Mercedes-Benz Stadium anchors the compact campus that will welcome fans to Super Bowl LIII in downtown Atlanta. (Getty Images)
The concentrated activity around Mercedes-Benz Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3 offers an atypical take on prepping not only for fan experiences but also for the logistics of the grand event.
The stadium opened in August 2017 in downtown Atlanta adjacent to a wealth of other attractions. That has allowed Populous, organizers of the Super Bowl game and accompanying activities, the opportunity to create a Super Bowl campus that places all activities in the same vicinity but also creates some problems to solve.
“We have so much activity (that’s) going to be taking place on the stadium campus (that) it is something that is not normal,” said Populous’ Todd Barnes, the director of the Super Bowl game day project. “It is more difficult. There are more logistical challenges in terms of staging equipment on the site.”
Barnes juxtaposed this year’s setup with what they’ll see next year at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., where the stadium sits far from downtown, breaking up the fan experience aspect of the weeklong event away from the stadium. This year, though, fans will flock to the venue for the free Super Bowl Live fan village at Centennial Olympic Park and the ticketed Super Bowl Experience event inside the Georgia World Congress Center, all while contractor crews stage final preparations for the Feb. 3 event.
But come Super Bowl Sunday, that large campus and the oversized perimeter it creates should turn into a benefit for security and crowd flow.
This year’s campus will incorporate the stadium, the convention center and State Farm Arena, a venue that will hold the media day activities, and will abut Centennial Olympic Park. With the stadium tucked into the back of the campus, Barnes said, a nice separation exists between the front-of-house areas for fans and the back of house, especially with an underground service area and loading dock. Still, though, expect a mixture of setups, displays and activations in the front of house making it difficult during the prep stage for contractors to create the compound needed for Super Bowl operations.
In terms of siting the Super Bowl Live event, it will face the city side of the venue, creating an overall crowd flow that has fans accessing venue sites and activations away from the bulk of the preparation work. That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges in the creation of everything from the media center to hospitality zones to the NFL Tailgate Party to operational functions.
Normally the back-of-house space for everything from broadcast compounds to security stretches up to 700,000 square feet. “That space is just not here on this site,” Barnes said. Instead, they have commandeered neighboring parking lots — but some more than 2,000 feet away — to help with staging, requiring contractors to work off-site before bringing equipment and materials on-site to complete the build-outs. “It has been a different way for us to understand how to work,” he said.
When it comes to Super Bowl Sunday, the Super Bowl Live event, a free fan-facing activation open the entire week leading to the game, will close. Barnes hopes that will help persuade fans without tickets to stay home.
With a large secure perimeter, Barnes said, multiple ticket checks will turn away those not trying to make their way toward the game. Populous also devised a unique pattern of checkpoints, different from those of a typical Falcons game. By having the Super Bowl Experience within the secure perimeter, they hope to attract fans to the venue earlier.
“The goal is to try to have fans arrive to the stadium site earlier in the day to help spread the crowd flow,” he said. With stadium gates open for four hours before game time, anything that can spread the load of fans into the perimeter helps ease the process. By using the Georgia World Congress Center for a larger hospitality area, the event has more game day hospitality inside the stadium perimeter than in the past, which will also attract fans to the site earlier.
The Atlanta Falcons have turned the site where the Georgia Dome once stood into the Home Depot Backyard, all within the secure perimeter, which will serve as an oversized game day plaza for the Super Bowl, full of fan activations.
Barnes said they hope that by an hour to an hour and a half after gates open they are pushing a third of the overall population into the perimeter. “It would be great if that can happen,” he said.
Populous will continue to develop crowd-flow modeling to make projections for different hours of the load-in to understand limitations and weak points and accommodate problems that may arise. “And with a Super Bowl,” he said, “they always do.”