Super Bowl

In U.K., the Super Bowl Is an Advertiser-Free Zone

BBC Will Use Those Ad Breaks to Explain Rules and Strategies to Confused Brits

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NFL U.K. Competition
NFL U.K. Competition

Imagine watching the entire Super Bowl without seeing a single ad.

In the U.K., this year's Super Bowl will be broadcast on the BBC for the first time, and that means there will be no commercial activity whatsoever around the game.

All those breaks in the game that U.S. marketers fill with their best, boldest and most expensive spots of the year will be used by the BBC to explain the rules to puzzled Brits who need extra time to learn about "downs," "pockets," and "defensive ends."

"American football" is becoming more mainstream in the U.K., where the NFL has been staging official in-season games since 2007 (when Brits simply say football, they mean soccer). American football is now the sixth most-watched sport on Sky TV (which broadcasts regular games) – up from 18th before NFL teams started playing in London – and is played at 85 U.K. universities.

The Super Bowl was previously broadcast on Channel 4, where it did not attract anywhere near the level of interest that it does in the U.S. But football's growing popularity suggests that -- given the chance -- marketers might start to think of it as an advertising event in the U.K.

Last fall a record three games were staged in London, attracting substantial support from the NFL's international partners. These include Budweiser, Bose, Microsoft, Virgin Atlantic, Pepsi Max, Nike, Sky Sports, Marriott International, Doritos, Gatorade, EA Sports, Papa John's Pizza, and Five Guys.

Despite their NFL investment, those sponsors can't reach U.K. Super Bowl TV audiences – at least while the BBC's two-year deal is in place. Instead, marketers are working with the NFL to make the most of the excitement that the BBC is generating around the game, which starts at 11.30 p.m. U.K. time.

Sarah Swanson, head of marketing at NFL U.K., said, "Advertising has never been part of the Super Bowl experience in the rest of the world, but this year in particular we are doing quite a bit to activate around the game and to celebrate with our partners."

Ms. Swanson moved to London after last year's Super Bowl from the U.S., where she was VP, marketing and promotions, for the NFL for almost five years.

The focus of commercial activity is the 50 Golden Tickets website, where British fans can enter a competition to win one of 50 prizes during Super Bowl week. Entrants can win the weight of the Lombardi trophy in Doritos (surprisingly it's less than 50 packages), win a trip to Florida to see the Jacksonville Jaguars, meet James Corden in L.A., stay in any Marriott hotel in the world, visit the Budweiser Brewery in St. Louis, take home plenty of tech, or score tickets to sports and music events in the U.K.

Robin Clarke, managing director of sports at Starcom Mediavest Group in Europe, Middle East and Africa, said, "The NFL has put a lot of time, effort and financial investment into making the U.K. a strong international foothold ... With the London International Series gaining in size and strength, the NFL are beginning to piece together a season-long engagement with U.K. audiences in increasing numbers. When that's achieved, you have a more singular platform to attract the large advertising budgets."

The NFL's international ambitions go beyond the U.K. "A number of countries want to stage a game," Ms. Swanson said, "and we've talked about it quite a bit." Football is particularly popular in Germany, as well as in Mexico, Canada and China – the other countries where the NFL has an office.

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