The Big Sports PR Plays of Super Bowl 49
By: Natalie P. Mikolich, Sports Publicist/NPM | PR (@npmikolich)
STUNNING.SENSATIONAL.DRAMATIC. These are just a few words to describe what turned out to be an incredibly exhilarating and thrilling Super Bowl 49 between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks that unfolded before our eyes on Super Bowl Sunday this year. Generating over 28.4 million tweets globally to become the most tweeted about Super Bowl ever, and with 114.4 million people in the United States tuning in to watch the big game, Super Bowl 49 also became the most watched TV show in U.S. history.
During this year’s Super Bowl though, there weren’t only big game plays taking place on the field, there was also some big sports PR plays taking place both on-and-off the field that also caught the attention of NFL fans and TV viewers. Here is a look at five of the big sports PR plays of Super Bowl 49:
1. Beast Mode Hat Sell Out Buzz
No stranger to being fined by the NFL and creating a publicity buzz around almost everything he does these days, Marshawn Lynch’s Super Bowl Media Day appearance this year was no exception. Not only refusing to talk to reporters in attendance by saying “I’m only here so I won’t get fined” that went viral on social media instantaneously, Lynch also drew big attention to the new Beast Mode hat he wore for Tuesday’s Super Bowl Media Day despite facing a possible fine from the NFL yet again. While it is still to be determined by the NFL if wearing the new hat with the Beast Mode logo on it was permissible by Lynch or not (and if this was a planned PR stunt or not by the Beast Mode team), we have determined that regardless of the hefty fines Lynch could face that the media buzz and publicity exposure he generated resulted in selling out the Beast Mode hat online within hours.
2. Super Bowl Sunday Skittles Kick-off
While all eyes were on the University of Phoenix football field in the anxious moments of anticipation leading-up to kick-off between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks on Super Bowl Sunday, who would’ve thought that this would be Skittles big Super Bowl TV moment amongst audience viewers? With the NBC Sports cameras panning over to Marshawn Lynch on the sidelines, instead of catching him getting ready for the big game to start, he was seen throwing back a handful of Skittles. Although this might’ve seemed like a coincidence to the many TV viewers watching, for those us who work in sports PR we highly question the “coincidence” of this product placement and the exposure the brand received for it. Regardless of how it came to be though, the unexpected and authentic plug Skittles received on-air by NBC’s commentators is the kind of publicity that advertising just can’t pay…even if you are willing to spend $4.5 million for a 30 second TV advertising spot.
3 .Nationwide’s Statement Over Sad Super Bowl Commercial
In an attempt to shed light and bring awareness on preventable injuries around the home (which is reportedly the leading cause of childhood death in the U.S.), Nationwide’s sad Super Bowl commercial this year sparked a fire amongst TV audience viewers over their controversial spot. Showing the death of a young boy in the bath tub, within an hour of the Super Bowl ending Nationwide issued a statement to the media about the airing of this commercial stating “our sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance” and “we want to build awareness of an issue that is near and dear to us – the safety and well-being of our children.”
Although it is said sometimes that “all publicity is good publicity,” not all critics agreed with Nationwide’s decision to air this commercial during the Super Bowl including ESPN’s Sports Business Reporter, Darren Rovell, who tweeted “Never imagined a Super Bowl ad would be so bad that a company would have to issue a statement within an hour of the game ending. #Nationwide”
By the end of the game though, Nationwide accomplished exactly what it set out to do by starting a “fierce conversation” and getting thousands of people to visit a new website created (MakeSafeHappen.com) to educate parents and caregivers with resources…and they did it prepared with a PR plan of attack from the beginning with their statement on hand and ready to be shared with the media and strike while the iron was hot in the heat of the conversation.
4. Post-Game Presentations & Press Interviews
Even after the Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll was said to have made the worst play call and coaching decision in Super Bowl History this year, when the big game was over with and all was said and done, he still came out as the winner in the popularity category with fans when compared to NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell. In his post-game media interviews and press conferences, Carroll was open and honest with reporters sharing “There’s really nobody to blame but me” which seemed to resonate admirably amongst many who were watching (or later read his comments in the next day news stories).
When compared to Goodell who many would say is to blame for the crises that have occurred inside the NFL the past year, the response he received from the crowd in attendance at Super Bowl 49 for the awards presentation was not quite as admirable as Carroll’s with the public. Being booed so loud by fans as he approached the awards presentation stage, NBC’s broadcast coverage seemed to coincidentally lose sound for a second that left some of us wondering if those at NBC might’ve cut the sound purposely to help prevent further embarrassment of Goodell? Although the public will likely never find out if this was the case or not, we do know that there is still a lot of PR work to be done this year to improve Goodell and the NFL’s public perception.
5. Deflation vs. Inflation
No strangers to jokes, criticism and being accused of a potential scandal when it comes to “deflation” the past couple of weeks, it safe to say that the “inflation” the New England Patriots feel after winning Super Bowl 49 will not only help boost the confidence of their players and team organization, but also boost the perception NFL fans have of them after the so-called #Deflategate scandal recently erupted. Had the New England Patriots not won the Super Bowl, the public scrutiny they could’ve faced would have likely tarnished their reputation and have NFL fans questioning their ability to win fair-and-square a lot more than with them prevailing over the Seattle Seahawks in the final moments of this year’s Super Bowl.
But while the New England Patriots might’ve won Super Bowl 49 and proved that regardless of the inflation levels of the footballs used in the game that they were the better team, the investigation into what happened at the AFC Championship Game still has not been completed by the NFL. A situation that will impact both the New England Patriots and the NFL, it will be of even more interest now to see how #Deflategate is handled and what the public reaction will be to it. When it comes to public perception though, both the New England Patriots and NFL are hoping for a touchdown on this play.
Natalie P. Mikolich, Executive Committee member of the PRSA Entertainment and Sports Section, is the President/Founder of NPM | PR (www.npmpr.com). Specializing in sports publicity, Natalie has represented six world number one ATP and WTA Tour professional tennis players, a London Olympic medalist, the “Fittest Woman on Earth” and provided public relations services for two of the leading international sports and entertainment agencies along with global racquet manufacturer Prince Tennis amongst many others. Natalie serves as the Communications Manager for the Manhattan Sports Business Academy and co-hosted the first sports business networking event in South Florida in 2014. Natalie received her B.S. in Communication from the University of Miami double-majoring in Public Relations and Psychology after transferring from the University of Florida where she was a member of the Women's Varsity Tennis Team winning the NCAA Division I Team Championships and SEC Conference Title in 2003. Read more of Natalie’s “spin” on the importance of sports publicity on Sports Publicity Spin (www.sportspublcityspin.com) and follow her on twitter at @npmikolich.