More than a mere football game, the Super Bowl is one of the country’s biggest annual events. In honor of Super Bowl 50, we’ve come up with 50 do’s and don’ts planners can learn from the big game over the years.
1. Do show confidence.
Quarterback Joe Willie Namath guaranteed a victory before the underdog Jets’ improbable win in Super Bowl III. Without outward confidence from its leader, the team almost certainly would not have exceeded expectations. Be that kind of leader to accomplish great things.
2. Don't lose track of your equipment.
Bills’ star running back Thurman Thomas missed the first play of Super Bowl XXVI because he couldn't find his helmet. It set the tone for Buffalo's second-straight championship game loss (two more would follow). Planners can't be sidelined a moment during their events, so they need to know where their tools are at all times.
3. Do tie in sponsors to content.
The Bud Bowl was the perfect blend of advertising and sports. Some fans couldn’t bottle up their excitement over the promotion featuring the beers going head-to-head on the gridiron, making it a true success. Think about what your event’s goal and create matching paid content.
4. Do tug at heartstrings.
Every year, Budweiser releases feel-good commercials centered on its iconic Clydesdales. The ads, which are known to induce a few tears, are a great distraction when teams are head-to-head. Find ways to add some game-day reprieve during your event.
5. Do avoid scandal.
In the playoffs leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, the New England Patriots, and specifically quarterback Tom Brady, came under fire for tampering with footballs used in a game against the Indianapolis Colts. The 2015 controversy—better known as Deflategate—caused major uproar for the team that went on to win. If you hear rumors that could affect your teams, nip it in the bud immediately.
6. Don’t forget who’s watching.
Because everyone watches the Super Bowl, it’s inevitable that someone will get offended each year. In 2015, the offender was Nationwide’s commercial showing a child talking about all the things he won’t be able to do in life after passing away in an accident, and in 2014, it was Coca-Cola’s ad during which “America the Beautiful” was sung in eight different languages. Know your audience and make changes as needed.
7. Do make a show of social issues you support.
In the lead-up of Super Bowl XV in New Orleans, a giant yellow bow was attached to the Superdome for the Iran hostage crisis. Attendees want to see that you care about the world outside the event.
8. Don’t repeat the same event program year after year.
In Super Bowl VI, Cowboys’ running back Duane Thomas uttered this infamous line, "If it's the ultimate [game], how come they're playing it again next year?" Make sure each year you incorporate new elements, design, speakers and programming so people believe your event is the ultimate.
9. Do record and photograph as many event elements as possible.
In the first televised Super Bowl in 1967, NBC missed the second-half kickoff because a reporter was busy interviewing comedian Bob Hope. The referee ordered a rekick, but in event planning, you won’t have the same luck. If planners don’t document an incredible moment for recap videos, social media, next year’s promotional and marketing materials, or even sponsor reports, the moment is lost forever.
10. Do have a plan in place for conference crashers.
During Super Bowl XII, legendary gate-crasher Dion Rich (who snuck into more than 30 Super Bowls!) was famously photographed carrying coach Tom Landry off the field after the Dallas Cowboys beat the Denver Broncos. Suitcasing is also illegal for suppliers, who may try to hang out in the lobby or common areas and charm your attendees without paying registration fees.
11. Don’t skip practices.
In 2002, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers intercepted five of the Oakland Raiders’ passes, returning three for touchdowns. Tampa Bay safety John Lynch said to the throngs of cameras, "Every play they've run, we've run in practice." Your team will be prepared for anything if you give them several run-throughs to make mistakes and correct them on-site.
12. Do have a contingency plan.
In Super Bowl XLVII, Beyonce brought the house down. Moments after the second-half kickoff, half the Superdome in New Orleans was cloaked in the darkness of a power outage. The power abnormality paused play for 34 minutes, which left TV networks in the lurch for what to keep on the air. They had no idea how long it would last or what it would mean for the game. Take this lesson to heart: Have a backup plan in place that encompasses even the most unlikely of circumstances.
13. Don't be afraid to be the underdog.
Countless Super Bowl teams walked into the stadium as the underdog and walked out as champions. Just ask the 2007 New York Giants or Jim Plunkett and the 1980 Oakland Raiders. Being the long shot gives you an edge. It gives you the chance to surprise your competitors, or even those who manage you. Plus, it makes you better prepared.
14. Don’t forget to bring the funny.
Some of the most memorable and successful Super Bowl commercials are the ones that make us laugh. Terry Tate: Office Linebacker immediately comes to mind. Audiences respond to humor; laughter raises their spirits and gets them interested in what's being presented. Don't overestimate the power of a good chuckle.
15. Do make your event multidimensional.
Just as no Super Bowl party is complete without seven-layer dip, different "layers" of your event should be curated to keep attendees engaged. Remember guests attend events for various reasons, so make sure you have something for everyone.
16. Don’t celebrate too early.
While it may be tempting to pat yourself on the back when things are going well, it's important to keep your head in the game until your event is actually over. Take it from Dallas Cowboys' Leon Lett, who made Super Bowl history for “most embarrassing moments” when he slowed down yards from the end zone to showboat in XXVII—and subsequently got stripped of the ball before he scored.
17. Do remember your lines.
If you have to get up in front of the crowd with a mic, make sure you've practiced what you're going to say—even if it's as simple as "play ball." Don't be like Christina Aguilera, who botched a line in the national anthem (a song she'd performed since age 7) during Super Bowl XLV.
18. Do surprise attendees.
The New Orleans Saints captured the momentum of Super Bowl XLIV with an onside kick and went on to win their only championship—a good lesson for planners looking to think outside the box.
19. Do maximize celebrity appeal.
Pepsi scored a touchdown in 1992 with its Cindy Crawford ad, in which all she does is sip a can of soda. It’s still considered a classic, mostly because Crawford was the perfect celebrity for that era.
20. Do emphasize teamwork.
Before the Patriots stunned the St. Louis Rams to win their first Super Bowl in 2002, they gave up the tradition of players being introduced individually. Instead, the team came out as a group, creating a trend still used today because it epitomizes the idea of a team being bigger than its parts.
21. Do stay cool under pressure.
Joe Montana was a great quarterback, but he’s considered one of the best ever for running late comeback drives like the one the 49ers used to beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. Planners know all too well they need to remain poised no matter the situation.
22. Don’t have a wardrobe malfunction.
Does anyone remember who played in the 2004 Super Bowl when Janet Jackson left herself a little exposed? Nipplegate, as it became known, overshadowed a really great game won by the Patriots on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
23. Do pair older acts with new ones to appeal to all attendees.
When a legend like Paul McCartney hits a huge stage like the Super Bowl halftime show and rocks like he’s still a Beatle, sometimes the younger generation can lose interest. Instead, follow the Aerosmith, NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly halftime collaboration from 2001 or the Katy Perry and Missy Elliott duet from 2015. Everyone in the audience was happy.
24. Do create a safe space.
In their heyday, the Redskins won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks by building the NFL’s most dominant offensive line. “The Hogs” were so good that they allowed Mark Rypien, an average passer at best, to become Super Bowl XXVI MVP by giving him the time and space to excel. Make sure your attendees don’t feel pressured, freeing them to effectively do business and network.
25. Don’t be afraid to rebrand.
The Super Bowl wasn’t the Super Bowl when it was first played. Rather, the Packers and Chiefs played in what was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game in 1967. It’s hard to imagine an event with that label being a global phenomenon, making the name change genius.
26. Don’t let yourself get too down.
Sure, the Bills would have loved to win one of those four-straight Super Bowls they appeared in. But they earned kudos for not letting the disappointments get them down and returning to the big stage. Even in defeat, they can serve as inspiration for you if you’ve had a rough event.
27. Do try to build a dynasty.
In order to create an event that’s considered tops in the industry, you need to be highly successful for years. It’s no accident the Pittsburgh Steelers are considered an elite franchise after they won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. Being consistently good has benefits that last for years.
28. Do build around a Super Bowl
. When Houston
hosted the Super Bowl in 2004, it opened a magnificent Hilton downtown. When the big game arrives in 2017, a Marriott Marquis will have recently debuted. That’s how a city can build off one event to benefit many others to follow.
29. Don’t forget to reward the one who got you there.
If Mike Ditka has one regret from Super Bowl XX, it’s that he called a touchdown run for William “the Refrigerator” Perry instead of Hall of Famer Walter Payton. Letting “the Fridge” score was fun but frowned upon because it slighted the player who made the Bears great. The people who build up your organization and event deserve a moment to shine.
30. Do have fun.
“The Super Bowl Shuffle” made the Bears’ boring blowout over the Patriots in 1986 memorable, and the “Ickey Shuffle” in Super Bowl XXIII helped the Bengals remain relevant despite years of being terrible afterward. Business is important, but attendees often remember the fun stuff longer.
31. Don’t come up 1 yard short.
You have to feel for Kevin Dyson, the Tennessee Titans’ wide receiver who was stopped at the 1-yard line during the Super Bowl in 2000. No matter what business you’re in, it’s easy to relate to coming so close yet being so far away. Go that extra yard; the rewards will be worth it.
32. Don’t assume anything.
Give John Madden credit: He admitted when he was wrong to suggest the Patriots play for overtime after losing the momentum to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. It was easy to think Kurt Warner and company were on their way to victory—until the world saw how great Tom Brady was. You never know what you can do until you try.
33. Don’t get caught looking for a new job.
There’s a time and place to job hunt, but Super Bowl week isn’t that time—even if your name is Bill Parcells. The legendary coach, leading New England at the time, became a distraction before Super Bowl XXXI, unsurprisingly won by Green Bay. The moral: A planner shouldn’t put his or her own career ambitions first during a show.
34. Do forget the saying, “Nobody’s perfect.”
Millennials may only remember the Patriots’ undefeated regular season ending in a loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. But the 1972 Miami Dolphins proved it’s possible to never lose. It may be difficult, but the goal is worth shooting for.
35. Do rise to the occasion.
There’s little question Peyton Manning is better than his brother, Eli. But when it comes to Super Bowls, Eli has one more ring than Peyton, leading many to say he’s a better clutch performer. Sometimes your reputation can be built by picking your spots to shine.
36. Do be prepared for labor trouble.
Navigating unions can be tricky business for planners, who have to be prepared for a strike. Joe Gibbs showed the value of being ready for replacements, leading the Washington Redskins to Super Bowl wins twice in seasons when NFL stars went on strike. The show must go on—so be prepared.
37. Don’t nix event favorites.
It’s like that Buffalo chicken dip with corn chips that everyone looks forward to at the Super Bowl party. If you swap it for veggies and yogurt dip, expect to hear about it. Consider keeping old favorites attendees look forward to while adding in new elements.
38, Do include racial and cultural diversity.
In 1988, Doug Williams led the Redskins to victory, becoming the first African-American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl. But the QB surely would have rather focused on the game than his skin color in the lead-up and aftermath. Make sure your team knows to emphasize what brings them together rather than what separates them.
39. Do make sure your team doesn’t party too hard.
During Super Bowl XXIII, Cincinnati backup running back Stanley Wilson went on a cocaine bender the night before the game and missed the Bengals' loss to the 49ers. Likewise, the Falcons' Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for sex the night before Super Bowl XXXIII and had an awful game. Set parameters and expectations for team members, volunteer staff and other vendors prior to the event and let them know there will be consequences for inappropriate behavior.
40. Don’t be afraid to give new staff a chance to shine.
When unknown Redskins rookie running back Timmy Smith broke loose for a 58-yard touchdown run during Washington's second-quarter explosion against Denver in Super Bowl XXII, no one saw him coming. (And he was never heard from again.) Give a newbie on your team a shot with something important at your event and see if he or she surprises you by pulling it off.
41. Don’t look for only one way to solve problems.
Some type A meeting professionals have plans that must be executed a certain way and can't be deviated from. But take a lesson from Super Bowl III when Colts wide receiver Jimmy Orr was standing wide open at the 10-yard line, waving frantically with no Jets defender within 20 yards. However, Colts QB Earl Morrall was stuck on his original target and never saw him, leading to a decisive interception.
42. Do use video and music to evoke emotion.
In 1991 as the Gulf War was raging, Whitney Houston's stirring national anthem in Tampa for Super Bowl XXV brought millions to tears. So what if it was prerecorded? Video paired with music can enhance any event experience.
43. Do find creative ways to give back.
In preparation for Super Bowl 50, the NFL is teaming up with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to transform 50 footballs into works of art. The bedazzled, glammed pigskins are up for auction on the NFL’s website
, and all proceeds will be donated to its charitable foundation. Think of well-suited ways to incorporate giveback into your event.
44. Do have a broad drink menu.
While brand-name beers like Budweiser, Heineken and Corona Extra make up the majority of Super Bowl ads, attendees will expect more (and better-tasting) beverage options thanks to the rise of the craft beer market. Be sure to reach out to local breweries and add a variety of craft beers to your beverage menu.
45. Don’t be chicken about serving wings.
Boneless, Buffalo, topped with blue cheese—no matter how you like them, wings are a must-have for any Super Bowl celebration. For your event, attendees may want to eat healthy—but not always. It’s all about balance, so include a mix of healthy and greasy on your conference menu.
46. Don’t rely on one superstar.
This year’s Broncos are a great case in point for building a complete team. The team’s strong defense and running game are the reasons Denver is playing for the title despite Peyton Manning’s off year.
47. Do give second chances.
It’s hard to believe now, but Bill Belichick had a less-than-memorable stint as the Cleveland Browns’ head coach before he was given another shot as New England’s coach. Four Super Bowl wins later he’s considered one of the greatest ever.
48. Don’t be afraid of the cold.
The NFL braved New Jersey in 2014 for Super Bowl XLVIII, and attendance didn’t drop off. Your event will be just fine in a cold-weather city if you sell it correctly.
49. Do go all in on AV.
Part of what makes the Super Bowl so special are all of the additional camera angles and audio viewers have access to. Putting forth extra effort on technology will pay off with more engaged attendees and great word of mouth.
50. Don’t be scared of Roman numerals.
Sure, some people may not understand them, but there is something formal about going old-school (even if this year’s Super Bowl is scrapping Roman numerals). Small gestures give an event distinct flavor. Finding a letter-perfect combination will spell great success.