U.S. Bank Stadium and the Minneapolis Skyline

Super Bowl Special - Q&A with Sports Marketing Guru Ashley Stadler-Blank

As hundreds of thousands of people descend on Minnesota for Super Bowl LII this week, the gathering force and marketing power of the country's biggest sporting event will be on full display. Opus College of Business assistant professor of marketing Ashley Stadler-Blank appreciates that power as much as anyone: with her professional and academic expertise she is one of the best people you'll find to talk about sports marketing with.

With that in mind, the Newsroom reached out to Stadler-Blank a week out from the big game to pick her brain about what goes into something this big. Before talking with her she laid out some mind-boggling facts about what we're discussing: 19 of the most-viewed 20 TV broadcasts in U.S. history are Super Bowls; the price of advertisements during the Super Bowl has gone up 76 percent in the last decade, up to more than $5 million a spot; and that last year 114 million people watched the Super Bowl, more than a third of the country's population.

Ashley Stadler-Blank

Ashley Stadler-Blank

Before we get into this little event the Twin Cities are hosting, how did you yourself get into this field of sports marketing?

I just grew up a fan. It was something I did with my dad as our family bonding thing, so translated that into a career interest.

There’s this really interesting dichotomy from what the fan sees to what the business is. I got this advice when I got into the industry, to never to work for your favorite team. The business of it kind of ruins the fun of being a fan. It’s different working it as opposed to being a fan.

I worked in sports for about two years before getting into the education piece of it. I went to teach at two schools in sports management, before pursuing a doctorate at Penn State University. They had a center in sports interest research. My research interest is related to consumer behavior as it pertains to sports. Sports are special because unlike a lot of other product industries, there’s so much emotional engagement. (Much of Stadler-Blank's research involves fan-avidity, or the level of fanhood, including studying distances fans of teams are located.)

An event like this, the number of people that come here and the number of people that watch, this is such an American cultural touch point for so many people. From the lens you view with sports marketing, how do you see an event like this that is a sport, but is so much bigger?

First and foremost, the line between sport and entertainment is blurring. Sport is entertainment now. There is a 24 hour news cycle with sports; the way we look at sport today is drastically differently than even 10 years ago. Players themselves are brands. … It’s this interesting mix on a lot of levels.

You have people attracted to players, teams, but the NFL in general has the highest level of fan-avidity of any sport in the U.S. … [Super Bowl Sunday] is almost like a holiday. I recently watched the movie ‘Concussion,’ and they make the point the NFL now owns the day the church used to. It is the big dog and everyone wants to see it. For a lot of people it’s not so much the game as it is the social aspect.

It’s not just the Super Bowl, it’s Super Bowl week. … By and large, that is really an event for the community so they can feel part of it. Often times people in the community don’t get to go to the game, so that’s a way the community gets to engage with the NFL and the Super Bowl.

It’s been more than a year since we’ve started to see things around about “Bold North” and this marketing theme pulling all this together. What’s your sense of what goes into planning something like that from a marketing perspective?

This event is almost like the Olympics on a smaller scale, in that it’s a point of pride for the local community. A smart marketer will try to differentiate the event from others, but do that in a way that’s unique to the local community. One of the reasons I think it’s so powerful is that people can take pride in saying, “Bold North.” It’s forward, edgy. I love the slogan; it’s really successful and gets a lot of buy-in from the local community, which an event like this needs. … A lot of Minneapolis is shut down because of this event, so getting community buy-in goes a long way into facilitating the success of the event.

The Bold North, it’s them turning a negative into a positive and being proud of where they come from, highlighting all this area has to offer. There are a lot of events the Super Bowl and host committee puts on; there are start-up conferences, all these events that try to highlight all the local community has to offer. … I think they nailed it on the head with this one.

So it's as big of a spotlight outside of an Olympics as an area can get for their community. After we secured the hosting, from a marketing perspective, what does it take to make sure we’re showing Minnesota in a way we want to?

Part of it is encouraging people to come to Minnesota. It’s an incredible facility and a huge draw, but it’s showing we don’t have just the game but all these incredible amenities you can take advantage of here. … They’ve done a great job highlighting some of the things you have to do while you’re here, and getting that engagement from the local community is huge to do that.

Another thing beyond Minnesota marketing is this marketing and advertising push around the event. In sports marketing there’s the marketing of the actual sport, the Super Bowl, and the other is marketing through sport, using the platform to elevate your brand. If you think about the money that’s going into advertising in the Super Bowl, not just TV but online, estimates are that this is the most revenue any corporation in the United States will get in a 24-hour window, period.