Super Bowl 2021 will be different

When the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the field for the Super Bowl (American) football championship game on February 7, thousands of health care workers will be watching from the stands. The ticket price for these workers who have put their own health at risk to care for patients during the past year? Free.

The National Football League has invited 7,500 health care workers vaccinated against COVID-19 to watch Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Florida.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says it’s the least the organization can do.

“We owe them our ongoing gratitude,” Goodell said in a statement. “We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes. This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings.”

The health care workers will join 14,500 socially distanced fans in the humongous stadium. (The two groups together will fill one-third of the stadium, with the rest left empty as a safety precaution due to the pandemic.)

Some 187 million spectators are expected to watch the game on television. American football is the most popular sport in the U.S., but that’s not the only reason Americans love Super Bowl Sunday. Here are three more explanations:

A day of eating

Deviled eggs and sliders decorated as American footballs (© Shutterstock)
Many Americans eat themed snacks while watching the Super Bowl. (© Shutterstock)

Super Bowl LV kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time in the United States (that’s 23:30 UTC), but this year, because of the pandemic, gatherings will be scaled back, with just 28% of Americans saying they’ll hold or attend Super Bowl parties, according to the National Retail Federation, the lowest in the survey’s history.

Even as most spectators plan to watch the game with only the members of their households, they will plan snacks. Typical game-day finger food includes nachos, pizza, chicken wings, ribs, chips and dips, and any food that can be made into a shape of an American football, including hard-boiled eggs. Food and drinks, the survey said, are the most popular purchases.

Halftime show

Man holding microphone while singing (© John Nacion/STARMAXAP Images)
The Weeknd will headline the Super Bowl’s halftime show. (© John Nacion/STAR MAX/AP Images)

In the last 30 years, the Super Bowl’s halftime show has drawn some of the biggest names in music, including Beyoncé, Prince, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson and Bruno Mars.

This year, The Weeknd, a Grammy-award winning Canadian singer whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, will perform while the two teams take a break in the middle of the game. (U.S. football games consist of four quarters, each consisting of 15 minutes.)

When Paul McCartney was the featured halftime performer in 2005, he said, “There’s nothing bigger than being asked to perform at the Super Bowl.”

Iconic commercials

Crowd of people jumping and cheering (© Jose Luis Mangana/AP Images)
This year there will be few scenes like this one from 2013, when fans cheered for the Baltimore Ravens during the Super Bowl. On February 7, most spectators will watch at home. (© Jose Luis Magana/AP Images)

The TV commercials aired during the Super Bowl have become nearly as big a draw as the game itself — 22% of viewers have said the advertisements are the most important part of the event.

The ads are often clever and funny, but they don’t come cheap. A 30-second spot costs $5.5 million. (By contrast, commercials in the first Super Bowl in 1967 cost $42,000.) This year, several major American companies opted out of airing commercials during the game, pointing to financial uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.