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Super Bowl | How Courtyard and USAA are activating around the NFL game

  • NFL game continues to command astronomical fees from sponsors
  • Courtyard debuts Super Bowl sleepover contest
  • 4,500 military personnel watching games through USAA watch parties

By Barry Wilner

THE GROWTH of the NFL’s Super Bowl from a championship game to a national extravaganza and then to something akin to an American holiday has carried it far beyond sports.

While the costs associated with virtually any tie-in with the game have become astronomical on all levels, it certainly seems as if sponsors, marketing executives and partners can't do enough to get involved. For example, the Fox network in the US charges an average of about $5m (€4.7m) per 30-second advertisement during the game, and has had plenty of takers.

VIDEO: Check out this collection of 'Top 10 Super Bowl TV adverts':

Beyond the television commercials and print ads, though, it has become essential for any company affiliated with Super Bowl to come up with clever, even unusual activations. Simply put, among the glut of initiatives, what will stand out?


“As Courtyard is in its sixth season as the official hotel of the NFL, we've come to learn that NFL fans value epic experiences that bring them closer to the game,” says Callette Nielsen, vice-president and global brand leader for Courtyard, part of the Marriott hotel chain.

“This season, Courtyard looked for the most passionate NFL fan to reward them with a once-in-a-lifetime sleepover experience inside a stadium suite turned Courtyard guest room. The contest winner and a guest will be treated to a night of customised in-stadium experiences, surprises and access to exclusive events throughout the weekend, culminating with tickets to Super Bowl LI.”

Now that's distinctive enough to get on the Super Bowl radar and draw plenty of attention – as well as entrants trying to win the sleepover. Courtyard debuted the sleepover contest last season for the 50th edition of the game – Super Bowl L. Kristen Williams of Eagle River, Alaska emerged as the contest winner through a social media contest. Williams and her guests slept in Levi's Stadium – not on the field or in the grandstands, it’s important to add – and also received surprise visits from some NFL stars during their stay.

A suite at Levi's Stadium was converted into a hotel room. The same approach is being used this February at NRG Stadium in Houston, with the suite overlooking the field. In what Courtyard has described as a slumber party for the ages, the contest was launched during the season with a clever video featuring Green Bay Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews. Matthews' comic touch and outgoing personality played into the fun potential of the experience and was posted on Courtyard's YouTube page.

Special treatment

The contest winner won't be the only person getting special treatment in Houston. Courtyard will also have Texans House, a uniquely Texas hospitality venue for fans, partners and guests to gather from morning until early morning, from 16 hours a day, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. It's yet another location where celebrities ranging from former NFL players to team cheerleaders will mingle with guests.

Not to ignore their most loyal clients, Marriott Rewards will host a VIP Lounge on all three days, featuring interactive opportunities such as Q&A sessions, mixology demonstrations, cigar rollers, DJs and live bands.
And here's another easy sell: the NFL's devotion to the military. It dates back decades, and the best approach is, naturally, to play up the patriotism angle. The USAA family of companies provides insurance, banking, investments, retirement products and advice to 11.8 million current and former members of the US military and their families.

Through USAA's watch parties as part of its deal with the league, more than 4,500 military members are estimated to have the opportunity to see the game on February 5. All US installations will watch the same Fox broadcast feed as the rest of the viewing public in the US. Overseas, the game will be carried live on American Forces Network.

“Super Bowl parties are a huge morale boost for our military, especially those serving around the globe,” says Command Master Chief Petty Officer, US Navy (retired) Michael Hurley, USAA's military affairs representative. “Regardless if their favorite team is playing in the Super Bowl, the game and camaraderie reminds them of home and loved ones.”

Guaranteed, there will be plenty of camera shots on the Fox broadcast of soldiers and sailors at those watch parties. Those moments hit home across the viewing landscape.

“As the official military appreciation sponsor of the NFL, we seek to provide America's military community with unique and authentic experiences all season long,” says Brian Eaton, director of sponsorship marketing for USAA. “With events and experiences starting in training camp and culminating at the end of the season, Super Bowl provides another exciting opportunity to honour the military community for their service while raising awareness of how we can serve them in return.

“Whether it is in person at one of our many events throughout the year, or through a Super Bowl watch party for active duty personnel stationed across the globe, we try to bring the excitement of the NFL to America's military. Through our ‘Salute to Service’ platform, military appreciation remains USAA's unwavering focus in partnership with the NFL.”


USAA also will distribute 5,500 Super Bowl programmes to military installations worldwide.

“The spectacle that is Super Bowl is a great moment to stop and reflect on what our men and women in uniform do each and every day to protect our freedoms and keep us safe,” Eaton says.

Along with the watch parties around the globe, USAA is establishing a Salute to Service Military Appreciation Lounge, a free venue for current and former military attending the NFL Experience in Houston. The lounge will feature players, coaches, football legends and on-air personalities, as well as food and beverage.

USAA also will present its annual Salute to Service Award to someone in the NFL community to acknowledge that person's exceptional efforts in support of US service members, veterans and their families.

Unlike some companies that get involved only in the big game, USAA and Courtyard activate throughout the year. Yes, the NFL championship match is the summit of integration, but many businesses see tremendous benefits in the recognition they get from establishing a lengthier partnership profile.

“The NFL is a juggernaut of spirited fandom that continues to serve as a platform for Courtyard to reach its ambitious travelers with exclusive and memorable experiences,” Nielsen says.

EXTRA: Salute to service

For some, the road to Super Bowl experiences begins in the summer, well before the first meaningful tackle has been made. Within the NFL space, USAA activates ‘Boot Camps’ during summer training camps for the teams. Through its agreements with the Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, military members participate in drills similar to those used to evaluate pro football prospects coming out of the college ranks.

While hosting military servicemen and women at games all season, there are specific ceremonies and tributes in November, which is designated as a Salute to Service month. The idea is simple: whet the appetite of fans and potential customers early. Then carry your initiatives right through the late summer into autumn and winter, culminating at the big game.

Marriott's NFL Experience throughout the season ensures guests can ‘EAT, SLEEP and BREATHE’ football. Through its mobile request app and a ‘Tailgate Edition’, Marriott Rewards provided the hospitality experiences at games throughout the regular season. Tailgaters simply tweeted their requests for their pre-game partying to Marriott Rewards, and runners stationed at branded mobile command centers would show up within minutes and meet those requests. Sometimes that even included tickets – including to the Super Bowl. Marriott Rewards will host those winners in Houston through Super Bowl weekend with surprises, events and hospitality.

Beginning last September, Marriott Rewards members were able to redeem their loyalty points for a variety of initiatives and NFL experiences, including tickets and pre-game tunnel and sideline tours for the regular-season games in London; a tour of the NFL Network studios and set in Los Angeles; tickets, sideline opportunities and team merchandise for Broncos, Texans and Packers games. The programme culminates in Houston with a Super Bowl stadium tour with an NFL alumnus, and game tickets and lunch with former player.

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