When Miami hosted the Super Bowl earlier this year, it was basically guaranteed a four-hour commercial for the city: Every shot that wasn’t football featured its famous palm trees, sandy beaches and pristine blue ocean.
The financial return on investment for hosting the Big Game may still be disputed by economists, but from a tourism and marketing standpoint, it’s an undeniable win to have a city broadcast to 100 million viewers, not to mention its appearances in the media during the weeks leading up to the game.
But the 2021 Super Bowl is likely to be very different, as the pandemic continues to alter everything we do. And though advertisers will continue to make their mark during the broadcast, the usual pomp and circumstance that comes with hosting will likely be minuscule in comparison with earlier years. With that, Tampa Bay, set to host the Big Game this February, is heading into the great unknown.
“The challenge we have with the Super Bowl is that still so much of it is up in the air,” said Patrick Harrison, CMO of Visit Tampa Bay, the city’s destination marketing organization. “It’s really difficult for us from a marketing position for us to say, ‘Come to the game and get tickets’ and all the rest, when we don’t know when they’ll be available.”
Planning for an unusual Big Game
When all was said and done, analysts at PwC estimated that Miami took in $218 million in direct spending from the Super Bowl, ranging from hotel rooms to $18 mojitos. Other estimates range as high as $500 million. With far less fanfare this year, Tampa won’t see figures in that ballpark.
“We’ll try and avoid every appearance of a crowded scene,” said Harrison, adding that he expects the show to run “pretty smoothly.” The city has seen fewer crowds this year in general: In October, overnight stays in Tampa Bay were down 45% year over year.
The NFL Experience, a giant football theme park the league hosts every year, is going forward, but this year it’ll be free and completely outdoors, with timestamped tickets. Last year, it was held within the Miami Beach Convention Center; adult tickets were $40. Capacity could be cut to between 30% and 50%, according to Harrison, although there’s still a lot of time before the game to figure out those exact details.
“Health and safety is driving every decision we make. This season has required all of us to remain flexible and adaptable throughout, which includes the upcoming Super Bowl LV in Tampa,” the NFL said in a statement. “While we will be reducing select hospitality elements that traditionally take place during Super Bowl week, we are committed to providing fans various opportunities to fully immerse themselves in the Super Bowl.”
The pandemic may have put a damper on the 2021 Super Bowl, but it hasn’t stopped Visit Tampa Bay from spending more on advertising for the city than ever before.
The organization was able to use money from both the Cares Act and its own rainy day funds to reinvest in advertising, hoping to capitalize on frostbitten Northerners looking to move south, either to relocate permanently or just for a weekend. The campaign has been targeted to run in the Midwest and Northeast, as well as Tampa’s drive-to market in Atlanta.
“This is the ultimate rainy day,” Harrison said. “If we don’t make every effort to make sure as many of [our partners] survive, then we have failed.”