On February 5th, more than 100 million people in the US alone tuned in to watch the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons compete for the title of Super Bowl LI champions. The game saw Tom Brady and the Patriots pull off a record-breaking comeback for their second triumph in three years, and fans across the world tuned in for the spectacle.
Only a fraction of these viewers were actually fans, though. Super Bowl parties were held across the world, but very few of those watching will have had a full vested in interest in the competition, and only slightly more will have had a comprehensive grasp on the rules of the game. Such is the ever growing spectacle of the US’s biggest sporting occasion that it’s often said that events on the field are not the most important part of the night.
Many of those tuning in will have been there for the half time show, or for the parade of high profile and ludicrously expensive adverts. The fanfare around the event has become in a way its own separate circus, and the commercial side of the game is a news story in its own right. The estimated American spend during this year’s Super Bowl was $14.1 billion. That’s down on 2015 and 2016, but still represents a huge increase on the 2010 total - just $8.98 billion.
Commercially, the key theme for this year’s event was engagement. Fans inside the NRG stadium were treated to a new level of convenience and immersion, with the ability to order food and drink to their seats, watch mobile video replays and share to their heart’s content with the arena’s super charged wifi. Fans today don’t just want to see the action in person, they want all the trimmings that come with TV coverage, like real-time stats, and the average number of fans connected at any time in the new NFL stadiums is between 30,000 and 35,000 - some 4TB of data usage per game.
According to VentureBeat, a host cities pitch has to include a ‘clear and compelling wifi plan to the NFL,’ by order of a directive from the commissioner. The obsession with making the stadium as connected as possible even extends to the employment of 20 wifi coaches, who will be in the stands to help fans navigate the official app to get the most out of their experience. Interestingly, Extreme - the provider of wifi to 23 of the 31 NFL stadiums, and the provider on the 5th February - utilise a system that offers more bandwidth to ‘on-point’ activities like ordering food or watching replaying, whilst strangling that of ‘off-point’ activities like updating apps or listening to music.
This Super Bowl, brands stripped back their teaser ads to cater for changing consumer expectations. The build up to the event traditionally sees brands build intrigue around their Super Bowl ads with regular teasers, but consumer fatigue at larger events is a problem. Engagement with ads is far higher than that of teasers, and teasers account for just 2% of the ads overall shares. If teasers have been deemed a distraction both in budget and attention, it explains why we saw far fewer of them at this year’s big game.
And on the field, both the Patriots and the Falcons will have been using more data than ever before to inform their decision making in the lead up to and on the night. In 2013, Microsoft made a $400 million deal with the NFL to bring real-time data to the sidelines. Today, the technology has only developed, and coaches will be presented with real-time data about their team’s performance as well as other data such as whether or not a player has taken a dangerous hit to the head.
Data and connectivity had a formative involvement at this year’s Super Bowl. For fans both at home and in the stadium, access to real-time statistics was unprecedented. Coaches enjoyed a similar luxury, whilst brands pushed for higher engagement by giving consumers less to be wearied by.