EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—The loneliest guy at Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium was the poor vendor selling $20 hot chocolates in souvenir football cups. Selling hot chocolate at those prices would would task the finest minds on Madison Avenue. Throw in pregame temperatures that rose into the mid to high 50's and people wanted cold beer on an unseasonably mild winter day.
"I'm not doing any business, man. Everybody's buying beer. Nobody's buying hot chocolate," he complained.
So went the chaotic state of on-site marketing at the NFL's first cold weather, outdoor Super Bowl. Many well-laid marketing strategies went sideways on a day when temperatures rose 10 to 15 degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service.
Cold Bud Light was in. Warm Mrs. Fields cookies? Out.
Not to mention all the expensive souvenir wool hats, scarves, gloves and other cold-weather gear that went unsold as some fans walked around in bare arms and sunglasses. Look for that gear -- and goods celebrating the Denver Broncos as Super Bowl champions -- to show up in a foreign country, where the NFL traditionally donates unsold Super Bowl merchandise.
Think of the area inside and outside a Super Bowl as giant marketplace/laboratory/advertising canvas. Stadium and league sponsors hire athletes and bands, set up stages and build sprawling tents and merchandise pavilions to sell, sign up or otherwise impress upscale Super Bowl spectators who can afford $2,000 ticket prices.
Major corporate marketers at the stadium Sunday included naming-rights sponsor MetLife, plus four cornerstone sponsors that boast branded entrance gates and permanent signage in the four corners of MetLife's seating bowl: Bud Light, Pepsi, Verizon and SAP. These marketers, and other league and stadium sponsors, faced other challenges besides the warm weather.
The first "mass transit" Super Bowl turned into a mess as thousands of commuters were delayed on New Jersey Transit trains crossing the Hudson River from Manhattan. That means there were fewer fans mingling around during the six-hour window between MetLife throwing open the gates and the 6:30 p.m. kickoff of the Seattle Seahawks 43-8 demolition of the Denver Broncos.
An hour before opening, there were thousands of empty seats to be seen.
And the after-game mess was so bad at one point that stadium announcers actually came on the PA system and asked fans to stay in their seats to avoid cattle car trains and buses slowly shuffling back to the Big Apple.
Bud Light: The brewer scored a touchdown by setting up a ring of island bars around the stadium perimeter. These did a roaring business. There were lines of thirsty customers, flanked by heaters that weren't needed. Sure, Bud Light got lucky with the warm weather. But they still killed it.
Pepsi: The Bruno Mars halftime show sponsored by Pepsi was better than the game. Pepsi also sponsored seat cushions stuffed with free goodies that were handed out to 82,000-plus attendees as well as media. The nicest touch: Pepsi included nifty winter hats with flashing lights on the front that enabled fans to participate in halftime light show.
Procter & Gamble and General Motors: P&G and GM scored with a time-proven sports marketing tactic. Autographs with ex-NFL players in exchange for personal info. Gillette/Cover Girl offered fans free pics with active center Nick Mangold of the Jets. While fans stood on line, they got free samples. GMC trotted out retired QB Jake Plummer and DB John Lynch in a tent surrounded by its newest trucks.
SAP: SAP topped both P&G and GM by hiring New York Giants QB Eli Manning, and other current or ex-Giants, for photo ops outside their branded gate. Even better, it had ESPN reporter Jenn Brown on stage interviewing them about the upcoming game. So fans could chill out in the bleachers and watch the live interviews. Smart way to get, and keep, a crowd on hand to sell them on SAP's services.
New York Jets: Often thought of as the other team in the home stadium they share with the New York Giants, Gang Green pulled a shrewd marketing stunt at the Super Bowl. They staged a high-energy performance by their Flight Crew cheerleaders that drew a nice crowd. It also reinforced that the Giants are one of only six teams in the NFL that still doesn't have cheerleaders.
Mrs. Fields Cookies: You couldn't get a good checker game going at some of the Mrs. Fields stands selling hot cookie/brownies. They stood empty as people waited on line a few feet away for cold beer. Luckily, business picked up by kickoff when temperatures dropped into the 40's.
Campbell's Chunky Soup: This should have been a touchdown. Campbell's set up stations to give away free hot soup to what it thought would be chilled customers. The soup was good. But lines were far sparser than I thought they would be. I walked up and got my soup with no delay. If the company had been charging for the soup, customers might have been completely non-existent.
Mass transit: Some government agencies and politicians hoped to turn America's greatest sporting event into the Public Transit Bowl. With train delays and being herded like cattle onto overcrowded platforms and into packed train cars, fans will likely choose to stick to their gas-guzzling autos when it comes to Super Bowl time. Definitely not a PR victory for mass transit.