HDTV Sales Pick Up Before Super Bowl Sunday
Big Screens for the Big Game
By Mike Musgrove Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, February 5, 2005; Page E01
Peter Slattery isn't much of a football fan, but that didn't stop him from running out this week to plop down $3,500 on a new big-screen television, complete with accessories, to watch the Super Bowl.
After all, TV is to Super Sunday what turkey is to Thanksgiving or fireworks are to Fourth of July -- the centerpiece. And Slattery's is now a 55-inch high-definition monster from Mitsubishi.
"I was going to get one in the next few weeks anyway," said the McLean resident, a 21-year-old shift manager for a CVS drugstore. "But I put some hustle on it because the Super Bowl was right around the corner."
According to the Consumer Electronics Association, factory-to-dealer shipments of digital televisions were up 10 percent in December over November, as retailers stocked up in anticipation of strong sales for the pro-football finale. The boost comes as more and more families are trading in their clunky, old color sets for big, flat, high-definition models. Digital TV sales reached 7.2 million units in 2004, up 75 percent from 2003.
"The Super Bowl is the unofficial national holiday to celebrate bad food and big-screen televisions," said CEA spokesman Jeff Joseph.
For consumer-electronics retailers, TV sales over Super Bowl weekend are on par with those during the last weekend before Christmas.
"January is typically our second-busiest month for television sales, and that is directly attributable to football," said Kate McKinnon, a spokeswoman for consumer-electronics retailer Tweeter, which has scheduled many deliveries for Sunday, something the store doesn't usually do.
In Philadelphia, where anticipation for an Eagles victory is running high, Circuit City has three or four times as many trucks as usual on the road this weekend because it guaranteed to deliver purchases for the 6 p.m. game, even if they are made as late as this afternoon.
Philadelphia Circuit City store manager Michael Shafer is enjoying the surge in TV business while it lasts: "Who knows when the Eagles are going to be in the Super Bowl again?"
Super Bowl TV sales tend to be strongest wherever the participating teams are based. A survey by Circuit City found that 20 percent of customers said they would buy a big-screen TV just because their team was in the Super Bowl.
Demand, however, might not be as strong in New England as in Philadelphia. The Patriots have been to the Super Bowl three of the past four years, and the Boston Red Sox won the World Series last year. So a lot of sports fans in that region may have already broken down and picked up a new big-screen TV, said Lee Simonson, who helps oversee television sales for Best Buy.
"As retailers, we really look forward to new teams getting into the Super Bowl each year," he said.
For those experiencing last-minute technical difficulties with their fancy, big-screen TV, the stress can be intense. Arlington resident David Monticello is the owner of a Panasonic high-definition, 50-inch, rear-projection LCD set. "It's a great TV," he said, but a lamp in it burned out this week and he is anxiously making calls to Panasonic and Circuit City to get the problem solved.
"If we don't get this fixed, I don't know what we're going to do," he said. He is expecting to entertain 40 people, including kids, tomorrow, regardless of whether the TV is fixed or not. If the TV isn't fixed by then, his other option is an old 19-inch set.
So tied is Super Bowl Sunday to television that some people are even considering buying "overflow" televisions for their parties. Arlington resident Lance Allen is the owner of the best TV among his circle of friends. He already has a Sony 42-inch, rear-projection LCD screen TV, but he spent some time window-shopping for another set this week to give his guests the option of watching the game elsewhere in his house.
Bethesda-based TV industry analyst Gary Arlen said getting high-profile sports programming into high definition has always been an important part of selling the TV-watching public on spending a bit more for these higher resolution sets. The Super Bowl was first broadcast in high definition in 2000.
"If you are a sports fan, it is a different experience once you have [high-definition] TV," he said.
As for Slattery, the owner of that new Mitsubishi set from Tweeter, the funny thing is that he isn't much of a sports fan. He mainly got the set because he wants to watch movies; he doesn't usually watch football -- he said the excitement of the Super Bowl just gave him an excuse to finally put his money down.
He's now calling everyone he knows, trying to throw together a Super Bowl party on the fly, though he does not particularly care who wins: His sister's boyfriend is rooting for the Eagles, he said. "I don't really have any preference."