What This Year's Super Bowl Taught Us About Fan Engagement

When 7-year-old Joseph Perez asked Tom Brady at Super Bowl LI Opening Night “Who is your hero?” he probably wasn’t expecting the veteran quarterback to tear up in response. But in one of those moments that’s just too good to be scripted, that’s what happened.

Joseph was this year’s Panini Kid Reporter, a brand ambassador chosen to represent young NFL fans at Super Bowl media events, and his question to Brady kicked off what proved to be an emotional week for the Patriots quarterback. After trailing the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of Super Bowl LI, Brady led his team in a stunning comeback to claim his fifth Lombardi Trophy.

These two moments, one made on the field and one by a fan, speak to the power that the Super Bowl holds to create emotional moments that stick in fans’ minds — if the right people are in the right place.

We live with cluttered newsfeeds and more notifications than we can rightly manage. Every day, so much content is fighting for our attention that breaking through takes something extraordinary — something like a question that only a 7 year old could ask.

In the last few days, both moments have garnered significant attention. According to Nielsen, the Patriots’ victory was watched by 111.3 million people and garnered 190.8 million social impressions. And the video of Brady’s response to Joseph has been viewed online millions of times. The scale of each is a testament to the value that an authentic moment can provide. And while a Super Bowl win may be a once (or five times) in a lifetime moment, we strive to help brands leverage a more accessible and, arguably, more powerful asset: enthusiastic fans.

We believe that a great idea — like bringing kids and their hero athletes together on a national stage — has power, but that it’s only as good as your ability to pull it off. While we develop our share of activations that engage thousands of casual fans, moments like Panini’s only happen when we find the right fan. 

Bringing these moments to life requires a more nuanced approach, one that focuses on quality over quantity, in promotions that are designed for the highly passionate and highly engaged. 

For most clients, there are two tiers to this approach. First we tailor the ask to the needs of the brand, and second we develop specific criteria to assess how effective a fan might be as a brand ambassador. We set the bar high, often asking participants to create a video or other content that demonstrates their fandom. And during the judging process, we look for characteristics crucial to the mission and objectives of our client.

Although egalitarian methods like crowdsourcing and the growth of paid influencers as brand ambassadors all have merit, we believe our process helps to engage true fans and better sets the stage for authentic, share-worthy moments.

For a brand, there’s something powerful to be said for having the right fan in the right place, ready to make the most of a spontaneous moment. We’re proud to have worked on behalf of our clients — NFL, Panini and Courtyard by Marriott — to find three moment-making, super fans through engagements surrounding Super Bowl LI. 

From the girl who embodies the mission of NFL Play 60 who handed off the game ball on Super Bowl night, to the ultimate fan who experienced the ultimate sleepover at a custom Courtyard by Marriott suite inside NRG Stadium, to Panini Kid Reporter Joseph; each of these fans exemplifies the spirit of the brands they represented.

Super Bowl LI showed us the importance of moments, from catches that seemed impossible to history-making comebacks. But the big game was also a reminder of the impact ordinary moments can have. Like when a 7-year old raises his hand and asks the question of Super Bowl LI. And maybe even of this entire sporting year.

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