Brands are adjusting their playbooks for pitching broadcast media before the COVID-19-altered Super Bowl next month.
Super Bowl LV is set to kick off on February 7 in Tampa, Florida, without the usual opportunities for PR pros and journalists to schmooze in person due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Super Bowl Opening Night, which marks the beginning of Super Bowl week with the first appearances by players and coaches, will take place on February 1, but virtually. Media days for the two conference champions also will be held virtually.
The National Football League usually accredits thousands of local, national and international media to set up and report from near the stadium along what’s known as “radio row.” Typically, most broadcast outlets set up shop by Opening Night.
Rick Rhodes, global head of sports and entertainment for Zeno Group, says radio row is “the biggest stage historically for brands to engage with media and their audiences.” One proven tactic to get interviews for game-connected campaigns is to secure a current or former NFL star as a spokesperson.
However, this year, radio row will be dramatically scaled back with the NFL prohibiting players from doing in-person sit-downs, adds Rhodes.
“But, similar to other major entertainment and sporting events, media and marketers will be nimble and pivot to utilizing players to garner attention for their campaigns and causes in a virtual environment,” he says.
ESPN, CBS, NBC, Fox and SiriusXM, among others, all have talent bookers coordinating interviews on Zoom and similar platforms, and brands are promising the same amount of airtime with celebrity spokespeople as would be the case in person, Rhodes says.
Jack Barbour, VP in Golin’s New York office who handles media relations for sports and consumer brands, says his firm is setting up virtual interviews between celebrity talent hired by client brands and journalists, who would be there in person in a regular year.
“The shift to this virtual setup has its positives and negatives. It is going to be a lot more organized than on the ground, which can be a bit of a chaotic process because one interview can run long or short, and you’re doing all these interviews in a short period of time,” says Barbour. “Now there is set structure and timing to everything.”
There are negatives, too. Technical glitches are always a concern, he says, but months of using video- and audio-conferencing technology have made troubleshooting less painful. PR pros will also lose the rapport with the media that enables them to make on-the-day moves in-schedule, thereby maximizing the time journalists have with a celebrity spokesperson. And some athletes are more comfortable being interviewed in person.
On Sunday, the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs take on the Buffalo Bills, and in a popcorn matchup of star quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the Green Bay Packers. That leaves exactly two weeks before the big game.
With few in-person events and parties, communicators can play a role in helping the media flesh out coverage and develop storylines, says Bret Werner, president of MWWPR.
“That is a big void, and the media will be looking for stories to fill that void, and so we need to be able to feed them interviews, digital content and story ideas,” he says.
Werner sees an opportunity for “brands to step forward and drive cause-related programs.” The Super Bowl is a great platform to do that, given that “more athletes are fueled and intrigued by cause-related initiatives,” he adds. “People are really wanting to make a difference at a time that has been so difficult for our nation.”
Vikki Chowney, global head of content and publishing at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, anticipates news outlets will look for human interest stories about how fans can enjoy the Super Bowl together, despite being physically separated.
“There’s such a wonderful collective feeling about the game this year,” she says. “While every year we’re watching from home, now we can ‘only’ watch from home, and this moment gives us an opportunity to connect. The smarter brands will take advantage of that shared feeling.”
“We’re all losing patience with happy hour cocktail recipes, so smart brands who can think of innovative new ways to help people enjoy the game together will be hugely successful,” Chowney says. “I imagine we’ll also see tongue-in-cheek humor rife; from the bizarre to the observational that just hits home.”