On being an expat NFL fan on Super Bowl Sunday, fighting to stay awake for the  kick-off, and making it to the half-time spectacle.

 

An American sports fan must compromise his viewing habits upon expatriating. When I moved to Austria in 2001, the soccer matches I had seen on TV could be counted on one hand – even fewer were the games I could stay awake for. However, with few televised alternatives besides alpine events, Formula 1 racing, and snooker tournaments (?!), spectator sport withdrawal soon set in. Incapable of relating to the national passion for ski jumping – at times displayed simultaneously on four channels nearly every day of the week, even during summer – a quick fix was needed. I forced myself to learn and love soccer, even if I still considered it a poor replacement for American Football (NFL) and ice hockey (NHL).

So naturally, I was euphoric when NFL games finally started showing up on local cable on a weekly basis sometime in the mid 2000s. ESPN-America (and later, Sport1 US) suddenly appeared on my cable plan, broadcasting games with the original American play-by-play commentary live on Sundays. The only drawback was the six-hour time difference between CET and EST – Sunday’s first game started at 19:00, the second (usually the Western teams) at 22:00. Sunday (and Monday) Night Football? Fuggedaboudit! From September through January, I became a Monday-morning zombie.

Gridiron Gripes
The other major adjustment as an overseas fan was the brutal epiphany of why the sport is seldom appreciated abroad: numerous, endless gameplay pauses. In domestic broadcasts, gaps in the action are less noticeable, filled with swanky, polished advertisements: beer, SUVs, investment funds, Doritos, Viagra and the like. A Wall Street Journal study noted that for the average 174 minute long game broadcast, actual plays account for only 11 minutes. Over here the ads disappeared, replaced by mind-numbing loops of in-house promos set to jock-rock. This, combined with end-of-weekend fatigue, quite often left me dozing off instead of cheering on.

One alternative was watching taped re-broadcasts at more reasonable times. Pauses were edited out, so you could watch an entire game in less than 90 minutes! The only downside: unless you observed a strict media blackout for a few days, you already knew the outcome – which takes most of the fun out of watching.

This year it went from bad to worse. Sport1 US suddenly stopped airing NFL games, apparently to make more time available for bass fishing and powerboat racing. This left me with either purchasing a costly streaming subscription to NFL.com – or watching the ran.de live broadcasts on ProSieben/Sat1… auf Deutsch. Choosing the latter may have saved me money, but the inane commentary drove me nuts. I realize that the arcana of football rules & strategy must be explained to those as ignorant of them as I am of soccer’s, but it just doesn’t live up to the statistics-laden analysis and colorful idiom of American commentators.

No sleep till Super Bowl
Insomniacs can rejoice however: the regular season and playoffs are now over, with the Panthers facing off against the Broncos for football’s crowning glory. This final obstacle between sleep and sanity will be broadcast live from Santa Clara, California on Sunday Feb 7, with kick off at 15:30 Pacific time (that’s half past midnight on Monday, here in Vienna). Due to more time devoted to the year’s priciest advertising slots (no, here in Vienna we do not get to watch them) and the extended half-time hoopla featuring Coldplay – spiced up for the living with Beyoncé and Bruno Mars – the game will last at least four hours, not including hours of pre-game hype.

Die-hard NFL fans will flock to the Marriott Hotel on Schubertring for their Super Bowl mega-party, but it’s just too late for me. Instead, I guess I’ll just call it an early night and use ski jumping as a sleeping aid. I can always watch the highlight reel online the next day.

In the meantime, please don’t schedule any Monday morning meetings with me until February 15th.