Why the Super Bowl is a touchdown for retail
Grocery might have the most to gain from the Eagles-Patriots matchup, but apparel sales and ad campaigns are still looking to score.
Ready the queso dip and the chicken wings — Super Bowl 2018 has come. And just like every time the Super Bowl comes (annually, for 52 years), workaholics are preparing to ditch their Bonobos button-downs and board meetings for T-shirts and tailgates, while football fanatics are dropping their old DeSean Jackson T-shirts for new Nick Foles jerseys.
And it's all to see if Tom Brady is patriotic enough to take down a bald eagle.
But there's more to the big game than finger food and football. The sporting event has a huge impact on the retail industry — not least of all, on grocery stores and athletics brands. According to a study by Valassis, 73% of Super Bowl party hosts expect to spend over $50 on the event, and local retailers have a 10-point advantage over retail chains (43% of consumers plan to shop locally, versus 33% at chain outlets).
Key Facts: Super Bowl Spending
- Total projected spend is $15.3 billion.
- Around 45 million people plan to host a Super Bowl party, while 69 million have plans to attend one.
- Millennials are projected to spend the most, at $118.43 per person
Then there's the influx of fans in Philadelphia buying Eagle's gear, the fans in New England buying Patriots paraphernalia, and the destruction of merchandise that falsely names the Minnesota Vikings the champions of the National Football Conference.
Here's how the 2018 Super Bowl will impact retail.
By the numbers
Thousands of fans throwing Super Bowl parties means thousands of fans heading to their favorite retailer to stock up on chips and dip, party decorations, team memorabilia and more. That means a lot of consumers will be spending.
How much? $15.3 billion, according to a study by the National Retail Federation.
The NRF expects shoppers to spend an average of $81.17 on the event, an increase of 8.5% from 2017, when spending capped at $14.1 billion. That's still lower than 2016's all-time high of $15.5 billion, but it's significantly closer than the year before. And the spending won't happen all at once, either.
About 30% of consumers start shopping more than a week in advance, leaving a big chunk of fans (69%) that won't even begin hunting for supplies until a day or two before kickoff, according to a Valassis study. And retailers can also expect a lot of in-store traffic courtesy of the big pigskin celebration — 75% of shoppers will head into stores, whereas just 10% will look online, Valassis found.
Not surprisingly, much of the spend is concentrated on grocery and apparel sales. The NRF's data shows that, of the 76% of respondents planning to watch the game, 82% will buy food and beverages (up from 80% in 2017), and 11% will buy team apparel or accessories (same as 2017). A slightly smaller number (8%) plan on buying decorations or televisions if they're watching the game from home.
Greg Portell, a lead partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney, said that's primarily because there's a small number of shoppers looking to upgrade their TV's before hosting the game — and apparel sales tend to stick to local retailers, meaning the majority of consumer spend lands in food.
"The grocery sector and the prepared foods sector in particular is where you really see the bounce because that's where consumers are consuming," Portell told Retail Dive. "[Super Bowl parties] are social events that are fueled by food and beverage."
Around 45 million people (18% of NRF's respondents) plan to host a Super Bowl party, and 69 million (28%) have plans to attend one, although 24% are there for the commercials instead of the game.
When it comes to which demographics retailers are most likely to target, 25-34 year-olds are projected to spend the most, at $118.43 per person. That being said, Valassis found that retailers that make a point to offer Super Bowl-related deals will likely reap the rewards: 33% of shoppers are on the search for in-store circulars, and 30% are expecting to save over $15 thanks to coupons or discounts.
In fact, Diana Sheehan, a director of retail insights at Kantar Retail, told Retail Dive the Super Bowl has grown to be on par with a small holiday, like "a Fourth of July." It's not as important as the winter holidays are, but it is a chance for retailers to get an "incremental bump" in sales.
"[Retailers] will all do something," Sheehan said. "But at the end of the day, if their Super Bowl revenue for that one weekend is down, it's not going to make or break them for the quarter."
A tale of two sectors: grocery and apparel
Nostalgia is that feeling you get when you think about the time your college football team won the championship and you were there to witness it firsthand. And it's also the emotion retailers are taking advantage of when they offer customers Cubs gear after a World Series win, or that limited-edition Super Bowl-bound baseball cap.
Does it work? Absolutely.
But the impact tends to be more regional than national. According to Matthew Catacchio, Dick's Sporting Goods community marketing manager, the retailer had stores in Philadelphia open immediately after the NFC game ended, prepared for fans flooding in to buy Super Bowl-bound merchandise. The most popular item for both teams was the "Official Locker Room Hat" — the same one worn by teams after the game, Catacchio told Retail Dive in an email.
While that can have a big impact in the cities where the Super Bowl teams are based, it doesn't tend to extend very far — and especially not with this year's candidates, Portell said.
"If the Vikings would have made it or the Jaguars would have made it, then you could have started cheering for the underdog or the team that nobody knows — and you get a different bandwagon effect when it comes to merchandise and support."
Lead Partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney
"If the Vikings would have made it or the Jaguars would have made it, then you could have started cheering for the underdog or the team that nobody knows — and you get a different bandwagon effect when it comes to merchandise and support," Portell explained, saying that in this case, the Eagles and the Patriots are too polarizing to drive much support from outsiders.
And as for the Minnesota Vikings gear that (incorrectly) names them NFC Champions — it's likely been destroyed, Portell said, so no customers will see it "floating around" in stores. But according to Sheehan, that's just how the game is played, whether it's the NFL or the NCAA.
"While they may lose with the extra product they have for the scenario that didn't happen, they win with the product that did," Sheehan said. "It happens for everything."
The threat of Tom Brady's retirement could have some impact on sales if his team wins the Super Bowl again, but the majority of apparel sales are linked to the event itself, either through a Super Bowl logo or some other kind of indicator, rather than to individual players. If anything, it would be more likely to make an impact if a young, rising star announced a collaboration or a shoe deal after winning the Super Bowl, Portell noted.
"From a grocery perspective and for those categories that tend to relate to grocery — paper plates, napkins, cups, things like that — that is national … [I]t will never happen that at Super Bowl time you don't see a grocery store promoting that."
Director of Retail Insights at Kantar Retail
The grocery story, on the other hand, looks completely different. Gone is the local, hometown feel. Gone is the frenzy of 6:00 am store openings and merchandise flying off the shelves. Grocery is for the party-goers, the party hostess, the mega-fans and the significant other that really doesn't want to watch the game, but likes the idea of a full plate of chicken wings and a cold beer.
"From a grocery perspective and for those categories that tend to relate to grocery — paper plates, napkins, cups, things like that — that is national," Sheehan said. "That happens everywhere, and you see a lot of it happen obviously within mass and grocery and club … [I]t will never happen that at Super Bowl time you don't see a grocery store promoting that."
The X's and O's of Super Bowl advertising
We've talked apparel, we've talked grocery, we've talked numbers — and, just like marketers waiting for the beginning of February, we've saved our advertisement talk for last.
Say what you will about people who watch the Super Bowl just for the advertisements, but marketing campaigns are an increasingly large part of the event — and marketers are changing the way they approach them as well. It's not just a "one and done" commercial anymore. More and more, brands and retailers are creating a series of ads or a larger campaign around their Super Bowl coverage, which creates both a longer tail for ads and a more successful impact, according to Portell.
"When you get down to a specific program or a specific 30-second ad like you see in the Super Bowl, it's even harder to definitively prove an ROI. But at the same time, there's no doubt that the impact and the social value is quite large — and that includes positive and negative," Portell said. "We can all remember the 10 worst ads of Super Bowl's past and how those companies have gotten burned and torched and for the most part disappeared, while the iconic Super Bowl ads tend to maintain their stature and maintain the conversation."
"You can't do bland during the Super Bowl and get away with it."
Lead Partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney
The same can be said for any form of advertising. Retailers and brands that are associated with major marketing mistakes — as happened in October with Dove's racially insensitive ad campaign and in April with Pepsi's "Jump In" ad — have a long way to go in correcting them. And customers take notice if retailers don't hold themselves accountable for their mistakes — over half (56%) of millennials have called out a brand on social media for some kind of bad behavior.
That works both ways, though. Powerful ad campaigns — like Patagonia's "the President stole your land" — can lead to more brand loyalty from customers who hold the same values, especially considering that 66% of customers want brands to stand up for important issues and 55% of Gen Zs actually choose brands based on how socially responsible they are. But the Super Bowl might not be the right platform for that kind of a message.
Still, the event is a really big stage for marketers: That's been the case for decades, but what's changing now, according to Portell, is that event-based marketing is becoming much more complex. He cites Doritos and Anheuser Busch as two companies likely to produce campaigns with more longevity than just a 30-second spot — and likely more personality as well.
"You can't do bland during the Super Bowl and get away with it," Portell said. "But what it does do is lead some people to some poor decisions. We always have to remind ourselves that every ad you're seeing, whether it's on television or in the Super Bowl, is someone's best work — which makes you shake your head sometimes."
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