Super Bowl in the Digital Age

By Sarah Sorensen
February 8, 2010

The revelry and rituals of Super Bowl Sunday seem to grow each year. The game takes on a life of its own, bringing unlikely viewers together on the couch to eat, commiserate and cheer for several hours.

It's because the Super Bowl is more than a game; even if you are not a sports fan there's the pregame show, national anthem, halftime show and let's not forget the advertisements that keep people watching.This year, a record number of people - Neilsen Co estimated 106.5 million - tuned in to watch the game from around the world. There are a lot of theories as to why it made viewership history (you can check out the Wall Street Journal's take), but I would like to suggest the expanded reach and interest in the game is due, in part, to the many ways in which it is integrated into our digital lives.

Technology is playing a critical role in sports, both improving the experience and extending the life of any particular event. In football (American), the players, teams and league use a broad array of technology to enhance the game. Fans can connect with their favorite teams through their online communities; they can play digital games as their favorite players and participate in Fantasy Football leagues with people from around the globe. All of which serve to increase the interest and affinity viewers have for the game, creating ties to players, organizations and the league that fuel multibillion dollar apparel and merchandising industries.

Sarah Sorensen is the author of The Sustainable Network: The Accidental Answer for a Troubled Planet.

The Sustainable Network demonstrates how we can tackle challenges, ranging from energy conservation to economic and social innovation, using the global network -- of which the public Internet is just one piece. This book demystifies the power of the network, and issues a strong call to action.

In addition, technology can be found throughout football's operations, from the scouting teams to the post-game analysis. Just think of the wealth of information these players and coaches have at their fingertips that can be linked and analyzed a hundred different ways to try to increase competitiveness and gain a mental edge in the game. There are even sensors embedded in the helmets that wirelessly transmit impact data on hits to the head (up to 2000 a year for some players!) to the sidelines to help team doctors monitor the players as they run up and down the field. The list goes on...

Then there is the Super Bowl - the crowning jewel of the season - it dominates all types of conversations for weeks if you count all the before and after game/event analysis, and the reality is that many of those dialogues are taking place online. The rich media experiences that are now an integral part of the event create opportunities for businesses and brands to connect and develop relationships with their target audiences. It's the online chatter and buzz, with friends and fans sharing the information and resources that are most relevant to their groups, that are driving sustainable revenue opportunities and mindshare.

In case you missed anything during the game, you can easily go online and get play-by-play coverage, as well as play-by-play commentary. You can watch and review virtually everything to do with the game, from the amazing catches to the half time show. You can vote for your favorite commercials , as fan favorites get a viral marketing life that helps support the business case for spending millions for a 30 second TV spot.

Some advertisers are skipping the TV altogether, going straight for interactive social media campaigns. This year, Pepsi, a traditionally stalwart Super Bowl advertiser (spending $142 million on 10 Super Bowl spots over the last 10 years), opted out in favor of using Facebook, Twitter, Ustream and iPhone apps to reach out and try to engage customers with their "Refresh Everything" campaign. A strategy that seems to be working for them - Neilsen Co reported that PepsiCo got 21.6 percent of the chatter about Super Bowl advertisers over the last two months - way more than their rival, Coca-Cola, received.

And don't forget the money games around the big game - namely the betting industry that pulls in big bucks by enticing people to bet on virtually anything, and I do mean anything, related to the game. What influence will technology have? Well, soon, if Cantor Gaming has its way, gamblers won't be relegated to sitting at the sports book to place bets, they will be able to do it from anywhere on the casino's premise and will have access to real-time odds. (Actually, if they had their way, you would be able to do it from your mobile phone!)

There is also the money around merchandising for the big game, which has taken on many new dimensions, as retailers scour blogs, chat rooms and Google searches to try to identify where fan loyalties lie and then use the Internet to reach out to those fans to sell them team merchandise and memorabilia (check out an interesting article in the New York Times), filling a gap and extending the reach of typically regional retail coverage.

So, while I watched the game yesterday, I was also watching all the activity around the game and thinking about what the future will bring. CBS didn't get its way and the NFL didn't allow the game to be streamed live in its entiretyonline, but it is inevitable. And when that happens, it will add yet another dimension to the game. In short, we are just starting to tap into the opportunities presented by the big game and can expect entertainment events, such as the Super Bowl, in the digital age to get bigger and the reach broader year after year.

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