At the forefront of the New England Patriots' win over the Atlanta Falcons during this Sunday's Super Bowl LI, an annual parade of commercials and reactions played on, more politicized than ever before.
Although Super Bowl-broadcaster FOX regulates the advertisements displayed during the football game – stating that "advertisers may not use their commercial time for addressing viewpoints or issues" – many companies worked their way around the rule.
For instance, beer company Budweiser told the immigration story of the company's founder, Adolphus Busch. Though the company said its advertisement was not intended to be political, it echoed with many political themes currently in contention – namely, the immigration controls recently put up by President Trump.
84 Lumber similarly told the story of a mother and daughter migrating to the United States, while Coca-Cola's "America the Beautiful" advertisement offered a collage of diversity set to the song. Google's ad for Google Home took a similar approach, whistling a patriotic tune while families and friends of different backgrounds interacted with the machine.
Audi took a feminist tone, showing a young girl driving a race car while her father narrates stereotypes she will have to face as a female. The ad concludes with the message "Progress is for everyone."
In Airbnb's ad, the company indirectly mentions refugees and showcases the company's commitment to providing short-term housing to those in need.
Many of the ads received heat in response – the hashtag #BoycottBudweiser trended following the game, and Audi was criticized for running its ad because of its own lack of women in leadership roles.
According to Nielsen ratings, the Super Bowl boasted 114.4 million viewers, not taking into account groups watching together in sports bars or at viewing parties. To reach such an audience, companies must put down an average of $5 million for 30 seconds of air-time – up from an estimated $4.8 million last year.
The advertisements weren’t the only aspect of the day to take a political turn – President Trump’s relationship with the Patriots has also been closely scrutinized. Trump has a friendly past with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Coach Bill Belichick and star quarterback Tom Brady. In 2011, President Trump came to the aid of Kraft after his wife Myra passed away, calling him every week for a year. Brady was spotted with a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker during the 2015 season.
Trump tweeted his congratulations to the team this morning.
What an amazing comeback and win by the Patriots. Tom Brady, Bob Kraft and Coach B are total winners. Wow!#SuperBowl -DJT
— President Trump (@POTUS) February 6, 2017
Dan Durbin, director of the Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society, says this relationship is not shocking.
“It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone,” Durbin said. “Bill Belichick, Kraft and Brady are among the Upper East Coast elites financially and, in many respects, celebrity status. It’s not surprising they should bump into Trump and its not surprising there should be some relationship there.”
Durbin said even though these relationships have been in the news for some time, the tensions and interests are heightened because the team made it to the Super Bowl.
“The Super Bowl becomes a national and sometimes international stage to play out whatever values we have in the American public and American politics,” Durbin said. “Right now we have a particularly poisoned time in American politics. It’s a poison of political discourse, of very angry discourse. And that poison boils over or comes to a boiling point when you have a major event like the Super Bowl, and you have figures in it who are tied to the most controversial person in the United States right now, the President of the United States.”
Not all the Patriots share close ties to Trump. Martellus Bennet, Patriots tight end, announced to reporters on Sunday that he would not accompany the team to the White House, where they will be honored by Donald Trump.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Bennet said. “I am not going to go. I can elaborate later on in life. Right now I am just trying to enjoy this. People know how I feel about it, just follow me on Twitter.”
This is not the first time a player has stood up to the administration in Washington.
“Remember famously some major league baseball players refused to visit the White House when Barack Obama was president,” Durbin said. “So this is not the first time it has happened. There is nothing really unusual or outstanding about this other than an individual making a choice of conscience, and that is what the United States is all about.”