Connections: A Team Player

I am fascinated by numbers, expecting them to provide a story of their own or, at the very least, to tell us something that words alone cannot say

    Did you hear that 111.5 million people watched the Super Bowl on TV Sunday? This number may not be an eye-opener for sport fans — apparently, this was the fourth time in five years that the Super Bowl has set a record as the most-watched television event in United States history — but it was a stunner for me.

    I am fascinated by numbers, expecting them to provide a story of their own or, at the very least, to tell us something that words alone cannot say. Numbers are collected and appraised by many sources these days, and the Internet makes it easy to find out what you would like to know, even if you do not entirely understand it. I certainly wish I had a better understanding of statistics.

     Going to Google to learn more, I discovered that almost one-third of every man, woman, and child in this country — according to statistics for 2012 — watched the game. In the United States alone, almost as many people tuned in as there were residents of Russia in 2012, which was 143.6 million. There were almost twice as many Super Bowl viewers here than the 63.7 million people who lived in all of the United Kingdom that year.

    Of course, television wasn’t the only medium by which the game was broadcast. This year’s Super Bowl was reported to be the most-streamed sport event in online history. It was the biggest live TV event ever tweeted about in the U.S. At halftime, with the Broncos down 22-0, an astonishing 50 million people posted 185 million game-related remarks on Facebook.

    I didn’t find out how many people may have heard the play-by-play on AM or FM radio, although some of the passengers on the Jitney when we were coming back from the city Sunday night appeared to have been listening or watching on iPhones.

    The Super Bowl numbers are so huge that they have to be meaningful in some way. Certainly they are indicative of what our proclivities and sympathies are as a culture. We must be a rah-rah nation that values brawn above all else, and admires the winners, especially, right?

    I’ve always tended to think of myself as odd woman out, appreciating the angle on things being a member of a minority can give you. Beyond the music world, where I sing in a chorus, I’ve never really been a joiner. (And this has been re-enforced for the past 50 years by the journalistic standard of independence we hew to at The Star, which has guided me to avoid membership in social or political organizations.) I’ve definitely never been a follower of team sports.

    But something occurred to me this week: The Super Bowl, in a way, gives the lie to this concept of America as a nation of sports fanatics and cheerleaders. If almost a third of Americans tuned in, it means that more than two-thirds tuned out. And that makes the dissenters the real mainstream — the great majority.