When it comes to the Super Bowl, the show must go on, say experts

PHOENIX, Feb 7 (Reuters) - When it comes to the Super Bowl the show will go on even if faced with a similar life-threatening on field incident like the one that forced the postponement of a game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals in January, say industry experts.

The most impactful event of the National Football League season was not a do-or-die game but a life-and-death moment when the Bills' Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest after making a tackle and needed to have his heart restarted on the field in front of a packed stadium and national television audience.

In the chaotic initial moments following the incident there was confusion before the NFL ultimately determined the game could not be played.

But barring a terrorist attack or natural disaster the decision would likely be very different when it comes to Sunday's Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, said Bob Dorfman, creative director and market analyst for Pinnacle Advertising.

"Being the Super Bowl it would change a lot, times a hundred," Dorfman told Reuters. "You are talking about advertisers that are spending several million dollars for a 30 second commercial.

"You're talking about 100 million people watching at home, you're talking millions in bets.

"It would be much more difficult for them to postpone the game."

While the NFL has contingency plans in place for any number of scenarios, another event like the one involving Hamlin on the Super Bowl stage would leave the league in a nightmare predicament.

The pressure to get the game completed would be immense.

Networks pay billions for Super Bowl broadcast rights while commercials go for $5 million for a 30 second spot and millions more to create and produce.

A record 50.4 million American adults, or about 20% of the population, are expected to bet $16 billion on Sunday's matchup said the American Gaming Association, while tickets on resale site StubHub were averaging $7,300 on Tuesday.

The NFL showed with Hamlin it can deal with a crisis and in the end was applauded for having an effective emergency plan and proper personnel in place.

The positive outcome may have boosted the public's confidence that the NFL can make the right call in an emergency, said George Belch, marketing professor at San Diego State University, giving the league some cover if it were to have to play the Super Bowl around a potential catastrophe.

"I think people might be more willing to accept that OK, the game is going to go on," Belch told Reuters. "I think Hamlin was a wakeup call in some respects.

"They (NFL) handled it really well, they saved his life and he is doing well and is a message to everyone that the NFL is on top of this."

Fans understand the risks associated with some sports and continue to watch.

In motorsports races routinely continue following a serious crash or even death.

A downhill skier can be left standing in the start hut waiting his or her turn while watching a fellow racer helicoptered off the piste after a crash.

So it is with American football, says Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports.

"In the final analysis, the public understands the risks of full contact football all the way to the pee-wee level," said Pilson, head of Pilson Communications. "The size of the audience would not change or affect how the league handles a serious injury on the field.

"And, yes, they probably would continue the game unless security for the event was compromised."

Reporting by Steve Keating in Phoenix. Editing by Toby Davis

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