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Tentpole Events | What To Expect Now Thru Super Bowl

As Strat House gets off the ground in these uncertain times, the event industry, which normally generates some $325 billion of direct spending in the U.S. (that could buy almost two Jeff Bezos), has had to confront a game-changing pandemic that has roiled economies far and wide. As a result, almost all of business and industry has had to, as Brad Pitt says in Moneyball, "adapt or die." Creative thinking has kicked into high gear, as the ultimate Disruptor, Covid-19, has fomented reinvention and paradigm shifts.

We've been here before, as you may recall. The Napster days, the dot-com bubble, Netflix drinking Blockbuster's milkshake, etc. And don't forget our old friend Heraclitus, who reminds us, "The only constant in life is change." So with that in mind, as recent tentpole entertainment properties such as the VMA's and Emmys pave the path of what live + virtual production looks like, and as we inch back toward "normal," let's look at the pivot strategies planned for other large events in coming months.


Awards Must Go On


As one of the first major awards show to adapt and go virtual this Fall, the Jimmy Kimmel-hosted Emmys acted as guinea pig for what may follow. Garnering 6.1 million viewers in its lowest-rated telecast ever, it perhaps wasn't the show's finest moment, though Schitt's Creek fanatics may beg to differ.

The production, based at the Staples Center in L.A., went off relatively smoothly, considering the logistics involved: 130 cameras were shipped to nominees in 20 cities and ten countries. And some of those nominees were pleasantly surprised by individuals in hazmat-suit tuxedos delivering them trophies. If only this were the Breaking Bad era!


Producers of the 2021 Grammys have a three-pronged contingency approach. Photo by Tanner Boriack


The Grammys have also responded to the changing times, offering assurance that the show will go on, rain or shine, January 31st, 2021, on the strength of a three-pronged contingency plan. According to Recording Academy head Harvey Mason, Jr. "We're looking at (1) Staples with a limited audience, although that seems increasingly unlikely; (2) Staples with live performances and no audience; or (3) something a little more virtual, with some elements from different locations."


Players Gotta Play


In the world of sports, the cancellation of March Madness was a harbinger of the Doomhammer coming down on the athletic landscape. Advertisers spent an estimated $1.126 billion on March Madness in 2019, and, suddenly, a potential marketing pivot into esports and online gaming was a thing, as quaranteenagers fueled a spike in Twitch use, for example. Affiliate marketing and cross-promotion took off, while sports cable networks like ESPN were reduced to the force-feeding of nostalgia through archived content. Between betting on Russian ping-pong and virtual tailgating on Facebook, not to mention a cancelled Tokyo Olympics, it was a bleak picture.

But a return to normality can be spied on the horizon. Last week, Major League Baseball announced that it would be selling tickets to the National League Championship Series and the World Series this October, though limiting availability to about 11,500 tickets per game.

The King of all Sporting Events, the Super Bowl, will be played on February 7th in Tampa, but fan attendance is still to be determined. One note of optimism for fans being in the stands at Raymond James Stadium is the fact that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is a cheerleader for pro sports teams allowing fans to attend games. Another positive development is the NFL planning on holding its annual Super Bowl Experience, a festival of experiential marketing, though it may be a socially-distanced one.

In terms of advertising, a 30-second commercial spot in next year's Super Bowl will set you back around $5.5 million, only a slight pandemic discount, if ViacomCBS has their way. Ad buyers have been understandably skittish about having to renegotiate previously sold ad slots, but according to one source, ViacomCBS has told buyers they will receive a full refund in the event of a cancellation. On a related note, big dogs Anheuser-Busch InBev and PepsiCo, who spent over a combined $70 million on last year's Super Bowl, have been a little coy about their potential involvement in this year's event.

Finally, in regards to everyone's favorite pastime of guessing who will perform at the halftime show, this year's betting favorite is Taylor Swift, followed by Adele and Rihanna.


Traditions Continue

For the first time in its history, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will be virtual and TV-only, a "Reimagined celebration." Photo by Carson Masterson


Another big event with changes in store this year is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which, for the first time in its history, will be virtual and TV-only, a "Reimagined celebration." But not to worry, the balloons, floats, and Santa aren't going anywhere. Nor are the reassuring presences of Savanna Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, and Al Roker, who will be there to talk us through it. Changes to this year's parade will include reducing participants by around 75%, taping over two days, requiring all participants to be over 18, and using five specially-rigged vehicles for the balloons, in lieu of the usual dozens of handlers.

Other events going virtual for the first time include Dreamforce, Salesforce's four-day mega-conference normally held in San Francisco, which will run from November 9th-12th, as well as CES, which will roll out their all-digital experience from Jan 11th-14th, thanks to creative adaptation from Consumer Technology Association. They plan to return live to Las Vegas in 2022.

For events such as those, the loss of the physical, in-person experience is certainly lamentable, but newfound synergies and benefits can be born as a result. One silver lining, for example, is the increased access that virtuality affords those who would otherwise be unable to attend these gatherings in California and Nevada. Like the title of Thomas Friedman's book says, The World is Flat, and it's only getting flatter.

Stay safe everyone, and come back soon for more industry news.

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