Super Bowl fandom is for life, so why is the experience fleeting?
G&A’s Joshua Gallagher wonders why brands won’t extend the window they tap into Super Bowl mania.
/ Credit: Adobe Stock
It’s one of the world’s biggest platforms for brand-building and sports fandom. So, let’s start creating experiences as lasting as its legacy.
Nearly 60 years since the very first Super Bowl, commemorating the merger of the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football League (AFL), the game has grown to become one of the industry’s biggest marketing moments, generating over $16.5bn in consumer spending nationwide. That’s not just ads, either. Pop-up events and experiences are Super Bowl staples – from official NFL interactive exhibits to regional, brand-created lounges and parties looking to sell products by entertaining football fans. Most of them are quickly erected in a few hours and gone without a trace moments later.
But even when the Super Bowl ends, that fandom remains.
The industry’s approach to Super Bowl experiences tends to be ephemeral, even as most football lovers will tell you that fandom is for life. Football’s values, for players and fans, revolve around longevity, loyalty and winning. Afterall, a win stays on your permanent record, building a legacy that could last forever. So, why shouldn’t the experiences the league develops take a similarly long view, reflecting more of that firm foundation?
What starts at the Super Bowl can be a months or years-long experiential engagement, celebrating countless stories in a way that could become a model for individual teams and franchises too. But creating this new type of Super Bowl experience means going below the usual pop-ups and engaging in deeper storytelling with experiences that are built to last.
A massive brand-building opportunity
The arts and cultural sectors know all too well the benefits of lasting experiences. Permanent experiences like museums and galleries have long acted as community anchors, as well as educational and economic assets. They are also known for deeply emotional and affecting historical storytelling – a tool that has already proven valuable in the sports industry. For example, the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum has been celebrated by visitors nationwide for its design and storytelling. Also, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is far and away the most difficult shrine to sport to get voted into, a notion that reflects the physical and mental fortitude required to compete. They are awe inspiring, striking wonder into the eyes of the fans, and cementing lifelong bonds between people and the sport.
Similarly, Super Bowl experiences should be better positioned to reflect those same narrative threads. They should allow anyone to get under the helmet, in the huddle and bring fans closer to the sport and players that they idolize. Afterall, the two teams that make it to a Super Bowl are not just good, they are great. That thread of excellence should be better harnessed via experiences that offer engagement while evoking physicality, competition and, most importantly, emotion.
In more fully taking a museum-like approach, the opportunities for greater immersion are immense. A narrative-driven focus allows football organizations to offer various levels and scales of experience and exploration. What sports league wouldn’t want the chance to own more of its heritage and how fans experience it? Along with strengthening the connection between fan and game, it would also allow the league to engage younger audiences sooner, establishing a longer relationship that could also have the downstream effect of growing and strengthening youth programs.
Then there are the reputational benefits. With the right experience, tech partners could help present the increased “safety” of the game, demonstrating steps that the NFL has taken to prioritize and revolutionize player health, leading to healthcare innovations outside of the sport. And there are plenty of other stories from pro football and the Super Bowl that could expand the sport’s branding-building into new and exciting areas.
Building Super Bowl experiences that last
If the goal is to take a more holistic experiential approach to engaging Super Bowl audiences, there are several considerations worth keeping in mind.
Create with permanence (or semi-permanence) in mind To provide the same value to a community as a museum, the Super Bowl experience must be treated as a lasting endeavor – in terms or concepts, materials and design. However, that doesn’t mean that it must stay in one place forever. As a semi-permanent experience, they could travel, activating what would otherwise be relatively dormant permanent stadiums in the offseason. Then, evolving programming could engage fans and a wider audience when games are not being played, building excitement and momentum for the season itself.
Don’t just offer a party. Tell a story These new types of Super Bowl experiences can be less about moving through content rich galleries with interactive touchpoints, and more about allowing fans to experience the tactile, more visceral aspects of the game. But while underscoring the qualities of the game, these experiences should also take time to explore the broader relevance of it. This means visually presenting the effort that it takes to make it in the NFL, succeed and become a champion while celebrating the human connection of the fans to the sport. Interactive exhibits can focus on measuring and distilling performance, allowing fans to compete with their favorite players and each other to create a more competitive and engaging social environment. In creating friendly and not-so-friendly rivals, they can also create opportunities to drive virality on social media.
Partner for success There are a variety of new opportunities to showcase the sport with better and more technologically advanced corporate partnerships. For example, Microsoft technology is heavily utilized by football teams on sidelines and in the coaching booths. This layer of technology not only heightens the player’s insights into the game, but also elevates their performance. Similarly, real-time information and statistics provided via Amazon Web.
Services integration into the broadcast enables a more detail-rich broadcast. But both could also build out data-enabled, story-driven narratives within Super Bowl experiences while bringing added brand value to Amazon and Microsoft by connecting them to a uniquely loyal football fanbase.
We live in a quickly evolving world, with football lovers hungry for new outlets for fandom and higher expectations of the brands they support. Let’s start creating Super Bowl experiences that meet or exceed those expectations, building emotionally-driven brand relationships with experiences that can stand the test of time.
Joshua Gallagher is brand director of experience design firm G&A; gallagherdesign.com