NFL’s Pandemic Super Bowl: Highlights and Fumbles From This Year’s Big Game

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers claimed Super Bowl LV victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in their hometown Raymond James Stadium yesterday in Tampa, Florida. The specacle televised by CBS, was the event we were all anticipating—a potential playbook for large gatherings in the first half of 2021.

CBS and the National Football League sought to create a sense of unity and normalcy. However, even with 22,000 fans at Super Bowl LV, including 7,500 vaccinated health care workers invited for free, the limited attendance was palpable. Still, the NFL moved forward with careful consideration of safety and style, and the unfaltering members of CANVAS were taking notes.

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So, what worked and what didn’t? CANVAS, a group of more than 50 executive-level event professionals, shared observations and highlights from this extraordinarily irregular championship game.

Highlights:

  • In the weeks leading up to the championship game, Lowe’s partnered with the NFL on the live activation component of the game—the Super Bowl Experience at Julian B. Lane Park. The interactive football theme park was free and accessible to the public and featured virtual meet and greets with players, Lombardi trophy viewings, and a virtual autograph scavenger hunt. The activation acknowledged safety protocols, including mandatory masks, health screening technology, social distancing efforts, and “fan managers” (safety officers) throughout the park, an idea that could be borrowed for conventions.
  • Guests reserved time at the Super Bowl Experience by using the NFL OnePass app, which was another highlight of the in-person component. The app included “Ask Vince,” an NFL Concierge, schedule of events, sweepstakes entry, transportation information, weather, maps and gamification. Users could earn up to 27 badges by exploring the park and sharing user-generated content—a savvy technological choice to adopt for one’s next event.
  • The NFL, CBS, and many advertisers pursued the theme of unity and inclusion. We heard from young phenom Amanda Gorman, first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, and Warren “Wawa” Snipe, the man who so passionately performed the national anthem in ASL. We also appreciated the multi-colored waving hands used in lower thirds.
  • The use of Vince Lombardi’s hologram to bring the “virtual” at home attendance into the stadium was a creative idea, but it ultimately left viewers confused. Without clear identification, many younger fans were left wondering, “What just happened?” The visual may have been more successful on the field but did not translate well on an LED screen for at-home viewers.
  • 30,000 cardboard cutouts filled the stands during the game, which has been a common strategy to make up lost ticket and concession sales throughout the regular NFL season. The NFL recouped more than $3 million in revenue by selling seats to cardboard fans for $100 per ticket during this year’s Super Bowl.
  • The high-resolution videography was a major highlight of the game, creating varied on-field perspectives. Some have even likened the 8K experience to video game technology. We appreciated the use of LED lighting throughout the experience and the use of the smaller satellite stage for H.E.R.’s performance.
  • Corporate synergy was a key player at SBLV, but at times, the mergers seemed to go rogue at moments. (Let us not forget the Nickelodeon-themed half time report.) CBS’ studio team faced a few struggles in mastering these partnerships, and some of their transitions felt awkward and jarring.
  • CANVAS members took special note of the Pepsi and Mountain Dew campaigns. Viewers could scan their Pepsi can for access to VIP content, and Mountain Dew is offering $1 million dollars to the first person who can tweet the number of bottles used in their commercial—a clever guide to presentation gamification and on-demand content sharing.
  • Televised by CBS and headlined by the Weeknd, the PepsiCo. Half Time Show certainly did not fumble this year. The use of empty seating in front of the stadium screen created a dynamic choral, cityscape theme. The varying camera perspectives, background visuals, and firework displays added grandiosity to the show, and we appreciated the creative and intentional set design. The background support, dancers, and performers were socially distanced or masked without being obvious, and the multi-level lighting was an excellent choice. We loved the Funhouse feel and the efficient use of the field without hauling in a large stage. Anyone else channeling Michael Jackson?
  • We could not go without mentioning Verizon’s Big Concert for Small Businesses. Hosted by Tiffany Haddish and featuring performances from Alicia Keys, H.E.R., Jazmine Sullivan, Luke Bryan, Miley Cyrus and more, the afterparty concert was a successful endeavor in charitable contribution.

In an impossible year and an even more-impossible football season, CBS and the National Football League pulled off a stellar show. Although this year’s championship game is likely to be remembered by many as the “COVID Super Bowl,” we are inspired to continue moving forward toward our return to live events, together.

Cindy Brewer, founding partner and moderator with CANVAS, compiled the responses from the interactive group. To learn more about CANVAS please visit www.meetcanvas.com.

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