In the first two hours his store was open yesterday morning, Lonnie Ervin had helped at least 16 customers wrestle big-screen televisions into their vehicles in front of the Best Buy store off Security Boulevard in Woodlawn.
"This is the only size they're buying this month," the customer service worker said wryly, pointing to a box that held a Toshiba with a 32-inch screen. "You should have seen it yesterday. It was awful. But it was good for business."
The Super Bowl, broadcast to about 800 million people around the world, is the most-watched television event of the year, and advertisers pay millions to launch new campaigns during the show. Last year, the game was the sixth most-watched program in television history, according to an NFL Web site, www.superbowl.com.
So perhaps it stands to reason that it's a great driver for the sale of televisions as well.
"January is a huge month for us," said Morgan Stewart, a spokesman for Richmond, Va.-based Circuit City, which operates 570 stores nationally and three in the Baltimore suburbs. Big-screen sales "pop up about 40 percent, and we attribute it directly to the Super Bowl."
The chain pitches much of its advertising in the last week of January to Super Bowl viewers.
"Guaranteed delivery before Sunday's big game," trumpeted an ad that ran on the back page of the Today section in The Sun Friday. The Big Screen Store, with three stores in the Baltimore suburbs, ran similar ads this weekend.
"The big-screen business is male-oriented and sports-driven," said Greg Dahle, manager of a Big Screen Store in Towson.
From the time the National Football League playoffs begin to about a week after the Super Bowl, big-screen televisions, with pictures ranging from 36 to 60 inches, are among their hottest selling items, electronics merchandisers say, regardless of price tags that can exceed $2,000.
Retailers said they've heard rumors that some buyers return the sets the day after their Super Bowl parties, but have not experienced it. "Our returns this time of year are no different than any other time of year," said Lee Simonson, senior big-screen buyer at Best Buy's corporate headquarters in Minneapolis.
January is bigger than December for television sales, said Jeff Faust, a spokesman for Best Buy. "It doesn't seem TVs are as big a gift item as smaller consumer electronics," he said. "But after Christmas, maybe you have a little extra cash, and you start thinking Super Bowl and a big TV."
Jeff Landow, 20, of Westminster said the television he and Ervin had just stowed in a van was a birthday gift for his father.
"His birthday's in February, and we wanted to give him a TV, but we figured since the Super Bowl's tomorrow, we'd give it to him now," Landow said.
Inside, Vic Thompson, who already has four televisions in his four-bedroom house on Ingleside Avenue in Catonsville, was standing in line to buy another.
"I need another TV like I need a hole in the head," he said. "But I want to watch this on a big screen."
He and Landow say they'll root for the Tennessee Titans today. "The Ravens stomped them," Landow reasoned.
Super Bowl XXXIV was just part of the reason Bill Hall of Woodlawn bought a television.
"I just wanted a bigger TV," he said. "And I deserve one. You work hard, you deserve a new TV."
Hall wasn't taking sides in the big game. He only wishes the Ravens were in it.
"The Ravens and the Colts," he mused. "That would've been all kinds of appetizing."