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Super Bowl fans get big, horizontal, cheesy

Super Bowl Sunday may be the biggest day of the year for football fans, but it's also a big day for people who sell big screen TVs, recliners and pizza.
Business of Life
Once the TV is purchased, consumers may not stop there, adding surround sound, new furniture and more, more, more.Reed Saxon / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Super Bowl Sunday may be the biggest day of the year for football fans, but it's also a big day for people who sell big screen TVs, recliners and pizza.

Yes, some sports fans are willing to pay thousands of dollars for a TV just to watch the game. Jim Ferrero, of Yardley, Pa., has done so twice.

"I actually bought another TV last year specifically for the Super Bowl," Ferrero said at a suburban Philadelphia Best Buy store one recent afternoon. "And then this year, I was thinking the same thing: 'Might as well get another one.'"

Ferrero, who dropped $2,200 on a 46-inch Sharp flat screen, is far from alone. While Best Buy's TV department was far from crowded, a steady stream of customers were wheeling flat panel TVs to the register.

TV and furniture companies run special promotions during the period leading up to the Super Bowl to position their products as big game must-haves. Pizzerias stock up on dough and toppings and require every employee on the payroll to work Super Bowl Sunday. And beer companies make sure their distributors are well supplied.

"There's historically been a significant bump (in TV sales) in the week leading up to the Super Bowl," said Ross Rubin, an analyst at NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y.

Last year, U.S. retailers sold 61 percent more TVs the week before the Super Bowl compared to the previous week, NPD said. Revenue from TV sales jumped 46 percent that week.

"I can't wait to watch the Super Bowl on it," said Frank De Rito, of Newtown, Pa., while waiting at a Best Buy sales counter for workers to wheel out the new Panasonic 50-inch flat screen TV for which he'd just plunked down $2,200.

TV sales are almost as high during the winter holiday season, but there is a key difference: "During the holiday season people buy them more as gifts," said Ed Mrozowski, a manager at Best Buy's Oxford Valley, Pa., store. "We see a lot more of the mid-(sized) ... and a lot of the small TVs."

NPD research shows that holiday TV sales jump because people are responding to sales, or, in industry jargon, "deep discounting." When buying for the Super Bowl, however, sports fans are acquiring a TV for themselves, often with a Super Bowl party in mind. These shoppers aren't willing to settle for holiday overstock; they're looking for the newest, biggest and best. And price is often no object.

"It shifts a little bit for home theaters to the big screen TVs because people want that big experience," Mrozowski said.

But it's not just TVs that sell like hotcakes in the weeks leading up to the big game. People buying a gigantic TV — a 42-inch diagonal appears to be standard these days — find they need plenty of other electronic accessories to complement it.

Best Buy targets Super Bowl shoppers with specials such as no interest for 2 to 3 years on certain TVs and guaranteed delivery in time for the game. The retailer also tries to push shoppers to buy additional accessories by offering discounts when audio equipment or a DVD player is added to a purchase, and by offering full home theater packages, including installation, for one price

"Some people will start up with a TV, and then they want to get the surround-sound experience," Mrozowski said. "And then, of course, furniture to put it on. And then ... they'll start looking into the new gaming systems. And then that of course will roll into, 'Well, maybe let's incorporate that into an audio system.'"

Once a football fan starts completely redesigning their TV viewing experience, they also often decide the old threadbare sofa no longer makes the cut.

At La-Z-Boy Inc., January and February are among the strongest months for sales of recliners and sofas with reclining sections, said Doug Collier, chief marketing officer.

La-Z-Boy doesn't release sales figures for specific weeks of the year, but it does run special football-related promotions around the Super Bowl — and has historically been affiliated with pitchmen such as former NFL quarterback Joe Namath and coach Don Shula — to try to position its sofas and recliners as game-time necessities.

Of course, football maniacs who have procured all the viewing, listening and reclining gear necessary typically find they need something to eat and drink while watching the game. Domino's Pizza sales jump 30 percent on Super Bowl Sunday compared to a typical Sunday, said Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications at Domino's Pizza LLC. The company expects to deliver more than 1.2 million pizzas across the country on Sunday.

"We look forward to Super Bowl Sunday with great anticipation," McIntyre said via e-mail. "It is one of those days we circle on the calendar and prepare for."

Domino's hires help in advance for game day, orders more food to meet the demand and stores will schedule everyone on the payroll to work that day, he explained. Domino's also offers special game day promotions: This year, the chain is selling any pizza of any size with any number of toppings for $10.99 on Super Bowl Sunday.

The day is such a seminal event for Domino's that former delivery drivers often return to work that day just to partake in the Super Bowl rush, McIntyre said.

Like Domino's, rival Papa John's International Inc. also staffs up and buys extra ingredients to get ready. Super Bowl Sunday is often one of its top sales days of the year — though, oddly, along with Halloween and the day before Thanksgiving.

On average, Papa John's will sell 50 percent more pizzas on Super Bowl Sunday than on a typical Sunday, said spokesman Chris Sternberg. That translates to 750,000 pizzas and more than 1 million chicken wings.

The biggest surprise about Super Bowl Sunday may be that, despite the abundance of game time beer ads, it is not the biggest day of the year for beer sales. Sales of cases of beer during the two weeks preceding the big game rank seventh overall, behind comparable periods preceding Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, according to ACNielsen figures provided by the Beer Institute, a trade group.

That's probably a function of the winter weather, said Marc Destito, spokesman for the Beer Institute.

"People tend to drink more beer when the weather's warmer," he said.