Football, chicken wings, social media and…fun! The Super Bowl is the biggest television spectacle in the United States of America. An audience of over 130 million viewers congregate with friends and family in front of TV screens to enjoy the show while consuming more than 1.3 billion chicken wings, 1.2 billion litres of beer and 64,000 tonnes of avocados.
But Sunday’s game between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos was more than just a culinary festival. The Super Bowl is the event showcasing the latest trends in television broadcasting, content marketing, social media and multi-screen devices.
The American football championship game was seen around the world in more than 185 countries. Beyond the United States and Europe, Asia is one of the fastest growing regions as far as fan growth in recent years. The Communications Trends For 2016 that we announced on Next TV were plainly evident in the unfolding of Super Bowl 50.
LEVI’S STADIUM: A SMART VENUE
For starters, the place where Super Bowl 50 was held did not gone unnoticed. Levi’s Stadium, located in Santa Clara, California — at the epicentre of Silicon Valley — is the epitome of what it means to be a smart stadium.
The home of the San Francisco 49ers was built at a cost of over $1.3 billion, which included not just the construction but also the integration of technology that provides fans with an enjoyable, interactive game experience. The stadium has more than 1,200 free, high-speed Wi-Fi hotspots compatible with both 2.5 and 5 GHz networks, as well as other elements such as 4K screens on the concourses so nobody misses the action on the field. Experience modules with augmented and virtual reality are located around the building to entertain the youngest fans. The stadium also generates its own energy with extensive solar panel installations.
Levi’s Stadium has more than 1,200 free, high-speed Wi-Fi hotspots compatible with 2.5 and 5 GHz networks.
CBS, which held exclusive domestic TV rights to Super Bowl 50, distributed its signal through its television network as well as through its CBS Sports app for Xbox One, Apple TV, Roku, Windows 10, and iPad and Android tablets. Smart devices and HDMI cabling may be fast becoming part of the NFL’s increasingly global business, but it is still a far cry from the global business generated by the World Cup and the UEFA Champions League Final. Nevertheless, the power of American communications and technology companies give the Super Bowl unprecedented reach. To see it, look no further than the newest TV trends.
CBS’S HUGE BET
CBS, which broadcast the game around the world, spared no expense and deployed more than 550 people to cover what is annually the biggest sporting event in the United States. This year’s rollout included 12 production trucks and gave viewers EyeVision 360, a playback system allowing viewers a full picture of the game’s every detail. The system consists of 36 cameras — with 5K technology — strung around the upper deck of Levi’s Stadium, providing “frozen” views of each moment, with the ability to turn the play before continuing the action sequence.
CBS also used 16 Pylon Cams, placed on the goal lines and in the back corners of the end zones, which gave incredible detail of the biggest red zone plays for both teams (see image below). The most important thing to note, however, is that the officials were able to consult them during the game to help make better instant replay decisions.
The result was spectacular, as can be seen in this Pylon Cam replay, from a game played earlier in the season:
The next technological frontier in the world of sports is in the realm of virtual reality. There are several companies that, because of the Super Bowl, set up posts in the vicinity of the stadium where fans could try virtual reality headsets. Firms like Jaunt VR, NextVR and SAP have been testing out different options for immersive technology and showed the fans who came to the Super Bowl what it felt like to be a quarterback in the heat of the game.
Virtual reality is the next technological frontier in the world of sports
This season, Google has already been rolling out 360-degree videos by following the New England Patriots, and the effects have been nothing short of amazing, as we can see here:
It sure seems like virtual reality is as safe a bet as any to gain more and more popularity in the coming years. And if that happens, technology companies will have to account for both content development and solutions that enhance the value of this increasingly immersive user experience. Microsoft, the official technology partner of the NFL, has gone a few steps further, venturing to guess what football games might be like for fans in the not too distant future. Holograms, real-time statistics and virtual reality, all right in the living room, could team up in a shared experience that will leave us agape.
Another area of enormous influence is that of Big Data. Since 2013, the NFL has had an agreement with Zebra Technologies to track player data during games. The result is the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, a system that tracks in-game data on every player and even provides information on the individual duels. This revolutionary statistical platform is having a huge effect on broadcasts because it lets the TV networks superimpose and display live statistics, enriching not just the narrative, but also the overall viewer experience. How do they do it? Next Gen Stats captures real-time data on the location, speed and acceleration of every player using sensors placed throughout the stadium.
There’s no question that the Super Bowl has grown exponentially in its fifty years of existence. The broadcast of the very first edition in 1967 from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum had a thirty-minute preview show, a marching band at halftime, 11 cameras and two production trucks. What was on TV after Super Bowl I? Nothing other than a special episode of ‘Lassie.’
THE CONVERSATION IS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
In the last three years the NFL has established close ties with leading social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat. On Twitter, for example, the NFL has partnered with Twitter Amplify to promote football-related messages among Twitter users who are not active followers.
Other tools like Twitter Moments (which competes with Snapchat), Vine and Periscope were instrumental in monitoring the action between the Panthers and the Broncos. See how the number one microblogging network promoted the big game. The aim was to focus on the social conversation, as we can see in this graphic showing the number of mentions on Twitter.
Twitter, through an article published on its own blog, summarised the keys to the Super Bowl via the different moments that were lived. The NFL, meanwhile, is well aware of the relevance and strength of YouTube in the distribution of content, a fact made evident by seeing data like this: 70% of football content is consumed through mobile devices. To put that into perspective, in 2015, more than 1.4 trillion minutes of football content was consumed on the world’s largest online video platform.
In 2015, more than 1.4 trillion minutes of football content was consumed on YouTube
Nonetheless, the NFL has an eye on not just on the established players, but on the emerging social media platforms as well. To see this, look no further than Snapchat, which has positioned itself as a league partner with extraordinary numbers — 30 of the 32 NFL teams already have official accounts on Snapchat, which is attracting more and more users beyond just millennials. And in the last NFL Draft, in 2015, nearly 15 million people viewed snaps from the league’s official account. The NFL’s agreement with Snapchat gives users access to a large number of NFL events and lets them create live stories for regular season games. Super Bowl 50 provided exceptional content to the mainstream audience through smartphones, not just with pictures from the main event in San Francisco, but also from Denver, following the Broncos’ upset victory.
ADVERTISING GENERATES $400 MILLION
The Super Bowl is also a first-rate multi-platform media showcase for brands. From a cultural perspective, one could say it is a media utopia that combines sports and business and which generates over $400 million with just 50 minutes of total commercial time, according to Kantar Media, a global market research firm. Between 2005 and 2014, the price of a 30-second commercial increased by 75%, generating a total of just over $2 billion in sales, also according to Kantar.
Halftime, meanwhile, has become a television show in of itself. This year it was Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars who were in charge of the theme music for the Pepsi-sponsored mid-game spectacle.
The vast majority of Super Bowl commercials meet specific criteria that serve to empower advertisers:
- They keep the suspense alive until the end of the ad
- They associate the brand with family-oriented consumption
- They emphasize contrasts in the stories they tell
As far as technology is concerned, the evolution of the Super Bowl is and will continue to be unstoppable, with next year’s game expected to yield bigger and even better advancements to keep our eyes and our smartphones busier than ever. Michelle McKenna-Doyle, the NFL’s Chief Information Officer, summed up the league’s objectives: “All these tools are used to make games a safer place for the players themselves and so fans can enjoy more and better game action,” she said. “The goal is to look for growth while respecting the traditions that got us here.”