How the Super Bowl can help you win with Event TV

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31 January 2020

The Super Bowl this Sunday will see nearly 194 million American adults party. They’ll spend an average of  US$88.65 each on food and beverages, merchandise and party supplies, for a total spend of some US$17.2 billion nationwide.

“I find it almost comforting to count calories, because it makes me conscious of what I’m eating. But on Super Bowl Sunday, I thought, ‘Surrender to it. It’s nacho time.’ Then I ate nothing but Doritos all day.” Kristen Bell

Somewhere in the middle of all this excess is a football match (American Football that is, not “proper football” of course!). Super Bowl 54 will pitch the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs and is expected to be a close run and exciting affair, hopefully more so than last year when the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams offered up the lowest-scoring, and for many the most boring, Super Bowl game ever.

But the Super Bowl’s appeal is, of course, only partly about the game.  Many who gather to watch in bars and homes across the country are more interested in the half-time show (this year Shakira and Jennifer Lopez will entertain the stadium crowds and the TV millions) or even the adverts. With the official domestic TV audience figures will likely to be around the 100 million mark, it’s no surprise that ad budgets get blown fighting for eyeballs, in what has come to be regarded as the time when the American marketing industry shows its best work. At up to $5.6 million for a 30-second slot – around $350 million in total being spent across the event, it doesn’t come cheap.

“I think people really appreciate clever commercials, as do I. That’s one of the reasons people watch the Super Bowl. A lot of them watch it to see the commercials and not the actual game.” Kevin Nealon

“In my world – advertising – the Super Bowl is judgement day. If politicians have Election Day, and Hollywood has the Oscars, advertising has the Super Bowl.” Jerry Della Femina

Of course, the Super Bowl has come to transcend sport. Instead, it is now established as a cultural event. Families and friends gather together. For some, the game is the central component. For others it is merely a backdrop, providing an excuse to socialise, to indulge. And that is why it is so hugely important as a marketing vehicle. If it were only about the sport the opportunities would be more limited, but the event’s ability to cross boundaries of age, gender, class, income, education and sexuality enable it to deliver a more or less captive audience to marketers.

Over recent years the Super Bowl has gone international.  In the UK, for example, the BBC showed last year’s game live and, although the game is broadcast late, the audience was significant – 1.3 million, some 100,000 more than the 2018 peak. In addition, online viewing figures for the BBC increased by 31% compared with last year. Worldwide viewing figures are believed to be around 160 million.

And over recent years, if anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, an increasing number of those around the world gather for this unique piece of Americana. The Super Bowl’s role as unmissable Event TV is spreading.

The history of Event TV in the UK

We have a heritage of Event TV here in the UK. While it may seem odd today, with dwindling crowds and participating teams naming deliberately under-strength matchday squads so that they can focus on what they perceive to be greater priorities, the FA Cup, and in particular the FA Cup Final held at Wembley each May, once held an almost Super Bowl-esque place in the British sporting and social calendar.

Speaking personally, I can remember clearly how special the FA Cup Finals of the 1970s and 1980s were. The event dominated TV schedules for the entire day, with build-up including the match preview but also special events of TV gameshows of the time, such as It’s a Knockout, A Question of Sport and Mastermind, featuring fans of the two competing teams. Like the Super Bowl, family and friends would gather, irrespective of the two teams playing, or indeed their interest in football, around “posh food” (or at least what passed for posh food in those somewhat simpler times!). It was a real social occasion. The 28.5m who watched the 1970 FA Cup Final Replay (between my own beloved Chelsea and Leeds United), for example, is still the 5th biggest TV special event audience in the UK, ever.  The Grand National, the University Boat Race, the Wimbledon final were similar occasions to gather, with the sporting element, largely an excuse or backdrop.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost this element of Event TV. The fragmentation of media means that audiences are much smaller. The explosion of lifestyle choices means that people have so many alternative ways to spend their time.

And yet, the Super Bowl experience suggests that there IS still an appetite for Event TV. It does still take place here in the UK, albeit in a much diluted form – people gather for certain one-off TV moments – the Eurovision Song Contest, or season finales of reality shows (X-Factor back in the day, but less so now, Love Island, Britain’s Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing, etc) or TV series (Game of Thrones,  etc).  However, we believe that there is a huge untapped Event TV opportunity for broadcasters and partner brands – the recent success of the Christmas special reunion edition of Gavin and Stacey shows that the nation can still unite around content that captures their imagination. The key question is, of course, how to get involved.

How can brands win with Event TV?

Precise strategies will, of course, depend on your brand, sector and audience, but perhaps consider some or all of the following:

  • Follow the Super Bowl advertising model by running your most creative executions mid-event
  • Develop an integrated strategy utilising PR, experiential and digital channels to drive talkability about your brand and advertising
  • Create brand partnerships, e.g. with fast food service suppliers, drinks manufacturers and/or online gambling platforms
  • Nimbly react to the digital conversation that accompanies live events
  • Pick a side – show your support for one team or the other – this is obviously easier if you have a local affiliation.

This article was written by Nick Chiarelli, Head of Trends at Unlimited Group. 

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