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Brands will ‘go big’ as the big game ascends on the gambling and entertainment mecca, experts say

December 12, 2023 | By Jon Springer

No matter who competes in the game, the winner of Super Bowl LVIII is likely to be Las Vegas.

Once a pariah in the sports world, Sin City has transformed into a world-class sports location with new NHL and NFL teams, a forthcoming MLB team and chatter about the city as an NBA expansion destination, in addition to drawing flashy events such as Formula 1 and now the Super Bowl. It’s a city built on experiences, hospitality, glitz and gambling, giving brands an invitation to go big in their activations. And for all its enormous dimensions, Las Vegas is a compact, walkable city, providing a centralized base for marketing that differs it from sprawling Super Bowl cities of the past.

Plus, it is home to the Sphere, the $2.3 billion entertainment venue that opened earlier this year and whose massive video surface offers unparalleled—but expensive—outdoor advertising opportunities for brands.

“I think if you take a city like Las Vegas that’s pretty much 100 [percent] all the time, and you drop a Super Bowl—the biggest sporting moment—into it, it’s only going to accelerate everybody’s desire to add to that,” said Justin Leonard, co-founder and CEO of Game Seven Marketing, a sports-focused experiential agency owned by Excel Sports Management. “The opportunity is there, I think, for brands to engage with consumers and the environment of Las Vegas like no other city.”

‘You kind of have to go big’

Although observers don’t expect many brands to launch their Super Bowl activations until a week before the Feb. 11 game, at least one marketer is off and running. Paramount Global is currently constructing a replica of its “Mountain of Entertainment” logo atop the volcano outside the Mirage hotel for a four-day fan activation beginning Feb. 8.

The block-long mountain activation is meant to showcase a physical manifestation of some of Paramount’s brands, films and series (Paramount brands CBS, Paramount+ and Nickelodeon will broadcast the Super Bowl).

Fans at the exhibit can summit the mountain through a virtual gondola ride, “accented by frigid winds and harrowing heights,” along with Paramount characters to guide them, the company said.

Rob Drury, CEO of the experiential marketing agency Cartwheel and Co., said he sees Paramount’s activation as something of a gauntlet.

“That rendering was no small thing,” said Drury, whose shop is not involved in the activation. “Just looking at that I was like, that’s a millions—plural—dollar activation. So I think brands are going to either be forced to follow suit or do something really clever.”

Several other brands and sponsors contacted by Ad Age declined to share their marketing plans.

From the costs of technology in the screen-heavy city to hospitality in union-run casinos and restaurants, the Las Vegas Super Bowl won’t be the cheapest on record. But despite tight marketing budgets, experts expect brands will find a way.

“If you’re a brand you have to make a decision, because it’s not the type of event where you can just kind of show up in a small way, otherwise you definitely won’t see the return on the investment,” said Lou Kovacs, president of marketing for sports and entertainment agency Octagon North America. “If you try to go small there, it’s really hard. You kind of have to go big.”

Leonard added: “In our world, on the agency side, one of the biggest indicators of brand appetite to do big, cool, innovative things, and spend dollars … centers around the market. I anticipate that Vegas is going to reach another level we really haven’t seen before.”

Despite the relatively high cost of activating in Las Vegas, brands not advertising during the Super Bowl game broadcast may find it a smart investment, said Jason Sperling, chief creative officer at Innocean, whose clients include Hyundai, which previously confirmed it will not air an in-game ad.

“It might be pricier than usual, but it’s definitely not as pricey as is being on air,” he said.

Concentrated and foot-friendly

Most of Las Vegas’ hotels and attractions—including Allegiant Stadium, which will host the Super Bowl—are confined within a few miles on and around Las Vegas Boulevard. It’s a concentrated, walkable city where brands can get in front of thousands of visitors. “Everywhere you turn, everywhere you go, there will be either brands or properties trying to really lean into this moment and provide interesting experiences,” said Leonard.

For Super Bowl LVII in Phoenix in February, “you saw some brands anchoring downtown by the arena. And you saw a lot of stuff out in Scottsdale,” said Leonard. “Depending on where you started, you were in one of those two bubbles. To me, it didn’t really feel the Super Bowl ascended on the city the way it will in Las Vegas.”

Miami, despite having hosted a record 11 Super Bowls, suffers from a similar sprawl, said Jeremy Carey, chief investment officer at Omnicom-owned sports marketing agency Optimum Sports.

“As good as Miami is as a host city, you’re pretty spread out, right? There’s activations all along the beach, there’s activations downtown, and there’s activations up at the stadium,” Carey said. “In Las Vegas, we’re excited to get clients on the ground. It’s going to make our lives a little bit easier. You go to a city like L.A. and you’ve got an hour cab ride to have a client meeting. I’ll take the 10-minute walk any day of the week.”

For experiential marketers, Las Vegas’s 24-hour nature and focus on nightlife will throw traditional schedules off but should collect more eyeballs than in other cities.

“I think there is going to be a reliance and expectation from brands on foot traffic, which I think they’re going to use to their advantage. They’ll be able to reach more people for a longer amount of time,” said Drury. “If I were a brand, I’d be thinking about foot traffic and throughput, and how it’s going to be different than in past Super Bowl cities.”

In Las Vegas, crowds have assembled for sporting events if only to watch them—and wager on them—in casino sportsbooks.

“I mean, it’s like sports gambling central. And the Super Bowl is the premier sports gambling event of the year,” said Sperling. “In the same way that you get a ton of people going to watch the March Madness tournament in Vegas, even though the games might not even be played there, you’re going to see probably the same spike for people going to Vegas just to be in a sportsbook with a rowdy crowd. It could be interesting—how do you connect with that sportsbook crowd and lure them out of the casinos into something really interesting?”

Super Bowl barometer

Las Vegas’ evolution as a sports city began with the establishment of the Las Vegas Golden Knights as an NHL expansion franchise in 2017. The NFL’s Oakland Raiders moved to Las Vegas in 2020. MLB’s Oakland A’s said they would move to Las Vegas by 2028, and the NBA is said to be looking at Vegas as an expansion city. These moves indicate that major U.S. sports leagues have made peace with gambling concerns, even while forbidding their respective players from wagering within their sport. Online sportsbooks in the meantime have become major sports advertisers.

One gambling brand, BetMGM, has already confirmed an in-game Super Bowl ad buy, and others are likely to follow.

Other sports have also made Las Vegas a destination: the city in November hosted the debut Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix. The event, which generated an estimated $1.3 billion for Las Vegas, demonstrated the city could handle a high-profile sporting event and is looked at as something of a barometer for the Super Bowl, sources said. And the NFL, of course, had a trial run in Vegas last year when it hosted its draft in the city, using the Bellagio fountains as a backdrop for its red carpet.

Las Vegas is “coming off the heels of hosting one of the more high-end events out there with the Grand Prix, and they without question can handle that that level of clientele,” said Carey. “So there’s going to be new areas of exclusivity or around this [Super Bowl] game that we probably haven’t seen before. And quite honestly, I don’t know if other cities could afford that.”

Advertisers raced to be a part of the F1 event, with brands such as Heineken generating attention on the newly opened Las Vegas Sphere.

“Demand for F1 was very high, not only for high-end client entertainment but also consumer activation,” Kovacs said. “Any property within or around the circuit itself, there’s was a ton of competition for event space from brands that want to be there. And I think you’ll see that for the Super Bowl, too.”

The WNBA All-Star Game, held in Las Vegas in July, also made an impression. “If you can make the WNBA feel like they’ve taken over a city for a few days, they’re not going to struggle with making sure people’s attention is geared towards the Super Bowl,” said Carey.

While precise plans for Super Bowl week are unclear at this point, the Sphere is expected to play a big role in brand activations.