Host selection process
In early 2012, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the league planned to make the 50th Super Bowl "spectacular" and that it would be "an important game for us as a league".
Cities included in early discussions or that submitted bids included:
The league eventually narrowed the bids to three sites: New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Miami's Sun Life Stadium, and the San Francisco Bay Area's Levi's Stadium.
The league announced on October 16, 2012, that the two finalists were Sun Life Stadium and Levi's Stadium. The South Florida/Miami area has previously hosted the event 10 times (tied for most with New Orleans), with the most recent one being Super Bowl XLIV in 2010. The San Francisco Bay Area last hosted in 1985 (Super Bowl XIX), held at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, California, won by the home team 49ers. The Miami bid depended on whether the stadium underwent renovations. However, on May 3, 2013, the Florida legislature refused to approve the funding plan to pay for the renovations, dealing a significant blow to Miami's chances.
On May 21, 2013, NFL owners at their spring meetings in Boston voted and awarded the game to Levi's Stadium. The $1.2 billion stadium opened in 2014. It is the first Super Bowl held in the San Francisco Bay Area since Super Bowl XIX in 1985, and the first in California since Super Bowl XXXVII took place in San Diego in 2003.
For the third straight season, the number one seeds in the and , the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, met in the Super Bowl. The game also featured the league's top scoring offense (Panthers) against the league's top defense (Broncos). The Panthers became the 10th team since 1960 to have lost just one game during the regular season, and the sixth team ever to have a 15–1 record. It was their second Super Bowl appearance; the other was Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Broncos became the fourth team to have eight Super Bowl appearances. It was their second appearance in three years, having also reached Super Bowl XLVIII. Coincidentally, was the head coach of each team in their previous Super Bowl appearance.
Despite waiving long-time running back DeAngelo Williams and losing top wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a torn ACL in the preseason, the Carolina Panthers had their best regular season in franchise history, becoming the seventh team to win at least 15 regular season games since the league expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Carolina started the season 14–0, not only setting franchise records for the best start and the longest single-season winning streak, but also posting the best start to a season by an NFC team in NFL history, breaking the 13–0 record previously shared with the 2009 New Orleans Saints and the 2011 Green Bay Packers. With their NFC-best 15–1 regular season record, the Panthers clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Ten players were selected to the Pro Bowl (the most in franchise history) along with eight All-Pro selections.
The Panthers' offense, which led the NFL in scoring (500 points), was loaded with talent, boasting six Pro Bowl selections. Pro Bowl quarterback and regular season MVP Cam Newton had one of his best seasons, throwing for 3,837 yards and rushing for 636 yards, while recording a career-high and league-leading 45 total touchdowns (35 passing, 10 rushing), a career-low 10 interceptions, and a career-best quarterback rating of 99.4. Newton's leading receivers were tight end , who caught a career-high 77 passes for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns, and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who caught 44 passes for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns; Ginn also rushed for 60 yards and returned 27 punts for 277 yards. Other key receivers included veteran Jerricho Cotchery (39 receptions for 485 yards), rookie Devin Funchess (31 receptions for 473 yards and five touchdowns), and second-year receiver (31 receptions for 447 yards). The Panthers' backfield featured Pro Bowl running back Jonathan Stewart, who led the team with 989 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 13 games, along with Pro Bowl fullback Mike Tolbert, who rushed for 256 yards and caught 18 passes for another 154 yards. Carolina's offensive line also featured two Pro Bowl selections: center Ryan Kalil and guard Trai Turner.
The Panthers' defense gave up just 308 points, ranking sixth in the league, while also leading the NFL in interceptions with 24 and boasting four Pro Bowl selections. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short led the team in sacks with 11, while also forcing three fumbles and recovering two. Fellow lineman Mario Addison added 6½ sacks. The Panthers defensive line also featured veteran defensive end Jared Allen, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, who was the NFL's active career sack leader with 136, along with defensive end Kony Ealy, who had five sacks in just nine starts. Behind them, two of the Panthers' three starting linebackers were also selected to play in the Pro Bowl: and Luke Kuechly. Davis compiled 5½ sacks, four forced fumbles, and four interceptions, while Kuechly led the team in tackles (118) forced two fumbles, and intercepted four passes of his own. Carolina's secondary featured Pro Bowl safety Kurt Coleman, who led the team with a career-high seven interceptions, while also racking up 88 tackles and Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman, who developed into a shutdown corner during the season and had four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
After losing in the divisional round of the playoffs during three of the previous four seasons, the Denver Broncos' general manager John Elway made numerous coaching changes, including a mutual parting with head coach John Fox, who had won four divisional championships in his four years as Broncos head coach, being replaced in that role by Gary Kubiak, Elway's former backup quarterback and former Broncos offensive coordinator. Wade Phillips, a former Broncos head coach, returned to the team to serve his second stint as defensive coordinator, succeeding Jack Del Rio who had left to take the head coaching vacancy at the Oakland Raiders. The team's 43–8 loss in Super Bowl XLVIII two years earlier, despite holding the regular season's top offense, resulted in Elway signing defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T. J. Ward, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for the 2014 season.
Under Kubiak, the Broncos planned to install a run-oriented offense with zone blocking to blend in with quarterback Peyton Manning's shotgun passing style, but struggled with numerous changes and injuries to the offensive line, as well as the aging and injured Manning having his worst statistical season since his rookie year with the Indianapolis Colts in 1998. In addition to turning 39 in the 2015 offseason, Manning suffered a plantar fasciitis injury in his heel during the summer. Though the team had a 7–0 start, Manning led the NFL in interceptions. In Week 10, Manning suffered a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot. He set the in this game, but after throwing four interceptions, he was benched in favor of backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, who took over as the starter for most of the remainder of the regular season. After a slow start in Denver's final regular season game against San Diego, Osweiler was benched leading to Manning's return. Manning reclaimed the starting quarterback position for the playoffs by leading the team to a key 27–20 win that enabled the team to clinch the AFC's No. 1 seed. Under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who replaced his predecessor's complicated read-and-react scheme with a simple aggressive approach of attacking the ball, the Broncos' defense ranked No. 1 in total yards allowed, passing yards allowed and sacks, and like the previous three seasons, the team continued to set numerous individual, league and franchise records. With the defense carrying the team despite the issues with the offense, the Broncos finished the regular season with a 12–4 record and earned home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Manning finished the year with a career-low 67.9 passer rating, throwing for 2,249 yards and nine touchdowns, with 17 interceptions. Osweiler threw for 1,967 yards and put up a better TD:INT ratio (10 touchdowns to six interceptions) for a higher rating of 86.4, but remained benched during the postseason in favor of Manning. Veteran receiver Demaryius Thomas led the team with 105 receptions for 1,304 yards and six touchdowns, while Emmanuel Sanders caught 76 passes for 1,135 yards and six scores, while adding another 106 yards returning punts. Tight end Owen Daniels was also a big element of the passing game with 46 receptions for 517 yards. Running back C. J. Anderson was the team's leading rusher 863 yards and seven touchdowns, while also catching 25 passes for 183 yards. Running back Ronnie Hillman also made a big impact with 720 yards, five touchdowns, 24 receptions, and a 4.2 yards per carry average. Overall, the offense ranked 19th in scoring with 355 points and did not have any Pro Bowl selections.
The Broncos' defense ranked first in the NFL yards allowed (4,530) for the first time in franchise history, and fourth in points allowed (296). Defensive ends Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson each had 5½ sacks. Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller led the team with 11 sacks, forced four fumbles, and recovered three. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware was selected to play in the Pro Bowl for the ninth time in his career, ranking second on the team with 7½ sacks. Linebacker Brandon Marshall led the team in total tackles with 109, while Danny Trevathan ranked second with 102 tackles. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib (three interceptions) and Chris Harris Jr. (two interceptions) were the other two Pro Bowl selections from the defense, though none of the players selected for the Pro Bowl participated due to the Broncos reaching Super Bowl 50.
The Panthers defeated the Seattle Seahawks 31–24 in the NFC divisional round. The Panthers then defeated the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game 49–15, racking up 487 yards and forcing seven turnovers.
The Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 23–16 in the AFC divisional round, by scoring 11 points in the final three minutes of the game. The next week, they defeated the defending Super Bowl XLIX champion New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game 20–18, by intercepting a pass on a New England 2-point conversion attempt that followed a Gronkowski touchdown reception with 17 seconds left on the clock. The Broncos recovered the subsequent onside kick attempt ensuring victory.
Carolina suffered a major setback when , an 11-year veteran who had already overcome three ACL tears in his career, went down with a broken arm in the NFC Championship Game. Despite this, he insisted he would still find a way to play in the Super Bowl. His prediction turned out to be accurate and he made it into the starting lineup.
Peyton Manning reached his fourth Super Bowl, with appearances under as many head coaches (Tony Dungy, , John Fox, and Gary Kubiak). He became the first quarterback ever to lead two teams to multiple Super Bowls. He was also the oldest quarterback ever to play in a Super Bowl at age 39. The previous record was held by John Elway, who led the Broncos to victory in Super Bowl XXXIII at age 38 and is currently Denver's Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager.
Manning and Newton set the record for the largest age difference between opposing Super Bowl quarterbacks at 13 years and 48 days (Manning was 39, Newton was 26). In addition, this was the first Super Bowl to feature a quarterback on both teams who was the . Manning was the #1 selection of the 1998 NFL Draft, while Newton was picked first in 2011. The matchup also pits the top two picks of the 2011 draft against each other: Newton for Carolina and Von Miller for Denver.
With Ron Rivera having been a linebacker with the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX, and Kubiak replacing Elway at the end of the Broncos' defeats in Super Bowls XXI and XXIV, this was the first Super Bowl in which both head coaches played in the game themselves; coincidentally, the coaches they had played under, Mike Ditka (Rivera) and Dan Reeves (Kubiak), not only had Super Bowl playing experience themselves, but had done so as teammates with the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowls V and VI (and worked together as Cowboys assistant coaches for Super Bowls X, XII and XIII).
Concerns were raised over whether Levi's Stadium's field was of a high enough quality to host a Super Bowl; during the inaugural season, the field had to be re-sodded multiple times due to various issues, and earlier in the 2015 season, a portion of the turf collapsed under Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, causing him to slip and miss a field goal, although the field has not had any major issues since. As is customary for Super Bowl games played at natural grass stadiums, the NFL re-sodded the hybrid Bermuda 419 turf playing surface prior to the game; NFL and Atlanta Braves field director Ed Mangan stated that the field was in "great shape" for the game. However, the turf showed problems throughout the game, with a number of players needing to change their cleats during the game and players slipping during plays all throughout the game.
As the designated home team in the annual rotation between AFC and NFC teams, the Broncos elected to wear their road white jerseys with matching white pants. Elway stated, "We've had Super Bowl success in our white uniforms." The Broncos last wore matching white jerseys and pants in the Super Bowl in Super Bowl XXXIII, Elway's last game as Denver QB, when they defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34–19. In their only other Super Bowl win in Super Bowl XXXII, Denver wore blue jerseys, which was their primary color at the time. They also lost Super Bowl XXI when they wore white jerseys, but they are 0–4 in Super Bowls when wearing orange jerseys, losing in Super Bowl XII, XXII, XXIV, and XLVIII. The only other AFC champion team to have worn white as the designated home team in the Super Bowl was the Pittsburgh Steelers; they defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21–10 in Super Bowl XL 10 seasons prior. The Broncos' decision to wear white meant the Panthers would wear their standard home uniform: black jerseys with silver pants.
The Panthers used the practice facility and stayed at the San Jose Marriott. The Broncos practiced at and stayed at the Santa Clara Marriott.
On June 4, 2014, the NFL announced that the game would be branded with Arabic numerals as "Super Bowl 50"—rather than with Roman numerals, a practice established at Super Bowl V under which the game would have been known as "Super Bowl L". NFL creative director Shandon Melvin, explained that a primary reason for the change was the difficulty in designing an aesthetically pleasing logo with the letter "L" using the standardized logo template introduced at Super Bowl XLV. He noted that "L" was harder to design around as it is asymmetrical unlike other Roman numerals, and also showed concerns that use of the letter "L" could be interpreted as the "loser" hand gesture. 73 mockups, incorporating either "L" or "50", were designed before the final design was chosen, which featured large numerals colored in gold behind the Vince Lombardi Trophy, instead of underneath and in silver as in the standard logo.
Tying into the game's "golden anniversary," various gold-themed promotions and initiatives were held throughout the 2015 NFL season. The league adopted a gold-tinted logo, which was implemented across all of the NFL's properties and painted on fields during the season. The numbering of the 50-yard line on fields was colored gold, and beginning on Week 7, all sideline jackets and hats featured gold-trimmed logos. Gold footballs were given to the high schools of players and coaches that had participated in a Super Bowl, and "homecoming" events were also held by Super Bowl-winning teams at games.
Ten themed "50" statues were placed in locations across San Francisco to promote the game; however, due to the negativity towards the game by residents of the city, the statues notably became the target of vandals, with the "SUPER BOWL 50" lettering on their bases re-arranged to form other phrases such as "SUPERB OWL", "SUP BRO 50", and after the Alamo Square statue was toppled, "OOPS".
Super Bowl week events
The annual was held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. In addition, "Super Bowl City" opened on January 30 at Justin Herman Plaza on The Embarcadero, which featured exhibits showcasing the culture of the Bay Area. More than a million people were expected to attend the festivities in San Francisco during Super Bowl week. San Francisco mayor Ed Lee said of the highly visible homeless presence in this area "they are going to have to leave". San Francisco city supervisor Jane Kim unsuccessfully lobbied for the NFL to reimburse San Francisco for city services in the amount of $5 million.
Organizers announced plans for $2 million worth of other ancillary events, including a week-long event at the Santa Clara Convention Center, a beer, wine and food festival at Bellomy Field at Santa Clara University, and a pep rally. The city council announced plans to set aside seed funding for the event. For the first time, the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee and the NFL openly sought businesses owned by the LGBT community and disabled veterans for Business Connect, a program that provides local companies with contracting opportunities in and around the Super Bowl.
The game's media day, which was typically held on the Tuesday afternoon prior to the game, was moved to the Monday evening and re-branded as Super Bowl Opening Night. The event was held on February 1, 2016 at SAP Center in San Jose. Alongside the traditional media availabilities, the event featured an opening ceremony with player introductions on a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Super Bowl 50 Host Committee vowed to be "the most giving Super Bowl ever", and dedicated 25 percent of all money it raised for philanthropic causes in the Bay Area. The committee created the 50 fund as its philanthropic initiative and focuses on providing grants to aid with youth development, community investment and sustainable environments.
In addition to the Vince Lombardi Trophy that all Super Bowl champions receive, the Broncos also received a large, 18-karat gold-plated "50". Each digit weighs 33 lb (15 kg) for a total of 66 lb (30 kg). Like the Lombardi Trophy, the "50" was designed by Tiffany & Co.
After putting out a call for volunteers in June 2015, over 450 volunteers helped to make the Super Bowl 50 Tour happen. More than 5,000 volunteers were on hand to help with events leading up to, during and after Super Bowl 50 as well. Volunteers signed up for a minimum of 3–4 hour shifts, and some volunteers gave more than 200 hours of their time over the course of the week. As a thank you for volunteering, volunteers were gifted backpacks and uniforms.