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The Big Game: Audience of One and an Experience for Everyone

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Mike Wohlitz

Mike Wohlitz

Vice President, Event Services

How football's championship event sets the marketing standard for brands to engage both local and global audiences

Bringing one of the world’s largest sporting events into living rooms around the world is no simple feat. Neither is ensuring that the same event, as well as all the buzzworthy marketing activities surrounding it, are both personalized and engaging.

But if Super Bowl LI taught us anything, it’s that the very best rise to the challenges in front of them — just like the New England Patriots, who staged a 25-point comeback to earn yet another championship ring. 

The marketing around the big game remains an unparalleled feat, from the analysis of the spectacular commercials to the branding of the best in sports. One aspect that doesn’t get as much press is how the game manages to makes the experience a personal, memorable event for both local and worldwide audiences through custom content.

The opening drive

The week-long celebration kicked off with Opening Night festivities, where we helped outfit the infield of nearby Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, with a massive 60’-high by 200’-wide stage, concert-quality audio visual, and an array of large LED screens for all press interviews and musical performances. What makes Opening Night unique is that it’s open to 10,000 excited fans while also being broadcast to millions on primetime TV.  

This was not only an occasion for the teams and media to interact, but also to include the physical audience of Opening Night. Radios were handed out to the crowd, allowing each person to listen to any of the many interviews transpiring, and even observe them on the large screens. During commercial breaks in between acts or speakers, the in-person audience was rewarded with exclusive content like an interview with a coach or a chat with TV and sports personalities that was not broadcast to the audience at home. 

A similar approach was adopted during post-game interviews. Fourteen stages were built throughout the stadium, and while we helped manage the audio for the post-game conferences, we were fascinated by the blend of the in-person and TV audience. The teams building the stages ensured that each one was situated so that the live audience would have a great view of whoever was being interviewed while also making sure that, as the camera was trained on the speaker, the viewer at home would also see the excitement and energy of the post-victory celebrations on the field. 

This approach ensured that the physical audience and the TV audiences each received its own unique and engaging experience.

Broadcasting live

A high-profile event is not high profile unless it is efficiently covered by the media. This may seem obvious, but orchestrating media output is a study in both experience design and design thinking. 

A total takeover of the third floor of the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, the massive media center played home to more than 6,000 credentialed media members as they broadcast their content throughout the week. What may seem simple in theory is actually an intricate exercise to which our teams contributed, ensuring the massive network of fiber optic cables would provide the press with enough juice to reach viewers around the world. The media center serviced the local as much as the global, and everything in between. After all, all press is good press.

Post-game highlights

The game was arguably one of the most exciting in the sport’s history, but a good experience spills over beyond the stadium and into the streets of its host city. For one week, Houston transformed into Super Bowl City, a vibrant place where auditoriums and pavilions across the city reveled for one event, brands promoted their vision throughout a decorated downtown, and the population and local media focused on a singular topic. 

Celebrities and fans alike flocked to Houston for parties hosted by the likes of Pepsi (debuting its premium bottled water, LIFEWATR), ESPN, DIRECTV, Rolling Stones, EA Sports, and more. The NFL Experience and Super Bowl LIVE let fans get psyched for the big game with interactive games and exhibits while Guy Fieri hosted The Players Tailgate, a $700 ticket that involved delicious grub and the opportunity to rub elbows with football’s elite. The city hosted an open-to-the-public watch party for locals and out-of-towners without tickets to congregate and celebrate together. 

At the end of four quarters (plus overtime), Houston culture was highlighted while a global audience was catered to — all with the purpose of making the big game as big as it could possibly be.

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