REGGIE HAYES: I can’t give up Super Bowl Sunday, can you?

Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles and New England Patriots' Tom Brady answer questions during NFL football Super Bowl 52 Opening Night Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles and New England Patriots' Tom Brady answer questions during NFL football Super Bowl 52 Opening Night Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

I can no more opt out of watching the Super Bowl than I can pass up a nachos-and-cheese plate placed in front of me on a lazy Sunday evening.

When those things are combined? Resistance is futile.

There has been much to dislike about this NFL season, but the idea of skipping Super Bowl LII remains a foreign concept. You can only easily ignore the Super Bowl if you dislike sports and have no friends. Otherwise, it’s going to be part of your life this Sunday night, if only as background noise while you sample the spinach dip.

On my list of indispensable holidays, official or unofficial, Super Bowl Sunday ranks behind Christmas and Thanksgiving, but ahead of Halloween, the 4th of July and Valentine’s Day. Wait. I meant Columbus Day for that last one.

But some people feel this could be the year it all changes.

It’ll be fascinating to see if this politicized, controversial, President Trump-involved NFL season finally results in a decrease in viewership for the Super Bowl. And if viewership is down even slightly, can that be attributed to any single factor? If it’s down, do we blame the National Anthem protests? Do we blame New England Patriots fatigue? Do we blame the streaming, watch-TV-at-your-own-convenience culture?

Here’s my guess: The numbers will be relatively similar to past Super Bowls, maybe down a little to, say, 110 million viewers.

We watch the Super Bowl as a cultural event, as much for the commercials, the halftime show and the chance to hang out with friends, as we do the game itself. There are exceptions, certainly, when “our” team plays in the game, which applies to everyone at some point, other than fans of the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions, franchises dedicated to Super Bowl abstinence.

Each of the last 10 Super Bowls has had viewership of 97 million or more, with a record 114.44 million for Seattle vs. Denver in 2014.

Has viewership peaked? That seems likely. The number of adults, age 18-49, has decreased, according to Sports Media Watch, reaching a high at 52.48 million in 2011. The specific numbers are available only since 2008, so viewership in that age group might have been higher in the 1990s or 2000s. At any rate, it hasn’t reached 50 million in that age group the last four Super Bowls.

Interestingly, the Pro Bowl last Sunday drew 8.6 million viewers, an increase of a million over last year and the highest of the last four years. However, it was still far below the peak of 13.4 million views in 2011. I don’t know what to make of the numbers, other than 8.6 million still seems like a lot of viewers for a fake game.

The conference championship games were down this season. The Philadelphia Eagles’ NFC championship game win over Minnesota was the fourth-lowest rated conference game in the last 20 years, Sports Media Watch reported. The Patriots vs. Jacksonville Jaguars’ AFC title game, meanwhile, ranked 19th of 34 conference title games from 2002-2018. Sports Media Watch illustrates everything is relative: No program outside the NFL had a larger audience than Pats-Jags on a single network since the finale of “Friends” in 2004.

The Super Bowl remains one of the most reliable sports broadcasts for viewership because of its cultural niche, the halftime show (although it’s recycling Justin Timberlake this year, presumably minus Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction) and the commercials. Viewers less interested in football used to tune in solely for the fresh log of commercials, but many of those are leaked online or even aired ahead of time these days.

Some longtime fans have professed indifference or outright opposition toward the NFL this season after the controversy over protests and players kneeling during the National Anthem this season. President Trump’s decision to weigh in has further frustrated those who prefer separation of politics and sports. Will that have some carryover to Super Bowl viewership this Sunday? Possibly.

Ultimately, most of us won’t be able to resist. We have traditions of parties with friends and family that serve as a quasi-reunion early in the New Year. We enjoy the food, the drinks, the conversation and sometimes the actual game.

Despite everything surrounding the NFL, this Sunday can still be a time of bonding. We can finally take time from our busy lives and agree on something in this contentious world: It’s still fun to root against the Patriots.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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