It was eight years and one week ago that I stepped off the plane into the warm Arizona air. Coming from the snow in Wisconsin, it was a much-welcomed warmth. Our group from Carroll University was immediately greeted by the towering Super Bowl Countdown Clock right in the airport. Its bold characters shouted, ‘Only 8 days, 19 hours, 3 minutes, and 32 seconds until the New York Giants faced the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42!’.
I was a sophomore at Carroll. To be honest, I remember thinking I was surprised to be selected to work the Big Game with minimal professional event planning experience. I was mistaken. While experience was a factor, I was selected because our professors knew I could be thrown into unexpected situations and rise to the occasion, all with a positive attitude.
Leaving the airport, we were whisked off to the credentialing center in the Westgate Entertainment District, an area filled with food, shopping, outdoor concerts, and entertainment – all planned around the Super Bowl. It was a bustling, energized, city within a city.
Five different lanyards were thrust into my hands as I was credentialed. All different colors, sizes and shapes… Each credential a key to enter restricted, behind-the-scenes areas. They were the keys to open doors of once-in-lifetime experiences.
My Super Bowl 42 adventure entailed an Economic Impact Study; participation in the Media Center, Media Day & Media Party; event set up for the Sonora Bowl and Big Ticket Gala, and staffing the NFL Experience. Looking back, it was both a memorable experience and an amazing spring board for my career in event planning!
Economic Impact Study
One of our main responsibilities was partnering with Arizona State University’s MBA program to assist with the event’s official economic impact study. We interviewed nonresidents on their expenditures, lodging, and travel while in town for the Super Bowl to determine the economic impact of hosting the event on the Phoenix-metro area. I remember being amazed at how far people traveled to attend the game, how much more money was spent on alcohol vs. food, and how common it was for people to spend $3,000 on souvenirs in 1 day!
When I think back on the economic impact study, it taught me to keep the big picture of an event in mind when planning. It’s easy to focus on event details that directly surround the event itself – the venue, program, décor, etc. But an event is much more than that. It includes the whole experience – the ease of flying into the airport, the proximity of the hotel to the event venue, the number of area restaurants in relation to the number of people coming into town, the entertainment that’s available during off hours, etc. Considering all of these elements will create a greater experience for the attendees. It also increases the amount of money spent and the overall economic impact the event has on the community.
The Media Center not only hosted press conferences, television interviews, and live radio shows, but was the headquarters for all credentialed Super Bowl reporters, journalists, news anchors and photographers.
Everyone in my team took shifts working in the Media Center and assisting the Business INSIGHT Group with the first-ever media study at the Super Bowl. The purpose of the study was to quantify the number and types of stories produced, identify where reporters were from, and evaluate the reporter’s overall perception of Super Bowl 42. We learned how to approach media and the importance of body language, skills not only needed in event planning, but in any workplace environment.
In addition to talking with international reporters (from France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Japan) and domestic reporters (from ESPN, The New York Times, Boston Tribune, Entertainment Tonight, etc.), we were lucky to see and watch live broadcast interviews with Brett Favre, Deion Sanders, and Peyton Manning to name a few, from our booth.
Media Day was an exclusive event (in 2008, Media Day was not open to the public) where credentialed media journalists could interview coaches, owners, and players from each team at the stadium.
When we arrived, the atmosphere was a buzz of positive energy as we watched interviews and walked among the players, coaches, and celebrities. You don’t realize how big the players are until you are standing next to them. While it was great to meet the New York Giants and New England Patriots, it would have been even better had the Packers won the NFC Championship game that year!
This was both an exciting day for media and players as well as a great day for a few middle-school students who were invited to the event to conduct interviews with the players. It was fun to hear their questions and see their smiles throughout the entire interview. You could easily see the impact the experience was making in the lives of these kids!
Media Party – The Corona Ranch
All of the reporters and journalists were invited to an exclusive party (media only) to sit back and relax before the start of a busy and exciting week. The night included both a concert and rodeo along with free food, beverage, and giveaways. It’s not ironic that the first full day the reporters are in town, they are welcomed with a day of memorable events and experiences. As an event planner, creating exclusive events that are not only hospitable, but timed and executed correctly, can help build relationships with the media which is a critical public relations component.
Luckily, our only job here was to kick back and relax! We watched the rodeo, played quick draw and Wild West games, listened to and met the Gin Blossoms, to name a few things.
Sonora Bowl II
For this event, we assisted with event set up, volunteer registration, staffing the concession stand, raffle booth, and interactive football games. The event itself included a football game played between top-youth players from Sonora, Mexico and top-youth players from Arizona. Prior to kickoff, a free football clinic and family fair was offered to the public.
The day of the Sonora Bowl, the city received 3 inches of rain – about half their yearly rainfall. Naturally, the rain led to road closures and some of the trucks carrying the event equipment to arrive late. When the truck finally arrived, everyone needed to work together to set everything up before the gates opened.
This event was a classic reminder on the importance of teamwork and a positive attitude! Rain on an event day is never ideal and can bring unanticipated challenges. Having a great team in place, along with staying flexible and positive can make the best of any situation.
The Big Ticket Gala
The Big Ticket Gala was an exclusive, black-tie affair featuring Chris Berman (Host of ESPN Sports Center & Emcee), Roger Goodell (NFL Commissioner), 20 NFL Hall of Fame inductees, and performance by Jay Leno.
Only half of our group was selected to help with this event. Our role, although simple – assisting with dining room set up and escorting guests to their seats when they arrived – created an impactful experience for the guests.
Taking a picture with the Vince Lombardi trophy, as well as with Bart Starr and his wife, were some of the most memorable moments of the evening. I think back to all the details that were carefully crafted in hosting this exclusive event… Not only did the décor reflect a sophisticated football theme, but the guest interaction was just as high class. It taught me this – The details of an event don’t have to be expensive. Details can be something as simple as escorting guests to their seats for dinner, providing unique photo opportunities during the cocktail reception, or providing a black bowtie for the event mascot!
The NFL Experience was an 850,000 square foot space of lights, interactive games, competitions, clinics, and autograph opportunities for the public. The sheer size of the space was mind-boggling. Some people waited in line 2-3 hours to get tickets, and then another hour to go through security before being able to get in. My team took various shifts in staffing some of the interactive games and activities.
It was after working this experience that I understand the value of volunteers! Creating an unforgettable experience for event volunteers is just as important as creating an unforgettable experience for your event attendees. The volunteers are the face of the host organization and are the ones that are directly interacting with the event guests. Providing volunteers with the proper attire, food, beverages, and communication tools will naturally put them in good spirits and help create that unforgettable experience for your guests.
My time at Super Bowl 42 was exciting and enlightening and left me with unforgettable memories! And while I wouldn’t change it for a minute, I’m happy to be home this year with my boys enjoying the game. I hope you enjoy every minute of this year’s Big Game!