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How Will the Pandemic Impact Super Bowl 2021’s Advertising?

Lower attendance means Tampa Bay's Big Game could look different


Super Bowl host cities normally get flooded with out-of-home ads leading up to the Big Game. However, this year OOH advertising might look different for Super Bowl 55 host city Tampa as rising Covid-19 numbers will likely lead to a significant decrease in attendance.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league plans to have as many fans as safely possible attend the event on Feb. 7, but capacity numbers—and who exactly will be invited—are still up in the air.


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A representative from Outfront Media‘s Tampa Bay outpost, which operates more than 1,800 digital and static billboards in the area, said OOH advertisers are operating with a “wait and see” attitude. “We have had many inquiries and expect to see some last-minute buys based on the attendance guidelines set by the NFL,” the representative said.


Opinion on OOH seems split

Rick Robinson, CSO at outdoor agency Billups, said the pandemic will likely lead to less OOH advertising around the Super Bowl than in a typical year, but a desire to “be there” means brands will find ways to be involved.


“The context will have a different feel with fewer NFL execs, former players and corporate types hovering around the game,” he said.


Mariana Skeadas, local activation director at independent media agency Noble People, said the pandemic hasn’t impacted OOH in Tampa as significantly as might have been expected.


“Many of the traditional advertisers and categories are returning—like alcohol, wireless, automotive—despite the unique nature of the event this year,” she said. “Tampa, for the most part, is ‘open’ so while there will be a limited capacity of fans at the game itself and incoming traffic to the market, there is still a higher-than-average occupancy on outdoor inventory in the area.”


As far as where consumers will likely see ads, the Outfront representative explained the NFL has established two clean zones: one surrounding the centrally located Raymond James Stadium, and another encompassing the majority of downtown Tampa, where most pre-game events will occur. The representative said vendors who want to operate within a zone need to get permission from the NFL and the City of Tampa to promote anything related to the event.


“Clean zones prevent businesses from selling non-licensed NFL gear. But this also means local restaurants and businesses located inside clean zones will need to apply for special use permits to capitalize on the Super Bowl,” the representative said. “Everything that is posted on signs, tents, walls or anywhere around the city within a zone is regulated by the NFL. It basically protects the fans from purchasing non-licensed gear, regulates activities and monitors all advertising near the game and surrounding its events.”


Local ads could take the spotlight

Anna Bager, president and CEO of the Out of Home Advertising Association of America, said local OOH media has been integral during the pandemic and will play a major role in Super Bowl 2021.

“While national brands will be present at the game, it is the local advertisers who will be upping their share of voice during the Super Bowl,” Bager said. “Local restaurants and amenities are eager to reach Tampa Bay-area football fans and those driving into the market to partake in the outdoor activities and events that will be underway out in the Florida sun. As a result, traditional highway bulletins and digital formats are experiencing the greatest bookings.”


Outdoor advertisers will also need to consider the people who might be in attendance, as the exact number of regular fans, as well as NFL executives and players, remains uncertain.


The league also announced plans to invite vaccinated healthcare workers to the game as special guests. The Outfront representative said the honoring of healthcare workers presents an opportunity to advertise in local health facilities.


“Perhaps this will prompt a healthcare brand to step up and send a public safety message encouraging vaccine adoption,” Robinson added.


And, although the number of fans traveling to the Big Game in person probably won’t reach past Super Bowl attendance numbers, the representative noted that Tampa International Airport is less than two miles from the stadium and remains a prime location to reach folks traveling to the city.


Innovative in- and out-of-stadium tactics

Bager expects to see more innovative OOH tactics closer to game day, such as AR integrations, mobile trucks and projection media. The Outfront representative also noted that digital bulletins offer advertisers more flexibility with their messaging.

“There is a lot of opportunity to change a message or creative daily, even within a few hours, based on current conditions,” the representative said. “[Digital out-of-home media] offers contextual relevant advertising by going off of location, consumer behavior and demographics.”


This year’s Super Bowl also may see brands viewing in-stadium advertising with heightened interest.


“In-stadium placements will be coveted by brands this year,” Jeremy Schwartz, CCO at Rochester, N.Y.-based creative agency Truth Collective, told Adweek. “Brands will vie for both the static and digital placements within Raymond James Stadium.”


Of these, Bill Durrant, CEO of Exverus Media, said that digital and AR in-stadium placements appearing on broadcast could prove the more interesting proposition for brands. “These are more visible, able to be swapped out throughout the game and are broadcast-centric, so they hit a larger audience,” he said.


Brands willing to invest may be able to capitalize on a unique opportunity, which could make an impact long after the clock runs out on this year’s Super Bowl.


“There likely will never be this kind of open stadium opportunity again,” Robinson said. “Why not bring in fan participation with branding efforts and make it as memorable as possible?”


Source: Adweek