Superbowl moves to February

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Jan 30, 2003, 1:32:49 PM1/30/03

Super Bowl moving to February/ 2 Week gap is back

The Super Bowl, long a fixture of the last Sunday in January, is
moving next year to February, where it will be staying for a while.

Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston is set for Feb. 1, 2004, and the
subsequent games for Feb. 6, 2005, in Jacksonville, Fla., and for Feb.
5, 2006, in Detroit.

Only one previous game in Super Bowl history - last year's edition -
has taken place in February. And that happened only because the NFL
postponed a week of play after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The shift of the big game to February is the result of several factors
related to scheduling.

One is the move the league made several years ago to shift the opening
weekend of the season later so that it no longer would coincide with
Labor Day weekend, when many fans are otherwise occupied and
television ratings are often low.

A second was the decision to retain the regular-season bye week,
instituted in 1992. It became essential when the league went to an odd
number of teams, 31, with the addition of the Cleveland Browns in

The bye could have been eliminated this season with the arrival of the
32d team, the Houston Texans. Playing 16 games over 17 weeks allows
the league an extra week of television without an increase in the
total number of games.

Finally, the league has decided to go back to the traditional two-week
gap between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. The
one-week interval of the last two years was the result, in part, of
the move to start the regular season later; Super Bowl dates for
several years, including this one, had been locked in and couldn't be

What difference does any of this make?

For the participating teams, restoring the pre-Super Bowl week off is
a plus, even if it does double the time available for the hype.

The extra week means that no longer will teams have to do what the
Eagles have had to do the last two seasons - devote considerable time
and effort to dealing with tickets, transportation, housing, and
entertainment for a Super Bowl in which they wound up not playing.

No longer, as happened with the Buccaneers this year, will the coaches
stay behind when the team flies to the site. The reason they did so?
To get in 12 extra hours of work on the game plan.

"The Super Bowl has gotten so big - the game, the hoopla, the whole
thing - that it has to be two weeks," said John Madden, the ABC
analyst and former Oakland Raiders coach.

To make it otherwise, as was the case this year, isn't fair to the
participants or to the losers of the conference championship games.
Said Madden: "So Tennessee and Philadelphia, they have to feel like
fools now that they went through what they had to do [in planning] for
the Super Bowl, and they didn't use any of it."

For fans who might like to attend a Super Bowl, life also becomes much
easier. There will be less need to go through the logistical
gymnastics that Eagles fans experienced this month, making
nonrefundable airplane reservations and putting deposits on travel
packages without knowing whether the team was going to make it.

As for the contest itself, the evidence suggests that the two-week
layoff is not conducive to high-quality football.

Even including the blowout on Sunday, the seven games played without
the layoff have been more competitive - with an average margin of
victory being 12 points - than the 30 games played with it (17

Moving the game into February has implications on other fronts.

It has already forced the NBA and NHL to make sure their All-Star
Games avoid conflicts with the Super Bowl and the NFL Pro Bowl. Next
year, for instance, the NBA game is to take place a week later than
usual, the NHL contest a week earlier.

For television, the shift means the game will take place during the
February sweeps period, when ratings are tabulated in each of the
nation's 210 television markets. Those ratings help determine what
local stations can charge advertisers for locally purchased air time.

Having the Super Bowl during sweeps could provide an advantage for the
network that telecasts the game (CBS next year), at least in terms of
promoting the rest of the network's February programming.

The shift will also let advertisers learn more about who watches the
game in the more than 150 small- and medium-size television markets
that are not monitored year-round.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer


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