Why does the Super Bowl use Roman numerals?

(NEXSTAR) – Aside from fancy timepieces and the occasional film franchise, Roman numerals are rarely used over Arabic numbers in modern American culture.

Of course, there’s another major exception: the Super Bowl.

Since early in the game’s history, the NFL has labeled almost every Super Bowl with a Roman numeral (more on that later) to designate where each matchup falls chronologically. But the numerals are more than just a stylistic choice — they’re actually used to provide a little clarity, according to the NFL.

“The Roman numerals were adopted to clarify any confusion that may occur because the NFL Championship Game — the Super Bowl — is played in the year following a chronologically recorded season,” the NFL once wrote in a postseason media handout.

Visitors pose in front of a Super Bowl LVIII logo on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada on Feb. 3, 2024. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

In other words, the NFL feels that Roman numerals are less likely to cause confusion, whereas Arabic numerals signifying the calendar year (e.g., 2023, 2024, etc.) can be a bit more ambiguous.

For instance, the upcoming Super Bowl, which is the championship game of the NFL’s 2023 season, is being played on Feb. 11, 2024. If the NFL used Arabic numbers, a case could be made for calling it either “Super Bowl 2023” or “Super Bowl 2024.”

But that only explains why the NFL doesn’t use the calendar year to designate each Super Bowl; it still doesn’t explain why the league doesn’t simply give each Super Bowl a chronological Arabic numeral — i.e., calling it “Super Bowl 58” rather than Super Bowl LVIII.

In fact, aside from the first four games (which were retroactively given Roman numerals), the NFL actually abandoned Roman numerals in 2016, choosing to go with Super Bowl 50 rather than “Super Bowl L.” Jaime Weston, the then-senior vice president of marketing for the NFL, said it was because the L didn’t make a “powerful statement” on the logo, ESPN reported at the time.

Weston added that her team created 73 different versions of an L-inclusive logo before choosing to use Arabic numerals instead.

A Super Bowl 50 logo is stitched on a Denver Broncos uniform during the NFL Experience exhibition ahead of Super Bowl 50 in Feb. 2016. (Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

So if the NFL doesn’t necessarily need Roman numerals for clarity — and can abandon them whenever it’s convenient — why use them at all? The league’s aforementioned media handout offers a clue: The NFL might enjoy the gravitas that Roman numerals lend to the game.

“The game with the Roman numerals dwarfs championships decided on diamonds, courts, and ice … Other sports can only envy the enormity of the Super Bowl,” reads a quote included with the media guide, and attributed to a writer for USA Today.

Another quote, attributed to a New York Newsday, likens the Super Bowl teams to Roman gladiators.

“It’s the sports championship game with the Roman numerals, which separates it from all other title games and conjures up images of gladiators ready to battle,” reads the quote. “It’s the biggest single-day sporting event — the Super Bowl. And everybody wants a piece of the action.”

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