Super Bowl: Blueprint for the future, or one and done?
On the Monday before Super Bowl XLVIII, New York Giants co-owner Jonathan Tisch proclaimed to the media that New York wanted the big game once a decade. Less noticed that morning was the man who preceded Tisch on the dais, new Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris. Twice during his comments, Shorris described the Super Bowl in New York as a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Bringing the game back to New York is certainly no sure thing. Beyond the ownership politics and the sense by some that this game was a one-and-done deal to reward the two New York City-area teams for building the most expensive stadium in the league, not to mention the question of cold weather, local factors will also weigh heavily.
New Mayor Bill de Blasio’s politics have already spooked business interests in New York, and it was noted the mayor did not attend the game.
Previous Super Bowls dominated their local markets, but outside a few spots like Times Square and Broadway’s Super Bowl Boulevard area, this game was not especially visible.
“It was really surprising how unbusy the city was,” said Rick Harmon, chairman of Forward Market Media, which sells options on tickets to sports events, including the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl Boulevard stretched 13 blocks in the heart of midtown Manhattan, and the NFL says it attracted 1.5 million visitors. It offered a major showcase for league sponsors, which used the New York backdrop to activate in record size and scale. A few blocks east and west, however, the city seemed like it did on any normal winter day. “The city is simply too big and too diverse to have breakthrough branding in the entire footprint,” one league source said.
|Super Bowl Boulevard dominated the 13 blocks of midtown Manhattan that it filled, drawing 1.5 million visitors, according to the NFL, and providing a showcase for sponsors and big retail opportunities for licensees.
During the week, owners including
“There’s a lot of recapping to be done before we all know the answer to that,” said Jamey Rootes, president of the Houston Texans, who will host the Super Bowl in 2017. “As to New York specifically, you’ve got no end of entertainment possibilities. We saw a lot of energy on places like Super Bowl Boulevard, and I thought the organizers did a great job.’’
Philadelphia Eagles President Don Smolenski noted an attitude shift since the 2012 Super Bowl, when the Indianapolis weather was surprisingly mild. Of course, that game was played indoors.
“You’ve seen comments from owners like Mr. Kraft, Mr. [Daniel] Snyder and Mr. [Pat] Bowlen, indicating that some who were watching with somewhat of a cautious eye now feel this is doable,” Smolenski said. “We don’t have to be limited necessarily.”
“[Eagles owner] Jeffrey [Lurie] is very much interested.”
The league votes in May among three sites for the 2018 Super Bowl. Two cold-weather sites with domed stadiums are in the running: Minnesota, which will open a new stadium in 2016, and Indianapolis. New Orleans, the site of 10 Super Bowls, is the other contender.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has said several times that the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl experiment had much to do with New York’s attractiveness as the country’s largest market, suggesting that bids from other cold-weather cities might not fare as well. The ultimate rationale will involve balancing New York’s size and scale against its cost. While the New York City locale easily provided the league with its best top-line Super Bowl ever, New York’s overhead costs are unequalled, especially with all the security that a Super Bowl week entails.
Since all the league’s commercial partners achieved record results, most naturally were unabashedly cheering for a return to the Big Apple.
“New York’s a market that’s important to every company and a great place to make a marketing statement,” said Blaise D’Sylva, Anheuser-Busch vice president of media, sports and entertainment marketing, aboard the 1,062-foot Norwegian Cruise Line ship that served as this year’s Bud Light Hotel.
“Initially we were nervous about foot traffic on Super Bowl Boulevard, because of the season, but that was no problem, and both our sales and tie-ins with retailers like Duane Reade were a big payoff,” said Adam Harter, vice president of consumer engagement at Pepsi, who directs the brand’s sports and entertainment marketing.
Anyone witnessing the absolute crush of customers during the week at Macy’s pop-up fourth-floor NFL Shop knew why every league licensee was smiling. “We all have great retail relationships here, and after the holidays to be able to give them something like the Super Bowl to sell meant we got tremendous response from them and from consumers,” said VF Corp. Licensed Sports Group President Jim Pisani. With all the traffic from Super Bowl Boulevard, sales were so brisk at the Modell’s 42nd Street store that it was kept open for the last 48 hours around the Super Bowl. “I had high expectations and we blew past them,” CEO Mitchell Modell said.
Fox achieved record TV viewership, drawing more New York City viewers than either of the Giants’ Super Bowl victories in 2008 and 2012. Bill Wanger, Fox Sports Media Group’s executive vice president of programming, research and content strategy, said he “absolutely” expects the country’s biggest media market to host another one soon. He believes that the telecast’s total viewership, which set a record of 111.5 million viewers, could have reached 120 million given a more competitive game and snowy conditions.
ESPN also saw big viewership increases during Super Bowl week, with its afternoon NFL block of programming up 14 percent over last year. Still, Seth Markman, ESPN’s NFL senior coordinating producer, is dubious that the New York market was responsible for the uptick. “I don’t think the audience really cares where we are,” Markman said.
Despite ESPN’s successes on the week, Markman says he’s ready to get back to a warm-weather climate for Super Bowl week.
“Nothing against New York — I’m from New Jersey — but I believe that Super Bowls should be played in warm weather cities or in domes,” he said. “Of course, whatever the NFL decides, we will be there.”
■ FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: About 5 p.m. on the Friday before the Super Bowl, Subway CMO Tony Pace got an email from Fox telling him that a 30-second ad unit was suddenly available. For the prior 10 months, Pace had been very publicly saying that the going rate for Fox’s Super Bowl — about $4 million for a 30 second-spot — was nonsensical. “As late as 4 p.m. Friday, we were sitting this one out,” Pace said.
But before 8 p.m. that night, Subway had purchased a unit in the game.
There were factors other than price driving the decision: Subway was in the midst of launching its Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt, with creative including Olympians Michael Phelps and Apolo Anton Ohno just days before the start of the Winter Olympics.
As for the price? “All I will say is that it made sense for us,” Pace said. “Once we knew it was a good value, the one thing I insisted on was that it had to be in the first half.” Originally, the ad was supposed to be in the pod before the two-minute warning, but with the flow of the game, Subway’s ad actually ran with about a minute left in the first half.
Pace said he was unaware which advertiser had dropped out and made the time available. In the weeks leading up the Super Bowl, it is not unusual to see buyers renege if their creative is testing poorly, either against focus groups or in the board room. While clearly not paying top dollar, Subway nonetheless got de facto Super Bowl exclusivity in the restaurant category, which is particularly interesting considering that archrival quick-service restaurant McDonald’s is an NFL corporate partner.
■ SALES PLAYBOOK: For the past dozen years, the NFL has tried to amplify the effect of its opening week in September, first with a kickoff game in the home market of the Super Bowl champion and then by developing a “Back to Football” marketing platform. Consequently, some argue the NFL’s opening day (really more of an opening five days) is better marketed and of more consequence nationally than MLB, which originated the concept.
Now the NFL is looking to put even more marketing muscle behind its season openers. Partners and agencies were presented with an opportunity to buy a presenting sponsorship across all of the NFL’s opening-week game telecasts, except the first week’s slate of “Monday Night Football.” Other than Super Bowl halftime and Pro Bowl, the NFL has not sold a presenting sponsorship of telecasts, so pricing should be interesting.
|Super Bowl Boulevard dominated 13 blocks in midtown Manhattan, but the game’s effect didn’t stretch citywide.
“You’d have to wonder about firing this big opening week marketing salvo and then what?” said David Grant at Team Epic, which handle marketing for NFL sponsors including FedEx, “so it probably makes the most sense for a current NFL sponsor.”
Elizabeth Lindsey, co-president of consulting at Wasserman Media Group, which advises NFL sponsors Verizon, Microsoft, Lenovo and Pepsi, said, “By building something that runs through the preseason and culminates in the season kickoff, the NFL can attract back-to-school dollars and get the right brand a lot of exposure at kickoff.”
Added Optimum Sports President Tom McGovern: “They tried this [unsuccessfully] for Thanksgiving week, and the brands that could afford it were already heavily invested in NFL media. However, they’re now talking about a combination of media and sponsorship rights, so I’m curious to see exactly what those sponsorship rights will be.”
There’s additional inventory for NFL marketers to sell. Coaches’ headsets, without a sponsor logo since Motorola’s departure, are available. Renie Anderson, NFL senior vice president of sponsorship and partnership management, said they won’t become billboards, so don’t expect Pepsi, McDonald’s or even one of the brands in the suddenly marketing-heavy headphone category to jump onto coaches headsets.
“We want authentic integration, so that brand would have to be something that’s genuine to the game,” she said. There’s also availability for two more brands to have sideline exposure rights under those same endemic guidelines.
■ STARTING THE OTHER SEASON: On the NFL’s corporate renewal list, longtime sponsor Visa has two seasons left, but generally likes to conclude its agreements before the final season. Sponsors approaching the final year of their NFL deals include Castrol, P&G, McDonald’s and Bose.
As for new business, timing and watches continue to be targeted by NFL marketers, and this could morph into rights in the growing technology “wearables” category. The mobile phone category has been open since Motorola left the NFL after the 2011 season, and cameras are another vacant category. We’ll leave it to sharper minds to distinguish between a phone and a camera these days. Both overlap with tablets, an area in which Microsoft has NFL rights.
Banking/financial services is another intriguing category for the NFL, although one in which national rights are usually not as meaningful as local ones.
■ GOOD FOR YOU: After years of watching brands use NFL intellectual property to sell beer, fast food, soda, candy and other high-calorie salty and sweet snacks, it’s interesting to see some healthy/active brands beginning to affiliate themselves with the NFL. Pepsi’s Sabra hummus has been using parent Pepsi’s NFL rights to tout itself as the NFL’s “official dip.” With the help of The Leverage Agency, Sabra hosted a sizable soiree last week in Manhattan with NFL notables, including ESPN’s Adam Schefter and the Washington Redskins’ Pierre Garcon.
The presence of Cheerios and two Greek yogurt brands — Chobani and Dannon Oikos — as advertisers in the Super Bowl definitely caught the eye of NFL marketers. “When we look at new business, we have some significant discussions going on in the yogurt space,” said Anderson, uttering words never before spoken by an NFL marketer.
Also fitting into the developing healthy/active product area is an expansion of the “NFL Fit” content platform, through which brands will be able to tie in with players and their training regimens.
■ TEST PATTERN: The NFL tested a mobile application during the game designed to provide video replays to fans. The product, Super Bowl XLVIII Rewind, was tested by an invitation-only group of about 200 people as a precursor to rollout for next year’s Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
The app was built in conjunction with league partner and Pittsburgh-based mobile developer YinzCam and designed to provide game replays and alternate camera views. With the NFL blocking live streaming of the game inside of MetLife Stadium to protect available bandwidth, YinzCam had encoders on-site quickly cutting video and creating on-demand replays that would require less bandwidth.
“It’s a constant balancing act,” said Michelle McKenna-Doyle, NFL chief information officer. “What we want is to be able to serve the wants and needs of fans in-venue, but in a way where they’re steadily taking bandwidth and then releasing it back to the crowd, back and forth, instead of a scenario where they’re just taking and holding onto that bandwidth.”
The league hopes to retool the product and have it include additional camera angles in time for next year’s Super Bowl.
|More than 10,000 seats were available as kickoff neared, keeping secondary prices down.
Much of the market forces could be attributed to supply outstripping demand, as less than 48 hours before the game, more than 10,000 tickets, about an eighth of MetLife Stadium’s seating capacity, were still out on the market. That inventory roughly doubled the number of available tickets at a comparable point before last year’s Super Bowl.
What was perhaps lost on price was made up by some on volume, as StubHub said Super Bowl XLVIII represented the second-best-selling event in the company’s decade-plus history, trailing only last year’s BCS championship game.