Thanksgiving – Television’s Holiday

26 Nov

This past Thursday, I, like many Americans, did little but eat and watch football for most of the day. At some point during the third football game I had watched in a row, I realized that, more than any other American holiday, Thanksgiving is about television. Now, I know that Thanksgiving is traditionally about pilgrims, family, and being thankful, and these values are all still present in modern celebrations, and there are football games every week in the fall, so that is not a unique occasion. However, because the National Football League is willing to bend to accommodate television’s demands as a medium, it has been able to create a space in our nation’s traditions for this very old holiday.


American football was not created until the mid-nineteenth century, and was not popular around the country for longer after that, while celebrating Thanksgiving predates the United States. Yet, somehow, football watching has become so engrained that even households that are ambivalent towards football or dislike it incorporate it into their day on Thanksgiving. I have a number of friends who are only able to talk to me about football when it is the Super Bowl or the games they watched with their families on Thanksgiving. It is also one of the few occasions that I will take the time to watch a game I have no personal stake in.


In a way, it baffles me that an entire sport was able to attach itself to a holiday and come to be seen as an integral tradition for that holiday. The NBA shows basketball games on Christmas, and the MLB shows baseball on the 4th of July, and they may even have increased viewership or ticket sales on those days, but I doubt there are many people who would say that something was missing if these sports instead took the day off. I do not believe that the same would be true for football and Thanksgiving.


I also found the ways that the NFL was actively working to promote this association to be interesting. There were three games on Thanksgiving: one at approximately 11 am, 3 pm, and 7 pm. All three games were on different broadcasting networks and in different locations, with no intended overlap in playing time. However, the first game ended up going into overtime and over its allotted time slot. Most weekends, nothing would stop the network with the rights to the middle game from showing the game on time. In fact, we might expect this because they want to draw the audience from the first game. However, the NFL delayed the beginning of the second game by about half an hour so that the first game could finish. There were thousands of people in Dallas, who had paid hundreds of dollars to be at the game, who were delayed in experiencing the event live due to an unrelated game in a different state. The prioritization of television over the live experience in this instance was striking to me.


Additional concerns about “liveness” and the televisual experience in relation to football have been addressed extensively in class discussion and other blog posts, so I will not discuss them at length in this post. All of these features were present in the presentation, though. There were pre-recorded scenes, scripted dialogue for the commentators, television timeouts, and multiple angles shown for a single play, as well as the fact that I was watching in the comfort of my home, rather than in the stadium in Dallas.


I am curious to know other people’s opinions about how a holiday about being thankful for what you have has turned into, as John Madden put it in a pre-recorded scene before the Patriots-Jets game, “the three F’s of Thanksgiving: family, food, football.”

One Response to “Thanksgiving – Television’s Holiday”

  1. Keegan Hankes December 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    My immediate thoughts on the “prioritizing of television over the live experience” are that while it’s true that these instances become much more apparent on days like
    Thanksgiving when there are a lot more people paying attention, they are not specific to the holidays at all. Whether it be football (college or pro), baseball, basketball, tennis, or whatever else, they are all businesses primarily concerned with making money (no matter how much it hurts my college football loving soul to admit). Sports existing in some higher plane of principle, tradition, and loyalty is a total fantasy that acts as a thin veneer over the harsh economic reality of the organizations (which are intimately tied into one of the largest sources of revenue: television).

    Two glaring examples from this year in sports:

    Early this week the San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich rested four of the Spurs five starters for a nationally televised game versus the defending champions, the Miami Heat, in order to prepare them to play the division leading Grizzlies after. The NBA’s response: fine them $250,000 for betraying fans and damaging the NBA’s relationships television networks. Mark Cuban’s reaction was pretty telling:

    Or take this article written by Bill Simmons (love him or hate him) about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s negotiations for Thursday night football: He makes a very astute point about player safety risks due to too little rest being made a second tier priority to the near billion dollars of revenue the NFL stood to gain with the deal (

    My guess would be that the NFL thought about those fans in Dallas for all of a half a second and figured they’d already paid for their tickets, so they might as well go ahead and cash in with the mid afternoon game in overtime.

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