Feb. 3, 2006 -- If you subscribe to your local newspaper, you may want to clear out your recycling bins and prepare to be flooded with ads for big-screen TVs this weekend. It's time for the Super Bowl, and the NFL's final game of the season has become an entertainment spectacle and a chance for retailers to push their plasma- and LCD-screen wonders.
The event is expected to draw more than 130 million viewers in the United States alone, and ABC Sports' high definition broadcast of Super Bowl XL will be available to anyone with a HDTV.
For those selling TVs, "XL" may mean extra large profits. Many manufacturers debut new sets in the fall, when the football season starts, and introduce savings and more aggressive advertising during the playoffs and Super Bowl.
"Retailers and manufacturers look to take advantage of the excitement around these big events," explained Rick Souder, executive vice president of merchandising for online retailer Crutchfield, and a 30-year veteran of the consumer electronics business. "What's the old expression? Shoot while the ducks are flying."
Planning a Party
After 22 years of living in their Hampton, Va., home, David Tengquist and his wife, Annette, decided to turn their garage into a party room and host a Super Bowl party. Tengquist has been working on the project for months and is expecting deliveries of lighting and speakers right up to the last moment.
"My wife bought me a welcome mat, and it says, 'My World, My Universe, My Garage," he said with pride. "And the neighbors have heard the work being done in here, but they will not see the room until it is ready for unveiling this Sunday."
The centerpiece of the room is already in place. It is a $1,700 Westinghouse 37-inch HDTV that he bought last week from Crutchfield because he was interested in the TV's advanced resolution features.
Tengquist bought his first HDTV two years ago at a Circuit City. Now, five of his six TVs are HDTVs.
"Anyone who has seen the picture knows they want one. ... The detail is really impressive," he said.
He revealed a fact that may be true for many HDTV owners. "I'm not the largest sports fan, but I just have to have the best and newest stuff."
ABC was the first major broadcast network to begin broadcasting in HDTV on Nov. 1, 1998, with "The Wonderful World of Disney: 101 Dalmatians." High-definition sets have been on the market since 1998, and prices have been steadily declining. Fifteen million sets have been sold, one-third of them in 2005.
Sports and movies are often cited as the reason people purchase the sets. In a recent marketing survey, nearly 50 percent of HDTV owners cited sports as the reason for their purchase.
"Annually, we've seen a significant spike in TV sales the week before the Super Bowl," reported Ross Rubin, an industry analyst at NPD Group. "Sales could be driven because of the game itself, or it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because of discounts on big-screen TVs after a bit of a post-holiday shopping lull."
What Big Game?
This weekend Circuit City will encourage consumers to "Shop for Super Deals with the HD Experience." Best Buy recommends "Big Game. Gear Up. Your Friends. Your HDTV. Be The Party."
There is no mention of what "big game" these "super deals" are for. The Super Bowl is a trademark of the NFL, and Samsung is the official HDTV manufacturer of the league and the game.
"It's a matter of legitimacy. Our competitors can say the big game, but only our advertising can say the Super Bowl. We have four star quarterbacks endorsing our brand in Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason, Steve Young and Troy Aikman driving the message home," explained John Smith, director of marketing and communications for Samsung.
"We have a tie-in at the stores, print ads, TV, radio and online. Our frequency of advertising has increased this month, because January is always a big month for TV sales. We can already see results that more TVs were sold this January than last year."
John Revie, Samsung's marketing vice president of visual displays, explained why it's time to buy.
"We are on the verge of a huge conversion, even bigger than the transition from black and white to color." "The high-definition experience is the best thing after being at the event. The picture quality and the wider screen give you a better view of the field. You can read the jersey names and actually see the whole backfield. With the enhanced audio you can actually feel the experience."
But Samsung would not say whether it was advertising its HDTVs in the high definition format during the Super Bowl.
"We've certainly increased our presence during the playoffs and through January, but we would rather not say what we have in store for the future. You'll have to watch the game," he said.
If you'll be watching in HDTV and don't care for the game but are interested in trying to spot wardrobe malfunctions or watch commercials that can often pass for mini-movies, there's good news for you.
ABC is expecting to broadcast the pre-game, halftime show and even network promotions in high definition for the first time. Regular viewers of ultra-sharp HDTV programming are used to commercial breaks being filled with standard-definition ads that appear washed out and don't fill the screen.
Last year with more than 30 minutes of commercial time, just 10 minutes were broadcast in HD. This year ABC ad executives would only confirm that at least half of the spots will be delivered in HD. Extra production costs may be the reason for the remaining holdouts.
No Question This Game Was Going To Be in HD
ABC started broadcasting "Monday Night Football" in HD in 1999 and presented the first high-def Super Bowl in 2000.
Preston Davis, president of ABC's Broadcast Operations and Engineering Department, remembered when he first had proof that viewers would respond to the blossoming technology.
"At the 2000 Super Bowl in Atlanta, we had a luxury sky box for all the executives from ABC and Disney. It was right over the 50-yard line. We had installed a 60-inch plasma TV and nobody was looking out onto the field. They were all watching the HDTV."
The picture is so much more pleasing, Davis said.
"You can literally see the blades of grass -- you can even see the insects on the grass," he said.
There is a staff of more than 300 making sure the production comes off without a hitch. For the first time this year, two high-definition wireless cameras have been added. They will allow camera access to many new areas, including behind the player's bench and up into the crowd.
With more and more people experiencing HDTV, decreasing prices and aggressive marketing, Davis is not going out on a limb when he makes a game-day pronouncement, "We can guarantee this will be the highest-rated HD event of the year."