and confidently asserting: “This Bud’s for you!” then parading the Clydesdales (horses known more for show than go) followed by the Budweiser frogs, ”Whasssup??” and the “Lost Dog” episode… just one of many Super Bowl Ads (to the tune of $300 millon) over the last 10 years. And we’re now subject to this summer’s campaign to replace its name: Budweiser…with “America.” That’s right. The #25 brand on the planet decided to rename its beer “America” (even though the Busch family sold Budweiser to a Belgian company about a decade ago). That, my friends, is the extent to which one must be willing to go in order to keep “Toto” from pulling back the curtain. Point being: Budweiser is much ado about nothing and the only thing keeping that red & white can of trailer-park piddle in the realm of the best selling beers in the world…is a whole lotta hype.

                                                Welcome to the N.F.L.

Who’s to say if the game of football has ever been a good product? How does one set out to determine that? Well, because we haven’t expounded on the virtues of actually brewing beer or the fellowship of imbibing or the marriage between song, romance, dejection and alcohol…let’s not expound on the merits of actually playing the game of football either. No talk of character building, camaraderie or team work or skill positions or strategery or fanaticism or the betting lines, or the fantasy leagues, or the smell of hotdogs, popcorn and tubs of draft beer. Nope, none of that. We’re just going to to examine the game and its brand. 

                                           Observations

  • There is no defined allegiance to personnel…or ownership, for that matter.

  • There is an entire industry dedicated to prospects, contracts and what-ifs.

  • The combines are carried live.

  • The draft is carried live.

  • Pre and postseason media coverage is interminable.

  • There is an HBO series that documents training camp.

  • Exhibition games are aired in prime-time.

  • Regular season pregame coverage begins 6.75 days prior to kickoff.

  • Game day coverage begins 15 hours prior to kickoff.

  • It takes 3 ½ hours to watch a professional football game.

  • 1 hour is devoted to commercial advertising.

  • 1 hour is nothing but shots of players standing around.

  • 35 minutes are shots of the crowd, coaches and cheerleaders

  • ½ an hour entails the “halftime” show and network/NFL self-promotion

  • 15 minutes are “replays”

  • 11 minutes of each game consists of actual “play.”

  • There is a time-out before each kick-off.

  • Without the use of “filler,” the game grinds to a monotonous halt between plays. This filler, known as “Instant Replay” is used at least once (often thrice) on 90% of all non-punting plays. This is tantamount to watching the game 3 times in one viewing.

  • 24+ cameras are used to dissect the finest minutia of every waning moment.

  • On average, 15 -20 penalties (game stoppages) are incurred each game.

  • Throughout the 3 ½ hour broadcast there are incessant ad graphics superimposed on the screen. This pseudo entertainment presents itself in the form of swooshes, animated helmets that clash into an exploding burst of sparks, a prancing robot named “Cleatus” and innumerable unabashed sponsorships for everything from the Verizon call of the day, to the Snickers huddle cam, to the Bridgestone scoreboard to the Allstate field goal net.

  • Shanked punts, fumbles and forward momentum are calculated by human guesstimate.

  • The participants are indiscernible from one another. If both teams switch uniforms at half-time no one would be the wiser, providing dreadlocks were tucked and helmets weren’t removed.

  • The average running play yields about 4 yards.

  • Over a 1/3rd of all passes are not caught.

  • The offense is allotted 4 attempts to amass 10 yards…they use 3 of them.

  • This “game of inches” uses 2 sticks and a chain to measure ball advancement (pun intended).

                            The Verdict

When we strip away the trappings of the NFL experience and we focus solely on the product, we find pretty much the same thing we find with Budweiser beer: a whole lotta hype and very little substance. You could say this slant is short-sighted and that it could be applied to all of sport, but I’m not that cynical and all of sport doesn’t portray itself as America’s King of Sport. I’m not saying that the game of football has no appeal; of course it does. I’m also not saying that football loses its appeal when it crosses over from collegiate to professional, but there’s no denying that it loses its soul. And to be clear, I’m not disparaging the Budweiser empire nor the mighty N.F.L., both are undeniable beacons of their respective realms. It’s just that their products suck. Seriously. Ask yourself (or anyone) how you’d feel if someone handed you a can of crappy swill and forced you to endure a listless game for hours on end. I think we all know the answer to that one. But add the winter doldrums, throw in some snappy frogs and cute puppy commercials, the word “AMERICA!,” a country music intro, a jacked up robot and some exploding helmets….and, well sir, you’ve got yourself an IQ sapping piece of Americana.

Cheers!

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