Baby you were Bowl this way
A riot of pop stars and attention-grabbing commercials, the Super Bowl really is like no other show on earth
You could tell the Super Bowl was going to be even more super than usual this year when Lady Gaga turned up suspended from trapeze wires. The singer delivered a delightfully brash half-time performance while her anti Trump message was echoed in a series of moving pro-immigrant commercials that saw corporate America lock arms in opposition to the blowhard president.
There was also the bonus of watching usually-reserved model Gisele Bundchen bounding around in delight as husband Tom Brady steered the New England Patriots to victory. And dads the world over will have empathised with actor Mark Wahlberg who missed out on the Patriots record-breaking comeback against the Atlanta Falcons when one of his sons took ill, forcing him to leave the game early.
Amid the pomp, ceremony and synchronised dancing, rumours are flying that a sporting contest also took place at Houston's NRG Stadium. But the football was really a side-show. Just as we can enjoy the Oscars without sitting through any of the nominated movies, it is possible to appreciate the Super Bowl even if you are in the dark regarding running line-backs, spread offences and rushing yards.
Indeed, the bump and grind business on the pitch was for many an excuse to pop on the kettle, tuck into pizza or check out what social media is saying about Gaga's high-wire artistry/Gisele's high-fiving/Wahlberg's unfortunate exit.
In that respect the jewel in America's sporting calendar is in a league of its own. Nobody ever sat down to the All Ireland Football Final hoping the Artane Boys Band would knock it out of the park at half time - similarly, arranging for a pop star to strut around during the break at a World Cup or Champions League final would be a red card offence.
The Super Bowl is different in that it is a supremely gaudy marriage of show-business and sport - one in which show-business generally takes the upper hand.
Consider that it was Lady Gaga rather than winning quarterback Brady who soaked up most of the coverage in the wake of Sunday's final. Overnight Gaga's profile has soared, with all memories of her flop 2016 album Joanne (yes, Lady Gaga released an album last year) obscured by her performance - an adrenaline rush of acrobatics and piano thumping. Along the way she offered a sly two fingers to Donald Trump in quoting Woody Guthrie's socialist anthem 'This Land Is Our Land'.
Super Bowl half-time shows are a relatively recent innovation. But ever since Michael Jackson's defiantly OTT half time strut at the 1993 final, the event has become the biggest shop window in pop and it was not by coincidence that Gaga announced a new world tour the following morning.
The benefits of the Super Bowl to advertisers are well established too. A 30 second spot during Sunday's broadcast cost $5m - or $166,667 per second. This is regarded as excellent value for corporations with cash to splash.
With 112 million watching in the United States alone (more than one in three of the population), $5m works out at less than 10 cents to reach each individual viewer. By advertising industry standards, that's a knock-out return.
Moreover, the commercials represent an unique opportunity to build brand awareness. Budweiser, for instance, put itself firmly on the side of the angels this year with a commercial that seemed to confront nativist sentiment in the United States.
A thickly-accented German immigrant is seen arriving in New York in the 1800s where he is told to go home by a red-necked local.
The final reveal is that our Teutonic chum is Adolphus Busch, one of the founders of Budweiser, parent company Anheuser-Busch.
Even more explicitly anti-Trump was a spot for building supplier 84 Lumber in which two migrants attempt the journey from Mexico to the United States. Boardroom American was showing its colours - and the sentiments expressed were in defiant opposition to the new president's 'America First' policy.
The land of the free is, of course, also the kingdom of the dollar. Super Bowl commercials hugely benefit the bottom line, with a 2014 survey indicating that buying airtime during the broadcast increases the likelihood of viewers purchasing a company's product by 6.6pc.
Where the commercial is regarded as especially memorable, the uplift is even more pronounced - in 2013, for instance, analysts found that consumers who had seen Hyundai's Super Bowl ad were 37.8 per cent more likely to purchase one of its cars.
Indeed, companies sniffy towards the Super Bowl often rue their short-sightedness. In 2010, Pepsi opted to skip the Super Bowl. Six months later it was overtaken by Diet Coke. You can guess which company was head of the queue to purchase advertising at Super Bowl 2011. Nowhere else blends art and commerce like America and that's what makes the Super Bowl unique. It's not quite a pop concert but is certainly more than a sporting event. And when it all clicks, it's one of the greatest shows on earth.