The Big Game and Big Tech have a long history.
Apple’s “1984” commercial helped turn the Super Bowl into an event known as much for its multimillion-dollar ad spots as for anything else. The scandalous “wardrobe malfunction” halftime show of 2004 inspired the creation of YouTube, which was later acquired by Google. In 2016, Microsoft featured in the Denver Broncos’ postgame celebration when corner Aqib Talib scribbled “World Champs!” on a Surface tablet. Amazon has made its mark too, becoming a frequent advertiser, as well as a sponsor of the NFL’s Next Gen Stats program.
But even after all that, Sunday felt different. Because as the Chiefs’ Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes improved their case to be considered this decade’s dynasty, each of America’s four most dominant companies in terms of market cap showed up as well.
The Microsoft tablets were back, as were new rumors of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos buying the Commanders this offseason. Google took the opportunity to sell Pixel phones and tell fans about its $14 billion acquisition of Sunday Ticket rights. And Apple got to lay claim to the biggest stage of the day, the metallic one that Rihanna descended from at the beginning of her halftime performance. The company is reportedly paying close to $50 million per year to sponsor the intermission showvertisement.
There was a time when the Super Bowl was a circus, full of marching bands and hot air balloon mishaps. As much as the league itself, it has been NFL partners that have turned it into a veritable tech playground.
They’ve also extended the Super Bowl’s power beyond a few Sunday evening hours. YouTube’s trending section is currently dominated by Rihanna’s performance (30 million views and counting) and Super Bowl ads. TikTok created an entire Super Bowl landing page for users to catch up on clips or relive big moments. Beforehand, Apple rolled out a number of Apple Music and Podcast series building up to Rihanna’s act. An Apple TV+ documentary may also be in the cards.
Those additional platforms have made getting involved with the Super Bowl all the more valuable. There’s a reason why the biggest companies are increasingly taking over partnership slots with the biggest sport in America. Actually, there are two connected reasons.
Every year, there are fewer and fewer ways to reach a mass audience of consumers, driving any company—including the world’s wealthiest—to the NFL. As a result, those partnerships get more expensive, leaving tech’s titans among the likeliest bidders for just about anything the league is offering. (The same trend is playing out among ownership, where Bezos appears increasingly likely to at some point follow Steve Ballmer’s path from Seattle to the owner’s suite.) We’ve now seen two rounds of web startups dominating Super Bowl ad time, but in between those tech bubbles, bigger competitors have become mainstays.
As a generative AI race heats up between Microsoft and Google, I’d expect the NFL to find ways to highlight one or both of their capabilities, just as it has previously benefited from battles for voice-assistant mindshare between all the big players.
Who can say if the Chiefs will be in next year’s Super Bowl. But it’s a safe bet four other dynasties will show up, likely bigger than ever. As Oliver Schusser, VP of Apple Music and Beats, told Fast Company when speaking about the company’s future halftime show plans: “There’s a lot more to do.”
What Else I’m Watching:
The Super Bowl wasn’t totally devoid of crypto ads, as Web3 startup Limit Break claimed an early spot in which it gave away free DigiDaigaku NFTs via QR code. Though many criticized the ad’s execution, the “dragon egg” NFTs did go quickly, and were selling for nearly $500 each on a secondary marketplace Monday.
Reddit, meanwhile, gave away over a million collectible avatar NFTs in the run-up to Sunday. The NFTs, made with NFL approval, were free to all users.
In a USA Today online poll, Amazon’s dog-led ad took home third place for best spot of the night, bested by the NFL’s “Run with It” commercial and, in the top spot, another canine showcase from The Farmer’s Dog. You could say Super Bowl advertising is a dog-beat-dog world, I suppose.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw the resemblance.