Microsoft’s Super Bowl Activation Shows the Places a Player’s Side Hustles Can Go

The tech giant partners with Dr. Suess Enterprises

Rob Gronkowski (left) and Todd Gurley challenge each other in a game of Madden '19 at Microsoft's activation in Atlanta. Microsoft

According to the NFL Players Association, the average career of an NFL player is just over three years. Additionally, data from the Wall Street Journal shows that players in some positions, like wide receiver, can only expect to play in the league for just over two years.

Increasingly, professional athletes are turning to side hustles during their football careers to set themselves up for life after they hang up their cleats. Today’s athletes, aided by better technology and a better understanding of how to market themselves, are turning to startups, music, fashion and more.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, an avid travel photographer, channeled his passion and started a travel agency called Nomad Hill. New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara has a deep love for fashion and Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram debuted a rap album last May.

“These days, everyone has a side hustle, even NFL players,” said John O’Connell, a group creative director from Portland-based CMD Agency. “These guys know they can’t play football forever. They’re thinking ahead and building careers that will span beyond their time in the NFL.

At the end of last year, Microsoft released their “Make Believe Happen” campaign for its Surface laptop. The first ad, created by CMD, featured the three athletes, set to a hip-hop version of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Suess, by Grammy-winning producer Needlz.

Connecting the culture of athlete entrepreneurialism, the spirit of the popular children’s book and to celebrate what makes a side-hustle so rewarding, Microsoft, CMD and Wasserman, followed up the initial campaign launch with a wide-ranging brand activation during Super Bowl Week in Atlanta. Throughout the week, fans were treated to unique experiences (with the Microsoft Surface, the NFL’s official tablet) focused on the themes of style, music and entertainment, three categories popular among athletes.

In the sprawling activation space, a steady stream of fans, former and current NFL stars, celebrities, and influencers were able to experience several creative opportunities with Surface.

NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino hanging out the Microsoft Lounge in Atlanta.
Marshawn Lynch of the Oakland Raiders greets Cam Jordan of the New Orleans Saints at the Microsoft Lounge in Atlanta.

Atlanta rapper 6black hosted one area where guests produced personalized music tracks.

Rapper 6LACK in concert during the Make Music Happen themed activation.
Influencer Woah Vicky checks out the Microsoft Surface headphones and Microsoft Studio 2 in the music room.

In another, custom suit maker Gentleman’s Playbook tailored styles created on the DialStyle platform.

A custom tuxedo for Todd Gurley.
Backpack Kid modeling at the Make Style Happen themed activation

Fans were also able to get a sneak peek behind the scenes of the new Netflix show “The Umbrella Academy.”

Actor David Koechner poses in the Make Stories Happen photo booth in partnership with Netflix.

There was also a gaming lounge with the brand’s signature Xbox where people could play Madden and other new game releases.

Rob Gronkowski and Todd Gurley play Madden '19 on Xbox.

Subsequent ads from CMD for the campaign, running on, feature music lovers Cole Beasley of the Dallas Cowboys and Chad Thomas of the Cleveland Browns, and fashion maven Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams—and are connected to the underlying message of the Dr. Suess book.

“We love how CMD and Microsoft created a campaign that captures the spirit of Dr. Seuss’s much-loved book,” said Susan Brandt, president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises. “There are endless possibilities that are open to everyone.” 

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.