How tech changed the game for big brands both on and off the field.
Grab your giant foam fingers and – if you’re in the UK – your giant cups of coffee, as Super Bowl LVIII (that’s 58, btw) kicks off late on Sunday night.
Last year’s NFL title decider shattered all Stateside TV viewing records. In the entire history of US TV ratings, only Neil Armstrong had more eyeballs on him when he said…something about small steps and giant leaps, way back in 1969.
Big ratings of course mean big ad campaigns, and there’s arguably as much interest in the adverts between plays as there is in the game itself. With a 30-second spot costing companies a cool $7 million in the 2023 Super Bowl, big brands are inclined to make every second count.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Super Bowl TV advertising was primarily targeted at consumers, but even B2B brands are staking their claim on 30 seconds of fame. This recent effort from workforce tech company Workday is a great watch – with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Joan Jett and Paul Stanley from KISS railing against the casual use of the phrase ‘rock star’ in the workplace.
Ad sales are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the money involved in staging the Super Bowl, as well as the business of running a team. But fortunately for the bean counters, recent advances in tech are benefitting large sporting events in general.
Medical professionals can draw from player data before and after a crunching tackle, to help test for a head injury.
Tacticians can download visuals from the last play, to see what worked, what didn’t and organise a better position.
They’re built to withstand the occasional drop when the excitement of the game spills onto the sidelines.
A development from Zebra Technologies means each NFL team can monitor RFID sensors placed in the ball, inside players’ shoulder pads and in the on-field measuring devices to gather data on the field. Coaches and medical staff can use that data to track player performance and condition by measuring distances covered and mapping out movement to assess player fitness and team tactics.
And when a seemingly dodgy decision by the referee needs another look, video review systems are there to make the tough calls. Footage from cameras placed around the action is spliced together and turned into a viewable, zoomable CG recreation of the exact positioning of players, the ball and more. Hawk-Eye Innovations, part of the Sony family, was first to establish the system, which has since been used in the biggest games and tournaments from Wembley to Wimbledon via Lord’s and the Crucible.
Cutting-edge campaigns off the field
Innovations in tech haven’t just transformed the action for the players on the field – it has also changed the way we watch and enjoy sport.
The New England Patriots team has long been associated with a popular shaving brand, but a live game from October 2022 took the collaboration further. Live TV footage of the field at the Patriots’ stadium and its spectators was superimposed with the effect of a new giant-sized grooming product being assembled in the air, Megazord-style, before touching down on the halfway line.
Spanish football team (that’s association football, mind – jumpers for goalposts) Celta Vigo pulled a similar visual stunt with the live crowd in a 2019 La Liga game against Real Madrid. Together with phone company Orange, the campaign saw match-goers hold up their phones to the pitch at half-time to witness a stunning display of football skills performed by some sort of giant golden player.
In a much more traditional digital campaign that hooked footy fans’ nostalgia, Panini secured the services of England star and known nerdy football collector Declan Rice to head up its #GotGotNeed campaign.
On the influencer side of the campaign, Rice challenged several sporty YouTubers to find his card within one of the packs they opened on stream. Given the popularity of ‘unboxing’ videos – particularly among collectors – Rice’s enthusiasm for the lost art of card collecting came through loud and clear.
Slam dunking digital collectibles
NBA Top Shots was one of the earliest success stories for NFTs. Much like Panini and its trading cards, users can buy tokens, only these contain small clips of big basketball moments. As NFTs surged in popularity, sales records went tumbling. In the very same month LeBron James broke the NBA all-time scoring record, a Top Shot featuring his likeness sold for over $200,000.
The collectible edge took on a new dimension as a marketplace opened up on the Top Shots website for selling and buying these ‘Moments’, which are ranked by scarcity and derive value of their own. The best dunks, blocks and jump shots by NBA greats are immortalised within short clips and traded. Or, for new fans there’s the chance to buy ‘blind’ – just like Declan Rice’s favourite childhood memories there’s the chance that a browse through your newly opened pack provides your own #GotGotNeed moment.
The company behind Top Shots, Dapper Labs, has already cast its net wider in the sports world, with NFL ALL DAY providing the same unique moments featuring all the rough and tumble of the gridiron game.
Whether watching at home or in the stands, the changing face of technology has left its prints all over our favourite sports. The rules may be the same, but technology has cut down replay review times, added some sizzle to the half-time spectacle, and even made the game safer for players. That’s well worth raising your oversized beverage to at kick-off.
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