Is Super Bowl Week The New SXSW?

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– Cardi Bowl
Last year’s Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest featured Cardi B, Bruno Mars and other major artists, and set venue records for Atlanta’s State Farm Arena.

For decades, Super Bowl host cities have hosted hit-or-miss NFL championship games – and, along with them, the year’s biggest live TV broadcast, complete with high-concept ads (which now run more than $5 million for 30-second spots) and superstar-filled halftime performances. But in recent years, these locales have become something more, transforming into world-class entertainment hubs in the days surrounding the big game.

Last year, for example, Atlanta served up a plethora of music options for fans who couldn’t swing the average $4,000 to $5,000 price tag for a Super Bowl LIII ticket, which featured Maroon 5, Travis Scott and Big Boi as halftime performers, or who just wanted more. Among the programming: Cardi B, Bruno Mars, Post Malone and more at Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest; Migos, Diplo and Cirque Du Soleil at Shaq’s Funhouse; Martina McBride at Taste of the NFL; Foo Fighters and Run the Jewels at DirecTV Super Saturday Night; Kirk Franklin at the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration; and elsewhere Galantis, Rick Ross, Future, Meek Mill, Future, Tiësto and more.

“It’s like South By Southwest 10 years ago,” says Adam Harrison of CAM Management, which manages 2020 Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest headliners – and Super Bowl LIII halftime performers – Maroon 5 with Irving Azoff, and manages Big Boi, Chromeo and Fitz and the Tantrums; all four acts will play Miami before Super Bowl LIV this year.

“Everyone and everything is sponsored,” Harrison explains. “It just started to trend that it’s a gathering of brands and fans and people that want to be a part of an experience. It’s been a long time since the Super Bowl meant just a game.” 

Indeed, in 2020, marquee performers from nearly every corner of the music industry will descend on Miami to entertain football fans other revelers awaiting the Feb. 2 Super Bowl LIV showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers (and Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s halftime performance) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The buzziest event may be the aforementioned Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest, which hosts its second annual edition at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena Jan. 30-Feb. 1. 

The event’s inaugural edition, hosted at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena in 2019, was a smash, also showcasing Aerosmith, Ludacris, Migos and more and grossing $11.38 million over three nights. Its final evening, which featured Cardi B and Bruno Mars, brought in $6.47 million, making it the highest-grossing concert in the arena’s 20-year history and landing it at No. 15 on Pollstar’s Top 20 Worldwide Festival Grosses chart.

This year’s lineup is similarly stacked; in addition to Maroon 5, Guns N’ Roses, recent Grammy winners Dan + Shay and DJ Khaled, Snoop Dogg and more will perform.

“We selected different artists that represent different cross sections to appeal to different fans,” says Paul Caine, president of On Location Experiences, the premium hospitality company that presents Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest in conjunction with Anheuser-Busch and the NFL.

“Putting on these types of shows is a great way to cap off a wonderful day, by having a big celebration at night,” he says. “When you look at the types of talent that we’re putting on the stage, this is what helps attract people to cities like Miami, knowing that there’s that level of star power that’s going to round out their weekend.”

Companies like On Location have determined that Super Bowl sojourners have interests outside of football, plenty of disposable income or both, and that those consumers want entertainment options beyond the game they’ve come to see.

Miami has beaches, restaurants and plenty of other attractions, but those feel less unique – and music specifically has been intertwined with football for decades.

“If you’re gonna have the biggest sporting event in the world as the right hand, you might want the left hand clapping with some entertainment and put the two together,” says SiriusXM president and chief content officer Scott Greenstein. “America’s interest is quite extensive and deep in both sports and music, and as you bring that to a pinnacle of the biggest sporting event in the world, it seems logical to me that the biggest entertainment would follow.”

Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images for Pandora
– Super Bowl XM
The Chainsmokers perform at the Fillmore Miami Beach on Jan. 29 as part of SiriusXM and Pandora’s Opening Drive Super Concert Series, one of the many music events to descend on Miami ahead of Super Bowl LIV.

Under Greenstein’s watch, SiriusXM and Pandora – the former acquired the latter in February 2019 – staged the Opening Drive Super Concert Series, featuring free concerts by The Chainsmokers and Lizzo at The Fillmore Miami Beach at The Jackie Gleason Theater on Jan. 29 and 30, respectively.

The concerts hint at some of the ways Super Bowl week programming is evolving. For one, Lizzo’s booking targets an audience that Greenstein suggests has been historically underserved at Super Bowl events.

“Super Bowl was generally a more male-dominated thing, and yet, there’s a tremendous amount of women executives, business people, and all walks of life,” he says. “I don’t remember a more female-centric concert being done that much at the Super Bowl, and I thought it’d be interesting to try that with Lizzo.”

Furthermore, the scheduling of the concerts on Wednesday and Thursday – well before the Chiefs and 49ers take the field – indicates the Super Bowl’s slow but steady expansion away from game day itself. Greenstein calls it “a nice one-two punch” to “test the Wednesday, Thursday thing at Super Bowl.” (Closer to the game, SiriusXM’s Radio Row presence includes robust entertainment and sports programming; Kevin Hart, Pitbull, Andy Cohen, Brett Favre and more are scheduled to appear.)

“For a long time, the Super Bowl has had a tradition at halftime of bringing in the biggest acts in the world,” Greenstein says. “It started with halftime, starting to show the intersection, and then what’s happened is outside of the game it’s bled into the days before and the events before, where you’re seeing the entertainment piece be more dominant than the sports. You have a yin and yang effect: Earlier in the week, a lot more entertainment, and then Sunday becomes much more sports. The intersection is clearly something that’s cemented in the culture.”

Anheuser-Busch and SiriusXM are just two examples of the litany of brands that now rush into Super Bowl host cities in the days surrounding the game to present live music; this year, the expansive concert calendar also includes events affiliated with Pepsi (Harry Styles), Tidal (Lil Wayne), Monster Energy (Diplo, Kaskade, Flo Rida), (Zac Brown Band) and AT&T (Lady Gaga).

And it’s a winning proposition for all involved. Brands can use glitzy parties – some charging top dollar, others offering free admission – to extend their reach and boost their bottom line, while artists can sometimes get through to audiences they otherwise wouldn’t.

“Everyone in the industry and every band is hustling to be down there, because of the density of the weekend’s schedule,” Harrison says. “Plus, some of my artists are going to play in front of people that don’t necessarily buy tickets to shows, so they have a chance and an opportunity to play for a new audience.”

And, like many things in life, weather plays a role. Outside of Minneapolis in 2018, every Super Bowl since 2015 has taken place in a warm climate, and upcoming games will be held in Tampa, Fla.; Inglewood, Calif.; Glendale, Ariz.; and New Orleans. Pleasant climes unlock a host of outdoor event options, and encourage longer stays for artists and fans alike.

“If it’s a cold weather city, it’s a little tougher to convince your clients to go to these events, but Miami welcomes everybody,” Harrison says.

Going forward, music events surrounding the Super Bowl seem poised to grow in size and scale. For one, Caine, who assumed his role in early January when Endeavor acquired a majority equity ownership stake in OLE, hints at big things ahead for Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest.

The relationship between Endeavor and OLE “gives us the opportunity to broaden it further and to think about the marriage of sports and music and where Endeavor sits at the intersection of that,” he says. “This is a really unique opportunity for us to really start taking this thing to the next level.” (Although OLE is now housed under the same umbrella as WME, the relationship isn’t exclusive; Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest features artists signed with several agencies.)

“As consumers come to these cities expecting even greater talent and more fun, we’re going to keep looking for ways to do that,” Caine says. “These music fests are a perfect way for us to do it.”

Come 2022, music at the Super Bowl could reach new heights, when the game descends on Los Angeles on Feb. 6, likely within days of the Grammys. Says Harrison: “It’s going to be a two-week summer camp.”

Summer camp might be the most apt analogy for what Super Bowl week has become: an expansive, event-packed happening tailored to enthusiastic consumers interested in having a good time above all else.

“You’re in an environment where people want to be entertained,” Harrison says. “They’re happy to be at events, to say they’re at events, and they’re happy with the entertainment there. It’s a premium showcase. This is less of an ‘I’m here to promote an album’; this is more of an, ‘I’m in town, we’re all here for the same reason: to enjoy the weekend that is the Super Bowl weekend.’”