The fans inside Cowboys Stadium for Super Bowl XLV had as good a view of the flyover by four F-18 fighter jets as those watching at home. With the roof closed on Jerry Jones' $1.2 billion stadium, people in attendance were forced to watch the flyover on the massive high-def screens inside.
A Dallas TV reporter estimated that the flyover cost the Navy a total of $450,000. His total includes gas, operational costs and air time for the four F-18s, which traveled from Virginia to Texas for the event. The Navy told CNBC that its official records only tallies the amount spent on gas, which came out to $109,000 for the Super Bowl flights.
Even if we call it somewhere in between, the Navy still spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money for a few seconds of camera time. It's like an old riddle: If four planes fly over a stadium and nobody insides sees, is it worth the cost?
Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post doesn't think so. In a column lambasting the excess of the Super Bowl, she wrote:
For absurdity, how about those four Navy F-18s flying over the stadium -- with its retractable roof closed? Everybody inside could only see the planes on the stadium's video screens. It was strictly a two-second beauty shot.
She's right on one level; for the people inside the stadium, the flyover was a waste. But who says the flyover is about the fans at the game? All the Super Bowl extravagance is geared toward those watching on television, not in attendance. The anthem singers, the halftime shows and the blimp shots are for the viewer at home.
Christina Aguilera isn't making a trip to Dallas to sing a two-minute song in front of 100,000 people. She's doing it for the 100 million watching at home. Game organizers don't get the Black Eyed Peas and the Rolling Stones and Janet Jackson and Prince to stage elaborate halftime shows because fans in section 538 crave them, they do them to entice the casual viewer watching FOX or CBS or NBC to stick around through the first half.
The justification for the flyover is similar. The Navy used the one on Sunday as a recruiting tool. Instead of spending $3 million on a 30-second commercial during the game, it spent $400,000 on a five-second advertisement that everybody watched. Why is it all right for Chrysler to get billions in bailout money and then buy a two-minute advertisement for around $10 million but not for the Navy to use a fraction of its budget to promote itself?
"These missions are included in the annual operating budget of all branches of the military and they are used as training," Mike Maus, deputy public affairs officer for the Naval Air Force's Atlantic division told CNBC. "There was no additional money provided to us, Congress did not cut us a special check to do this flyover. This is considered a training mission whether they were to fly over the Super Bowl or not."
Call it wasteful if you want, but there are far worse ways to spend taxpayer money than promotion of our nation's armed forces.
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