I started writing about the NFL's crackdown on Super Bowl parties years ago when it mostly affected casinos in Las Vegas. The first thing you noticed was that the league didn't want the casinos using the term "Super Bowl" for these huge events where the casinos would pack hundreds and hundreds of people into a ballroom, charge them $50 or so, feed them chicken wings and nachos and have them watch the game on big screen TVs with special betting close by.
And I got it, really. It's clear that the league already has an antipathy for all things Vegas (regardless of Park Avenue's protests to the contrary) because of the gambling on games. Adding fuel to the fire, there was an advertising campaign a few years ago that suggested that Vegas was a better place to watch the Supe than even attending the game itself (it happened to be in Houston that year).
So, the casinos have bent themselves into pretzels to address the league's concerns, which include that when the game is shown, it's shown in a location that normally shows the game, that in group settings, the size of TVs be no larger than TVs used in homes and that there be no admission charge to watch the game. And, oh yeah, no using the words ... Super Bowl.
But more recently, the league has taken its watchdog campaign to the flip side of casinos -- churches. The Washington Post just ran a story on a local church's Super Bowl party being shut down and it's actually part of a trend. At the end of the story was mention of a Virginia civil liberties-religious group that's considering suing the NFL and perhaps looking for Congressional help in exempting churches from some of the embargoes, such as the big-screen thing.
As someone points out in the story, how does it make sense any longer that, say, a 55-inch screen be considered a limit for a normal home television? Home TVs are now limited only by the size of the room you can fit them in.
Oh yeah, and consider that sports bars are normally exempt from the league's overbearing big-footing.
Some of this has to do with ratings. If one person watches the game on an 18-inch screen, it counts the same in the ratings as 200 people watching on a 60-inch screen. So, as usual, there's more than a whiff of money involved here.
Here's the bottom line. The NFL has profited immensely from the hype, hoopla and energy that's been created on its behalf by the media and embraced by the public for its championship game. The Super Bowl, as the league will gladly trumpet, has crossed the threshold into ad hoc national holiday status. That's just a plain fact. And that being the case, the Super Bowl -- despite being a trademark property of a commercial enterprise -- belongs to the people. No one is suggesting that the NFL share the money. But again, the NFL has those antitrust exemptions. And if it can't restrain itself itself in its greed for control over the Super Bowl, perhaps it's time for Congress to flex its muscles regarding all these embargoes.