During this year's Super Bowl, you won't likely see many TV ads from small-business owners and entrepreneurs. At $5.6 million for a 30-second spot, the price tag is out of reach for most startup founders.
Still, smaller companies are attempting other ways to cash in on the big game. From advertising around the event to working with host cities, the NFL, or even official vendors, here's how some founders are finding craftier and cheaper ways to make Super Bowl LIV pay.
Whipping Up an Ad Blitz Anyway
On January 30, just three days before the main event, Mint Mobile, a budget-friendly wireless carrier based in Costa Mesa, California, took out a full-page ad in The New York Times explaining why it plans to sit out the Super Bowl--that is, it won't be participating in this year's game-day ad blitz. Rather, the company plans to redirect those funds to giving away over 300,000 months of free service to those who sign up during the game.
"Instead of creating a pricey ad trying to convince people to try Mint, we're going to let them try it for free," Ryan Reynolds says in the ad. The actor bought an ownership stake in the company last November. This is a pivot from 2018, when the company bought a 30-second national ad for the Super Bowl featuring a family chugging chunky milk to show viewers that paying high rates for wireless, like drinking spoiled milk, is "not right."
To be sure, this year's strategy is hardly a low-budget marketing move. A full-page non-color ad in a weekday edition of the Times costs $142,929, according to its website. Plus, Reynolds is hardly a typical, cash-strapped startup founder. But the message is clear: You don't need to advertise during the game to get noticed.
Meeting Investors in Their Element
Player's Health founder Tyrre Burks journeyed from chilly Minneapolis to Miami earlier this week to participate in the fourth annual NFL Players Association's pitch day, a contest at which early-stage companies showcase their services to athletes and potential investors who are attending the game. His digital risk-management service for sports organizations took first prize in the human performance category and won $10,000 from the NFLPA and $25,000 in credits from Amazon Web Services.
This isn't the first time Burks has leveraged the Super Bowl. Two years ago, when the game was held in Minneapolis, he hosted a summit on the Thursday before the game. The summit focused on health and safety in youth sports and featured professional athletes, coaches, and sports medicine professionals. About 150 people attended, including Isaiah Kacyvenski and Brian Reilly, co-founders and managing partners of Will Ventures, a Boston-based early-stage investment fund focused on sports and tech. Less than two years later, the fund participated in Player's Health $4 million Series A round along with London- and Philadelphia-based VC fund Eos Venture Partners.
In the interim, Player's Health went from 100 to 700 partner organizations, including insurance giant AIG, and it hired 22 more employees, says Burks, who declined to disclose revenue.
"We were an infant company with great aspirations two years ago," says Burks, who founded the company in 2016. "The difference for our company since then is like night and day."
Getting an In With Vendors
Jamie Baxter, co-founder of Qwick--a Phoenix-based staffing service that connects hospitality workers with food and beverage shifts in real time--accelerated the launch of Qwick's Miami branch from a typical six months to two weeks. That meant sending employees from around the U.S. to Miami, which cost the company about $10,000 in airfare and hotel expenses, Baxter says. The branch opened at the end of November and now has 2,700 professionals ready to work in Miami, he adds.
He rushed the opening in an attempt to land more business from a current client--a food and beverage provider of Hard Rock Stadium, where this year's Super Bowl will be held.
Baxter says the higher upfront costs will pay off in revenue and boost the company's reputation among other potential partners in the area. "It's not an exorbitant cost but we are a startup and have to be capital efficient whenever we can," adds Baxter, whose company booked $3.76 million in revenue last year. He expects that just being in Miami will open doors for his company. "I think we can make a lot more money based on all the other businesses we are talking with, like hotels, catering companies, and restaurants," adds Baxter.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized Ryan Reynolds's role in Mint Mobile. He has an ownership stake.