When the Kansas City Chiefs meet the San Francisco 49ers for the Super Bowl on Sunday in Miami, there will be far more at stake than just the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Super Bowl LIV falls during the 100th year anniversary of the NFL, and roughly around the first year anniversary of Fox as a new network, following the sale of a large chunk of its assets to Disney.
Sunday represents a golden opportunity for Fox not only to showcase its biggest properties like “The Masked Singer” and the “9-1-1” franchise, but also to demonstrate what the leaner company can still bring to the table.
“We started planning for this Super Bowl a year ago, pretty close to the end of the merger, and we sat around the table and we said this Super Bowl is the culmination of the first year of this new company, it needs to be the most collaborative Super Bowl we’ve ever had. We started over this Super Bowl, started from scratch because it’s a new company,” explained Brad Zager, Fox Sports executive producer, executive vice president and head of production and operations.
Zager said the intention from day one was to include Fox Entertainment, Fox affiliates and Fox News in the planning process, to make sure each segment of the company “felt just as much a part of this as anybody else.”
Part of that synergy is evident in the interactive setup Fox has planted on Miami Beach, which includes a 70-foot “Masked Singer” Ferris wheel and a series of “VIP screening rooms” where fans can watch episodes of the network’s latest shows.
Fox also scheduled the season 3 premiere of “Masked Singer” right after the game, a decision which Windy Dees, an associate professor at the University of Miami with a specialization in sports marketing and sponsorship, said is clearly a strategic play to put its big guns right up front.
While viewership sank to an 11-year low for last year’s Super Bowl (a 13-3 snooze fest between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams), Dees believes that “the stars seem to be aligning” for Fox to have big day numbers-wise.
“The NFL hasn’t experienced as much turmoil this season, the ratings have rebounded overall and I would expect them for this Super Bowl to be extremely high,” Dees said. “There are just so many storylines that will factor into it: a young veteran coach against an up-and-coming coach, a historic Super Bowl franchise with the 49ers and a team that hasn’t experience that kind of success, two young quarterbacks, two exciting teams offensively, the halftime performers, and the location of Miami being a tropical, metropolitan, global city.”
Part of the turmoil that Dees is referring to is the controversy surrounding the league’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick and its reaction to his symbolic kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality.
While discussion of the Kaepernick situation hasn’t been dominating headlines as it did the past two seasons, he was, after all, the last quarterback to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl back in 2013, so it seems inevitable that he will get some airtime come Sunday.
Zager insists that there is “no edict from the NFL to not talk about him,” and that his name will likely come up in pregame analysis of the 49ers’ Super Bowl history.
“If we find something appropriate to talk about that last Super Bowl, if it’s the matchup between the Harbaugh brothers, if it’s the last play of the game, if it’s Kaepernick’s performance, we will talk about it,” Zager says. “If it fits it’ll come up, and if it doesn’t from a football perspective it won’t, but there’s no thought one way or the other because it’s Colin Kaepernick.”
Dees added that it will be “hard for Fox to ignore” Kaepernick, but that viewers should not expect a discussion of his future in the league or the reason he is no longer on a team.
“If he was not discussed I think that would make it an awkward situation for everyone involved. I would expect that he is discussed and I think the network would be remiss not to discuss him, but do I think there will be more discussion about his future in the NFL and all of that, absolutely not,” Dees says.
Another factor to look out for on Sunday, beyond Patrick Mahomes’ gun arm and the 49ers’ formidable rush offense, is the infusion of Latinx representation into the mix.
Not only is the game taking place in Miami, a city with a substantial Latinx population, but the NFL announced in September that the Halftime Show would be headlined by two Latina superstars in Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.
Lopez discussed the importance of the show being in Miami and her intent to “celebrate Latin women” during a conversation with Robert Pattinson for Variety’s “Actors on Actors.”
“I think it’s important in this day and age for two Latin women to be standing on that stage — when Latinos are being treated a certain way in this country, or looked at a certain way — to show that we have a really specific and beautiful culture and worth and value, and we bring something to this country that’s necessary,” Lopez said. “I think that’s going to be an amazing moment. That night, I want it to be a celebration of who we are. All of us, because we’re in this together.”
One of the newer features Fox is introducing this Super Bowl, according to Zager, is a reporter who will be with the performers throughout the build-up to their performance, providing viewers with more access to the halftime act than in previous years. Those reports, coupled with a pregame interview with the two singers, should make sure “that message she was talking about will come across.”
“We were so excited when it was announced it would be those two performing in Miami especially, it’s almost like of course it will be J Lo and Shakira, who else would it be,” Zager says. “We think with our access we’ll get and the interview that Michael Strahan does with them, that should do the trick.”
Switching focus to the football itself, Zager says there are plenty of storylines to get fans interested. Top of the list is the matchup between Garoppolo and Mahomes.
The story for the latter isn’t one that Fox Sports has to sell too hard. After sitting for a season behind Alex Smith, Mahomes has burst onto the scene and established himself as the future of the quarterback position in the NFL.
With a bullet arm, plenty of legs and an X-factor that few other QBs in the league possess, Mahomes is box office television and many viewers will likely just tune in Sunday to see the beginning of what many believe will be a Chiefs dynasty orbiting around the Mahomes-Andy Reid axis.
In a sense, the storyline for Jimmy Garoppolo began in similar fashion. He was drafted by the Patriots in 2014 as the heir apparent to “the G.O.A.T.” Tom Brady. However, when it became apparent that Brady fully intended to play on until his hair went grey, Garoppolo found himself leaving New England for the opposite coast.
While he only threw 27 times combined in the 49ers’ postseason road to the Super Bowl, the storyline with Garoppolo is one of stepping away from the Brady backup label once and for all. No better way to achieve that than by stopping the runaway train that is the Kansas City Chiefs on the biggest stage and winning a Super Bowl ring.
All of which is to say that we could be in store for one of the most exciting Super Bowls in recent years, which can only be good news for Fox and friends.
“This could be one of the best case scenarios for them post merger,” Dee says. “To have a phenomenal Super Bowl could be the platform Fox needs to launch in this new direction they’re going in.”