For over 30 minutes during Super Bowl XLVII, fans were forced to listen to a CBS broadcast that did not include the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens going at it on the field.
No, it wasn't halftime.
It was a blackout at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, an issue that has cropped up before in NFL circles. With no full explanation at hand and the league doing the bare minimum to explain to fans what was going on during the power outage, it is time that this incident on a national stage starts to hold more weight going forward.
The NFL's exposure is at an all-time high, especially with the league broadening its horizons to London in the coming seasons and the bevy of TV packages you can purchase to watch all 32 teams.
The blackout couldn't have come at a worse time with regards to that exposure, as an estimated 108 million people watched the February 3 showdown (via EW.com). With that many people watching the Super Bowl, it has likely been an embarrassing time for both the SB committee and the Superdome higher-ups.
Hopefully, that embarrassment can now lead to future prevention.
One of the early theories from the game was that Beyonce caused the blackout with her huge halftime show, but that theory was dispelled rather quickly (h/t USA Today). The NFL has labeled the incident a result of the stadium losing one of the two feeder lines that give power to the Superdome, shutting off power on the west side of the complex.
When the incident broke, CBS lost connection with in-house play-by-play man Jim Nantz and studio analyst Phil Simms and had to return to James Brown on the field for an explanation of the issue at hand.
CBS also used sideline reporters, but there were no conclusive interviews with NFL employees, head coaches or anyone in a position of authority that could explain to the American (and worldwide) audience what was going on.
That was the first mistake from both CBS and the NFL.
As noted by Steve Coll of The New Yorker, the first group to drop the ball was clearly CBS:
What followed was embarrassing and irresponsible. It relied on James Brown, the congenial jock-wrangling anchor of “The NFL Today,” to handle the story. He and his fellow commentators—Dan Marino, Bill Cowher, and Shannon Sharpe—acted as if the unexplained loss of electricity in a stadium filled with seventy thousand-plus people during the most-watched American television event of the year was just a twist in the story of who would win the football game, and nothing more.
Coll isn't the only one upset with media coverage of the event. Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News commented that someone dropped the ball here with the handling of the blackout:
Think about it. CBS pays billions for the right to air NFL games. Much of that dough is shelled out to secure rights to the Super Bowl. So, on the big night, there is a major screwup and the NFL won’t put someone on the air — and CBS won’t push the league — to try to explain what’s going on? That’s mind-boggling.
It is clear that CBS has to take some of the blame here.
But what about the NFL? In the sport's biggest yearly event, contingency plans must be made in case of emergency. In fact, the NFL should have contingency plans in place league-wide.
The league, Entergy and SMG are investigating the cause of the outage today. Goodell said the issue was “clearly something that can be fixed and something that can be prepared for.”
It is great Goodell has that sentiment towards what happened, but it can be argued that past experiences should have already prepared the league for this.
In 2011 a blackout occurred before the 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers were scheduled to clash at Candlestick Park. It caused fans to flashback to 1989, when the earthquake before Game 3 of the World Series devastated the Bay Area.
With a year of preparation, Goodell and league officials can't get this thing together?
So here we are—frustrated, disappointed at the league and mad that the game dragged on in New Orleans, yet also mindful that accidents do happen. When dealing with power of that magnitude, things can happen in the blink of an eye.
However, the NFL must take some of the blame here and dispel the general feeling that this was just "part of the game". For starters, the spokesman on hand should be in direct contact with someone of knowledge, so safety measures can be confirmed, and the general public doesn't have to speculate if the Batman villain Bane is creeping around somewhere in the shadows.
What about the impact on the game this incident had?
Like it or not, the 49ers and Ravens both responded differently to the stoppage in play, and it can be argued the score would have looked much different had Jim Harbaugh's team not had a lengthy chance to collect itself.
You don't play football on "what if's," but this one will haunt this Super Bowl forever (especially those who bet the under).
Most importantly, Commissioner Goodell and company must find a way to avoid these kinds of mistakes in the future.
If that means weeding out host sites because of instability, so be it. If it means making major concessions to ensure the NFL doesn't have to go through this again, then that's okay too.
Again, accidents happen. Sometimes technology gets the better of us, even the kind of technology that has been around since the days of Thomas Edison.
Still, the NFL holds some responsibility here and should do a better job of informing its patrons about the situation at hand, while ensuring something like this doesn't affect the outcome of a game.