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Football fans in Kansas City celebrated the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win like you would expect last year. They huddled together, hugged, and high-fived at big watch parties, crowded sports bars, and the big game itself.
But after a year in which the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the country, leading to nationwide shutdowns and more than 450,000 American lives lost, watching the Chiefs play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Sunday’s Super Bowl LV will be a very different affair.
After so much isolation, fans are eager to watch the game together. In the face of social distancing guidelines, families and friends are turning to outdoor watch parties as a safer alternative to traditional gatherings.
James Hansen owns Easy Audio Rental in Kansas City, a family-run business that he has operated out of his garage for the past seven years. Just a day after the Chiefs advanced to the Super Bowl, Hansen said he was already receiving calls from clients hoping to rent equipment.
“We’re on our way to selling out of projectors and screens this year for the Super Bowl,” Hansen said. “It’s good to see people are putting in the extra effort to be around other people, whereas before we kind of took it for granted.”
For Hansen, selling out of equipment before a big game is not a surprise. A year in which millions of Americans were stuck inside has led many to find creative ways to get out.
Renting or buying a projector and a screen is a simple way to safely host a watch party, as the virus is less transmittable outside and there is, typically, more space for people to remain a safe distance apart.
Projecting a win
Hansen says it’s much easier than people think to set up an outdoor viewing party.
“A lot of people think you need a massive amount of specialty equipment, but you really don’t if you know what you’re doing,” Hansen said. “If you’ve got a projector and a Bluetooth speaker, you can really easily go outside and shoot [the game] on the house, your fence, garage door, anything.”
While experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the safest way to watch the Super Bowl is at home with the people you live with, they acknowledge that many Americans will still opt to attend more traditional watch parties.
For people who plan to go out, it is best to watch the game outside wearing masks and maintaining a distance of more than six feet away from anyone outside your home, the CDC advises.
Braving the cold
Sales of outdoor watch party equipment have been a bright spot in an otherwise dark year for many other audiovisual rental companies.
“Even without any business for about two months because of lockdowns, with the Chiefs being so good and going back to the Super Bowl, [Easy Audio Rental] has actually done better this year than we did last year,” Hansen said.
But with more people staying home and less traffic at restaurants because of the pandemic, fewer businesses are hosting the types of events that would require the services of bigger audiovisual rental providers.
Allen Childs is the president of All Pro Audio Visual, a nationwide provider of audiovisual rental equipment with headquarters in Chicago. While many similar businesses have folded in the past year as a result of the pandemic, Childs says his business is fortunate to have been able to retain about 20% of its revenue, in part because of an uptick in rentals to small businesses hosting outdoor watch parties.
“It’s been a frustrating year to say the least,” Childs said. “We’ve certainly seen an increase in demand for outdoor screen rentals, especially on game days in warmer climates. We’re fortunate, but it only goes a small way in trying to replace what we’ve lost.”
Still, in Kansas City, fans are willing to brave the cold to watch the big game with family and friends.
Hansen and his family are season ticket holders at the Chief’s Arrowhead Stadium, but they haven’t been able to attend a game this year because of the virus. For them, enduring the cold weather to watch the game with loved ones is part of the experience.
“It feels like going to the game and it helps set the mood,” Hansen said. “As far as I’m concerned, the point of life is to have fun experiences and make memories with people. It’s been hard, but we’re trying to help.”
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This story was originally featured on Fortune.com