The Super Bowl in the time of COVID-19

Sport management expert offers her perspective on this weekend's big game.

Feb. 4, 2021
Contact: Austin Fitzgerald, 573-882-6217,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

This is a picture of Michelle Brimecombe

Michelle Brimecombe is an expert in sport management and an assistant teaching professor in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Michelle Brimecombe, an assistant teaching professor of parks, recreation and sport at the University of Missouri, is available to offer her views on the upcoming Super Bowl from a sports management perspective. During a worldwide pandemic that continues to impose tight restrictions on sporting events, Brimecombe offers her views on how this year’s Super Bowl will adapt to an unusual set of circumstances. *Note: The department of Parks, Recreation and Sport is located in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

With some Super Bowl mainstays, such as Anheuser-Busch, deciding not to air ads this year, what is going to be different about Super Bowl ads this time around?

Anheuser-Busch felt it was important to take this opportunity to put money into the community rather than to air an expensive ad — a 30-second ad for Super Bowl LV will cost more than $5 million — but plenty of companies will still be airing ads. The common denominator for many of these ads will be an ethic of corporate social responsibility, which is the idea that a company should create benefits for society that go beyond the sale of products or services. Anheuser-Busch is looking to practice corporate social responsibility by donating money to vaccination awareness efforts, but companies can also feel that they can be forces of good by creating ads that inspire us or make us laugh. We can expect to see lots of ads this year that are aimed at unifying people and promoting positive messages. There is no appetite for cynicism right now.

It’s also true that many companies see the ad market this year as too good to pass up. The Super Bowl brings generations together, and you can see ad campaigns taking advantage of that. Tom Brady tends to appeal to an older generation that has a lot of spending power, and Patrick Mahomes is an exciting personality for the younger generation. We’re seeing campaigns built around both of these figures, and when you combine the draw of Mahomes and Brady with the loads of people that are already expected to be at home to watch the game, you have the formula for very successful marketing.

What are some other ways that COVID will have an impact on this year’s game?

This is a picture of Michelle Brimecombe in sports fan gear.

Outside of teaching, Brimecombe is also an avid sports fan.

There will only be about 25,000 fans inside the stadium due to COVID restrictions, and that could actually have a big impact on viewers at home. A big part of the experience of watching a football game on television — especially the Super Bowl — is hearing the crowd noise and seeing masses of people cheering for their team. With only a fraction of the usual in-person attendance, the producers will be piping in artificial crowd noise and filling the stands with cutouts to replicate the experience of a full stadium.

Of course, in-person attendance is only a tiny part of the NFL’s revenue from the Super Bowl, so there won’t be a significant financial loss due to the pandemic. However, there is concern that another season of limited attendance could have a cumulative impact, and not just on football. Everything from the Olympics to other sports could see negative consequences if things remain as they are. At this point, no one can say how long the pandemic will last and what the continuing effects might be.

Any silver linings?

Sport, at its heart, is entertainment. With the world hurting as much as it is, people can escape, laugh and feel a sense of normalcy by enjoying a game. I think this pandemic has heightened our appreciation for what sports mean to us, and the fact that the biggest sporting event in the country is still happening when so many other elements of our lives have been upended is a testament to its place in our society. And with players, companies and organizations making donations and giving back to their communities through social responsibility efforts, this year’s Super Bowl will be a remarkably positive experience for everyone involved.

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