by Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor

Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest unofficial holiday in the United States. According to Nielsen Media Research, around 110 million people watched last year’s broadcast of the game. While that still is a larger viewership than anything else on television, it was the lowest rated Super Bowl in the past three years, and that has the NFL concerned.

This Sunday will be the first time the Atlanta Falcons have played in a Super Bowl since 1998, a game that ended in a 34-19 defeat to the Denver Broncos. In Atlanta, no professional sports team has won a championship since the Braves won the World Series in 1995. This Super Bowl is the biggest game for Atlanta sports in the past 20 years. It’s a good market for big ratings, and the NFL is making sure that there’s no chance they miss out, even if it means alienating the same viewers they’re hoping to attract.

Atlanta fans had hoped a watch party would be organized at the Georgia Dome where the game could be shown on the stadium’s big screens, similar to what the Golden State Warriors did for away games during last year’s NBA Finals. The plan even gained the blessing of Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, who tweeted: “I love this idea. Let’s have one more night in the Georgia Dome!”

For those who wanted to watch the game surrounded by 70,000-plus Falcons faithful, the NFL quickly stepped in to shut down the whole idea. In an official statement, representatives of the Georgia Dome said that, “We share your tremendous excitement that the Atlanta Falcons are headed to the Super Bowl. NFL rules prohibit us from using the Georgia Dome for broadcasting the game.”

The rule in reference has to do with copyright law, something the little disclaimer shown with every NFL broadcast addresses: “This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions or accounts of the game without the NFL’s consent is prohibited.”

The statement looks to protect the game’s viewership numbers, something that would be affected if 70,000 Atlanta residents watched the game on one screen instead of individual ones in their own home.

For those who wanted to watch the game surrounded by 70,000-plus Falcons faithful, the NFL quickly stepped in to shut down the whole idea.

It’s aggressive language, but something the NFL showed it takes seriously when it threatened several Indiana churches with lawsuits back in 2008 because of planned Super Bowl viewing parties. In those cases, the NFL claimed that showing the game on any screen larger than 55-inches was a violation of copyright.

What do those laws mean for showings of the game here on campus? The Salvation Army Student Center has hosted a Super Bowl party for the past six years for Asbury students. “We average about 200 students filtering in and out throughout the game,” said center director Major Earl Fitzgerald. “We have [the game] projected up on the wall.”

After the bad press of threatening to sue churches for having parties, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell relaxed the rules about showing the game in religious institutions. According to Christian Copyright Solutions, the game must be shown live “on equipment used in the course of ministry at their premises; recordings of the show are not permitted.”

Additionally, “Churches cannot charge admission for the party… however, they may take up a donation to defray the cost of the event.”

The Super Bowl party at the Salvation Army center is in the clear because it uses no outside equipment and is free for students to attend. Major Fitzgerald explained that a Salvation Army donor gives money to fund the party each year as a gift to the center and its students. Fitzgerald admired the event’s ability to bring people together, and noted that the money provides plenty of food and drinks for students that come to watch the game. They’ll host the party again this year, with doors opening at 6 p.m. before the kick-off at 6:30 p.m.

Aldersgate is also hosting a Super Bowl party at 6 p.m. in the lounge. There will be wings, pizza, cookies and a $50 Amazon gift card giveaway.