By Darren Dahl

It’s a question we all get asked every year: Where are you going to watch the Super Bowl? More than 100 million people tuned in to the Super Bowl broadcast last year, a record number. Many of those viewers chose to watch the big game at bars, parties held at friends’ houses, or even at events hosted by their employer. Of course, not everyone watches for the game itself, as the commercials run during the broadcast have achieved renown all their own. Hoping to capitalize on that captured audience, big-name companies like Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola and General Motors spent more than $200 million combined on Super Bowl TV ads last year.

The rub for growing businesses, though, is that they feel left out of the party since few can afford to spend $3 million for a 30-second TV spot for Sunday’s game regardless of how many people are watching. And, unless they run an event-planning or catering business, many entrepreneurs figure that the Super Bowl doesn’t have anything to do with them — especially if they don’t have a geographic tie to the game or its teams. But that’s where they’re wrong, says JR Griggs, a business and marketing consultant. “Any business can use the Super Bowl as a promotional tool,” says Griggs, who runs RGE Media Group. “People get excited about it and treat it like a holiday. If you can connect with that, by throwing a party for your customers or holding a promotion like giving away a coupon to whomever picks the winner of the game, you can grow your relationship with your customers.”

Case in point: Matt Kirkham, the owner of The Import Store, a retail shop located in Ft. Worth, Texas, figured that even though the Super Bowl will be played at Cowboys Stadium in nearby Arlington, it wouldn’t mean much for his business, which sells items like slap watches and fragrance lamps. “Since I’m a Cowboys fan, I figured I didn’t have a pony in this show,” he says. But when he found out that the Pittsburgh Steelers team was staying in a nearby hotel and that ESPN would be setting up their TV studio just a few blocks from his store, he started to wonder how he could get a few of the estimated 200,000 sports fans expected to visit the area to pop into his shop. His answer came in the form of a classic Pittsburgh Steelers T-shirt, which he posted in his shop’s window for $14.99. “I figured I could become the only retailer in the Dallas area offering only Steelers memorabilia,” says Kirkham. He soon stocked up on other Steelers-branded items like key chains, shot glasses, and watches as a way to draw Pittsburgh fans into his shop with the hope that some of those customers would return to his website and buy something else after they returned home. “I see this as a chance to bond with a new set of customers,” he says.\\
Fran Riggs, who owns a company that sells first aid equipment to businesses called First Aid & Safety of Texas, also hoped to tap into a new customer pool when she joined the Emerging Business Program of the North Texas Super Bowl Committee. Formed two years ago after the National Football League announced that the 2011 Super Bowl would be held in Dallas, the program enables business owners like Riggs to use their NFL connection to promote their business. “It’s been great publicity for us because it gives us legitimacy and credibility with customers when we ask them for their business,” she says.

Even if your hometown isn’t hosting the Super Bowl, that doesn’t mean that your business can’t take advantage of it to build new customer relationships. For example, Andrew Cohen runs a company in New York City called Brainscape, which sells software and apps that helps customer learn new languages and practice for exams like the GRE. A few weeks ago, Cohen posted a different kind of app on the iTunes store. Called the Pittsburgh Steelers Crash Course, the iPhone app, which is a free download, helps a user memorize names, stats, and even the college alma maters of the players as a way to be, as Cohen says, “the smartest person in the room during the game.” Since posting it three weeks ago, Cohen says his app has been downloaded some 3,000 times, which has helped him market his other products to a whole new audience. “When you play, we have a little icon that suggests that if you like to learn this way, you should try some of our other products,” says Cohen, adding that he hoped to have a Green Bay Packer version live soon, too.
Similarly, Jen Portland, whose company offers apps and one-on-one training and consulting for frustrated Microsoft Excel users, has been giving away free templates for a Super Bowl box pool on the website of her company, Excel Rain Man. “This allows us to showcase our spreadsheet skills to folks who will then potentially forward this around to others and lead to business for us down the road,” she says.


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