SBJ/20090126/Super Bowl XLIII
Halftime evolves as sponsorship vehicle
Published January 26, 2009
For the Super Bowl’s first 26 years, the game’s halftime show was as routine as a run up the middle. It was a saccharine combination of marching bands, acts like Up With People and Disney-themed shows such as “It’s a Small World.”
Then came 1992. The Fox network, without NFL rights at the time, challenged the Super Bowl halftime production with a live episode of its “In Living Color” show. That counterprogramming, labeled “Doritos Zaptime/In Living Color,” siphoned off some 20 million viewers from network partner CBS and TV’s most-watched show.
The NFL knew it was the end of the line for marching bands at Super Bowl halftime.
“It was all about the spectacle before, something that would fill the field, and at that point, our competition was really the Orange Bowl [halftime show],” said Jim Steeg, who ran 26 Super Bowls for the NFL, from 1980 to 2005, before leaving to become executive vice president and COO of the San Diego Chargers. “After the Fox thing, we knew we had to do something that really made a difference from an entertainment standpoint.”
For that next Super Bowl, the NFL not only got Michael Jackson at the peak of his stardom, but it also turned the Super Bowl halftime into a sponsorship offering, allowing a sponsor to attach its name to the extravaganza. It was such an opportunity that Frito-Lay, the same company that had sponsored Fox’s halftime show the year before, did a 180 and sponsored the legit Super Bowl halftime for 1993.
This year, Bridgestone will be sponsoring its second consecutive Super Bowl halftime show. Phil Pacsi, vice president of marketing for the company, said the sponsorship has already increased brand awareness and purchase intent and helped steal market share from competition in those areas.
“If you want to build brand awareness, this is the place,” said Michael Fluck, Bridgestone brand marketing manager. “The downside is that you don’t know who the talent is going to be when you sign and you might get something like a wardrobe malfunction [referencing Janet Jackson’s infamous 2004 appearance]. But the upside of being in front of so many eyeballs and being associated with a premium event is very high.”
Pepsi sponsored the Super Bowl XLI halftime show in 2007. Genesco Sports Enterprises helped negotiate the deal.
“There’s only one front porch on the Super Bowl, and the halftime show is it,” said John Tatum, co-founder of GSE, whose other NFL sponsor clients include Coors, Motorola and Frito-Lay. “The key is retail activation, so you can really convert that Super Bowl connection into sales.”
Pepsi activated with a sweepstakes offering a jeweled Pepsi can worth $100,000 and Super Bowl tickets for life. However, as often happens, the winner took a cash equivalent.
As the talent names got bigger, some inevitable complications arose.
“One of our struggles was that no one wanted to compete with Michael [Jackson], so it took us a while to get people to overcome that,” Steeg said. “After that, the most difficult thing was us trying to top ourselves every year.’’
More recently, the NFL has been able to attract big names slightly longer in the tooth, like Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty and, for this year, Bruce Springsteen, based on the Super Bowl’s ability to push sales of recorded music.
It’s no accident that Springsteen’s new recording will first be available Super Bowl week.
“We always saw a spike in record sales, even when it was the person that sang the national anthem,” Steeg said.