Eight things to expect from this year’s weird, low-key Super Bowl

Most things are different, but Tom Brady is still here.
Most things are different, but Tom Brady is still here.
Image: Reuters/Jeff Hanisch-USA Today Sports
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A pandemic that has killed nearly half a million Americans was never going to stop the National Football League and its media partners from doing their darndest to put on the Super Bowl. But Covid-19 will still severely diminish what’s normally one of the biggest global TV events of the year.

Super Bowl LV, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is this Sunday (Feb. 7) at 6:30pm eastern time on CBS. (Check this list to see what networks will air the game in other countries.) That this year’s game is happening at all is a minor miracle. It helps that it will be held in Florida, a state with some of the most lax Covid-19 protocols in the country. Still, even Florida has taken some measures to ensure the Super Bowl does not turn into the Super Spreader.

For those watching at home, you’ll notice some of the Covid-related changes, while others will take place behind the scenes. Together, they amount to a very different Super Bowl than what anyone—players, fans, media members, and those of us at home—is used to.

Nevertheless, the game goes on. Here is some of the Super Bowl weirdness to expect this weekend:

Only 25,000 (masked) fans will be in attendance

That will be the lowest attendance for a Super Bowl of all time. (The next lowest came in the first Super Bowl in 1967, when 62,000 fans watched Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers beat the Chiefs.) Of those in attendance, 7,500 will be vaccinated healthcare workers who were given free tickets.

All attendees will be required to social distance in “pods” and wear masks, though the NFL has struggled to enforce that rule during regular season games this year.

Another 30,000 creepy cardboard cutouts

In addition to the 25,000 flesh-and-blood humans in attendance, the NFL will scatter 30,000 cardboard cutouts of people (who paid for the honor) around the stadium. To viewers at home, the cutouts could make the stands look more full. But we can’t imagine they will make much noise.

Some big brands are taking the year off

Budweiser, Coke, Pepsi, Hyundai, and other huge global brands won’t advertise commercials during the game this year. With sports TV ratings down during the pandemic, companies aren’t sure if the exorbitant price to advertise on the Super Bowl is worth the risk—especially since there are so many ways to bungle a Covid-related message.

In their place, startups like Fiverr and Robinhood will air their first-ever Super Bowl commercials.

Fewer movie trailers, too

Don’t expect to see many trailers for this summer’s blockbuster films—because there may not be any blockbuster films this summer. Hollywood has postponed many of its big-budget films into the second half of the year, when there is a better chance more Americans are vaccinated (and thus willing to go to the movies). With release schedules in flux, studios can’t commit to launching their marketing campaigns for films.

According to Deadline, several streaming services, including Netflix, will also sit out the Super Bowl. So don’t put your money on Netflix using its Super Bowl ad slot to drop another surprise movie, like it did with The Cloverfield Paradox in 2018.

A halftime performance from the nosebleeds

Pop artist The Weeknd, this year’s halftime performer, will sing and dance for roughly 12 minutes from the stands—not on the field, as halftime performers usually do, the New York Times reported. That’s to keep the players, coaches, and NFL employees socially distant from the more than 1,000 people it requires to put a Super Bowl halftime show together.

The Weeknd reportedly spent $7 million of his own money to make sure his performance was up to par with previous years. Hold the wardrobe malfunctions, please.

Significantly decreased media presence

In a normal year, thousands of reporters, photojournalists, and sports radio hosts descend on the Super Bowl host city for a week of events leading up to the game. This year, those events have been reduced to almost nothing, while media coverage during the game itself will be different as well.

Only 2,400 media members were credentialed this year, compared to 6,000 last year. “Radio Row,” the battalion of sports talk radio stations that broadcasts live to listeners throughout Super Bowl week, was reduced from 100 to about 40 stations this year. The NFL’s media day, which typically involves journalists from all over the world asking players and coaches questions in person, was—like all of our meetings in the last year—held over Zoom.

You probably aren’t going to a big Super Bowl party

Well, maybe you are, but that’d be irresponsible. The majority of us will be cooped up at home with some pizza and beer—just without many friends or family in the room. But you’re probably used to that by now anyway. How a potential lack of Super Bowl parties could affect this year’s TV ratings remains to be seen.

But somehow Tom Brady is still here

At age 43, Tom Brady will be playing in his 10th Super Bowl—but his first one with the Buccaneers, after playing his whole career with the New England Patriots prior to this year. Many things in our lives have changed in the past 12 months, but Tom Brady remains a constant. If Brady and the Bucs win, maybe things will feel just like 2018 again, when there was no pandemic. If only for a moment.