This weekend, the biggest annual sporting event in the United States will take place as the country soars past 455,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
Some 25,000 socially-distanced fans will be in attendance at Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium. With the game expected to draw millions of television viewers around the country, the NFL is hoping to be respectful in its programming despite the devastation around the country and concerns the event could become a coronavirus superspreader.
"We're trying to strike that right tone and be reflective on the year that has been while also providing a bit of hope for, you know, what's on the other side," Peter O'Reilly, the NFL's executive vice president of events, recently told the New York Times. "A lot goes into that."
Like in past years, entertainment and advertising will play a big part in the event. Singer The Weeknd is scheduled to perform during the Super Bowl's Pepsi halftime show, and major brands have already begun to release previews of commercials set to air during the game.
"The role of the broadcast is to certainly acknowledge the landscape around it, what's happening around it, and then let's get on with the game," said Jim Bell, a former longtime executive producer at NBC for the Olympics and Today, in the same interview. "We're hopefully all going to get a nice three-and-a-half-hour rest from Covid and politics, which I think we can all use."
As of Friday afternoon, there have been more than 26.7 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to a New York Times database, and deaths are rising every day.
Due to the airborne transmission of COVID-19 and case spikes across the country, the CDC continually advises against gatherings of large groups and recommends six feet of distance and face coverings at all times.
O'Reilly said programming set to air before kick-off may strike a chord with many viewers. This will include a rendition of "America the Beautiful" and a reading of a poem by poet Amanda Gorman, who spoke at the presidential inauguration in January.
"You'll see that tone in the pregame and in the pieces that are in-stadium and on-air," O'Reilly told the Times. "And the moments that are always big and powerful around the Super Bowl will take on just a bit more significance this year."
Of the fans inside Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, 7,500 will be vaccinated healthcare workers who were gifted free tickets from the league.
Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, told the Times that he hopes the game allows people at home, and in the stadium, a distraction from the events of the past year.
"We're going to get excited. And we're going to kind of forget our troubles for a while," he told the outlet. "We're not going to be somber, and we're not going to be depressing. But I think we're going to put everything in perspective."
Super Bowl LV will air on CBS on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. EST.
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