Following a three-year period when even the legendary Playboy Enterprises Super Bowl parties fell victim to belt-tightening, U.S. companies are staging an entertainment comeback. Spending on lodging, transportation, food and beverage, and entertainment at the National Football League championship games fell 27 percent from 2007 to 2010, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Early indications are that they'll grow considerably at Super Bowl XLV, to be played on Feb. 6 in Dallas, says Robert Tuchman, an executive vice-president at Premiere Global Sports' travel division.
Corporations account for 70 percent of Premiere's business for Super Bowl packages, says Tuchman. He says sales of ticket-and-lodging packages, which start at $4,435 per person, are up 50 percent to 60 percent from last year. "Companies are sitting on a lot of money and optimistic enough to spend on events that can generate more sales," says Tuchman.
During the recession, companies were constrained by appearances as well as finances, says Rob Yowell, president of sports marketing firm Gemini Sports Group. The $8,000 to $10,000 per customer cost of wining, dining, and procuring Super Bowl tickets may pale beside potential returns from a single deal struck during the Big Game, he says, yet many bankers and automakers skirted stadium suites while they were accepting federal bailouts. "Now banks have paid off their TARP funding and are coming back," says Yowell, whose Super Bowl business is up 50 percent this year.
The days leading up to kickoff will be a swirl of parties, including one that will be hosted by Sean "Diddy" Combs and another by actress Pamela Anderson, as well as star-studded charity events, like a bowling match featuring NFL Hall of Famers. Businesses use the celebrity-filled gathering as venues to thank their best customers and to win new ones. Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban says he agreed to co-sponsor a big party with DirecTV, because of the exposure it provided for his high-definition television network, HDNet: "We saw this as a unique opportunity to work with them and to put our shows in front of the audience."
In dueling Friday night events, Anheuser-Busch InBev's Bud Light is co-sponsoring the revived Playboy party, while SABMiller's Coors Light hosts at Billy Bob's Texas, a huge honky-tonk with country singer Blake Shelton headlining. There's plenty of daytime glitz, too, including DirecTV's fifth annual Celebrity Beach Bowl, featuring entertainers playing flag football with NFL stars on a sand field. Last year's teams included actress Jennifer Lopez and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning; this year's have yet to be named. The company had a tough time attracting co-sponsors in 2010, but sponsorship revenues are up more than 20 percent this year, says Jon Gieselman, a senior vice-president. New sponsors include Burger King, Diageo's Captain Morgan rum, and AT&T. "Companies are putting their feet back into the water this year and looking for unique events at which they can entertain their customers and partners," Gieselman says.
Yowell of Gemini Sports Group says the game's venue this year also accounts for the resurgence of corporate spending. Built by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and opened in 2009, Cowboys Stadium holds 100,000 spectators and a league-high 300 corporate suites that are a magnet for every football-crazed corporate executive lucky enough to be invited on Game Day. "I don't think business is going back to where it once was," Yowell says, "but the checkbooks are open again."
The bottom line: Corporate spending on Super Bowl entertaining fell during the recession. With business rebounding, companies are spending again.