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The Super Bowl is, at its core, the National Football League’s championship game, pitting the winners of the American and National Football Conferences against each other at a neutral site.

Over its 52 years, however, the Super Bowl has grown from a football game to something resembling a national holiday — a celebration anchored by watch parties and packed bars that annually is the most-watched television event featuring the most-expensive advertising, attempts at the most-creative commercials and, by far, the most-watched musical performances.

This year's game will pit the defending Super Bowl champions New England Patriots against the Philadelphia Eagles. Game time is 5:30 p.m. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It will be televised by NBC.

How many will watch

The Super Bowl is annually the largest televised event in the U.S., last year bringing in 111 million viewers to watch the Patriots come from behind to defeat the Atlanta Falcons.

This season, however, NFL viewership is down by 9 percent — a much-discussed drop that has been attributed to many reasons, from people intentionally avoiding the NFL because of player protests, including kneeling for the National Anthem, to cord-cutting that has affected cable television and, to some degree, network broadcasts to simply declining interest, in part because of the dominance — and national dislike — of the Patriots.

Regardless of the reason, decline in viewership continued during the first two rounds of the playoffs.

But two weeks ago, the AFC title game between the Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars drew a 27.3 overnight rating on CBS, down slightly but essentially flat from the 2016 game — the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons in the same time slot.

The NFC championship game between the Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings, in the late time slot, was down 11 percent over the previous year, when the Patriots played the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That said, the Vikings-Eagles game was still Fox’s highest-rated program since last year’s Super Bowl, and the Patriots-Jaguars game is the highest-rated program on any network since the Super Bowl.

So, perhaps the most interesting question that will be answered, even more than who wins the game, is how many people will watch?

Will that number equal or exceed 2017?

Or will it decline, taking a drop that won’t go over well with NBC or the advertisers who are paying more than $5 million for a 30-second commercial.

Also of interest is the growing online viewership of the game. A survey of 1,117 people by Instant Logic, a digital branding platform, found that nearly 20 percent of those questioned say they will go online to stream the game.

The commercials

Regardless of the exact viewership, the massive audience and the fact that the Super Bowl is a live event that loses much of its luster if it is recorded (so commercials can be skipped), make it the most important and most expensive advertising event each year.

The cost to air a 30-second commercial continues to rise with each Super Bowl. This year, NBC is asking for more than $5 million for Super Bowl ad, sweetening the deal via bundling with the Winter Olympics. The network hopes to take in $1 billion from those two events, according to AdWeek.

As of Thursday, the AdWeek listed the following companies slated to run commercials during the Super Bowl broadcast: Amazon, Avocados from Mexico, Bud Light, Budweiser, Buick, Clorox, Coca-Cola, E*Trade, Febreze, Fiji Water, Go Daddy, Google, Groupon, Hulu, Hyundai, Intuit, Kia, Kraft, Lexus, M&M’s, Michelob Ultra, Monster Products, Mountain Dew, Doritos, Paramount Pictures, Pepsi, Persil Pro Clean, Pringles, Skittles, Snickers, Sprint, Squarespace, Stella Artois, Tide, Toyota, TurboTax, Turkish Airlines, Universal, Verizon, Wendy’s, Wonderful Pistachios and YouTube.

Many of those commercials already are available for viewing online. But most people will wait to see them during the game.

In fact, the Instant Logic survey found that watching the ads was the No. 1 activity among all age groups and all demographics, and, interestingly, older men.

The survey also found that Republicans care more about Super Bowl ads than any other political group, that Democrats are more likely to act on Super Bowl ads and “undecided voters” are the least forgiving about annoying online advertising. Make of that what you will.

The halftime show

Justin Timberlake returns to the Super Bowl halftime show for the third time Sunday.

His first appearance was 2001 as a member of NSYNC, who performed a mashup of “Walk This Way” along with Nelly, Britney Spears and the headliner Aerosmith. It was a true horror show.

Three years later, he was the co-headliner with Janet Jackson for the most infamous Super Bowl halftime show and, arguably, moment ever. Actually, it was 9/16 of a second. That was the time Jackson’s right breast was exposed to the estimated 144 million television viewers.

It remains, 14 years later, the most TiVo-VCR’d moment ever and is tagged by many as the precursor to YouTube.

Jackson was blacklisted by MTV and other TV and radio outlets following the performance. Timberlake, however, was not and has become one of the world’s biggest pop stars.

Given the 2004 debacle, Timberlake is likely to be on his best behavior Sunday with every second of the show screened and approved by the NFL well in advance.

It’s not known what songs he’ll perform during the 13-minute performance — that’s the standard length for Super Bowl shows. But it’s almost a certainty that one of the songs will come from “Man of the Woods,” the album Timberlake and his label smartly released Friday.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSWolgamott.

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Entertainment reporter/columnist

L. Kent Wolgamott is an entertainment reporter and columnist.

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