Date: March 2005
There were no surprises at Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla. From the destiny-bound New England Patriots to the tame half-time show from a fully clothed Paul McCartney, the game came off without a hitch, which is exactly what organizers were hoping for in light of last year's long lines and now infamous Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction.”
Despite fears about logjam and security issues in the smallest market to ever host the game, the influx of more than 108,000 fans downtown was smooth, thanks to a massive team effort by local officials and the National Football League (NFL) to avoid any embarrassing snafus. “We used everything you could find and them some,” said Jim Steeg, the NFL's senior vice president in charge of special events, working his final Super Bowl after 26 years on the job. One of the most creative solutions to a small-town issue – a lack of hotel rooms – was found in five cruise ships brought in to supply floating accommodations for 8,000.
In response to worries that too many attendees would try to squeeze into the limited parking spots downtown, traffic was eased through a system of more than 160 shuttle buses that circulated downtown and dropped passengers off at a 15-acre site that also served as a landing spot for the 15 river taxis shuttling fans across the river. “You never know how many people will take the shuttles,” said Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee President Michael Kelly. “But people followed directions so well that we sold out all of our external lots with the exception of one on the north side.”
The only minor hiccup was, as expected, an hour to hour-and-a-half wait time to exit downtown lots following the game. Steeg said fans arrived early for the game and even with ticket scanning and the security pat downs and metal detector walkthroughs that have become standard since Sept. 11, 2001, the longest patrons waited to enter the stadium was around 20 minutes. “We had some problems last year with processing people and I think the things we did and the NFL did this year to make it better was a really positive thing,” said Pete Kranske, executive vice president/chief operating officer for Contemporary Services Corporation (CSC). CSC added 25 metal detectors, for a total of 117 machines, to ease the logjams created at the detectors in 2004 – one of the biggest fan complaints from last year's game.
Additional staff were also posted at the entrances to Alltel Stadium to ease egress and one bank of detectors was dedicated to the corporate hospitality area to make that group's entrance flow easier. There were just over 50 arrests and no serious incidents, with the only scare coming from a private plane that strayed into the 30-mile no-fly zone radius on game day.
The NFL Experience, the 14th annual multimedia experience, drew its third or fourth highest attendance in history with 160,000-170,000 patrons, easily eclipsing Steeg's pre-event estimate of 125,000. At price points of $10 for children and $15 for adults over two weekends, the 1-million-square-foot Experience had an estimated $2 million gate, with more than 60 percent of patrons local. “It was about giving local people the opportunity to come out and be a part of the festivities,” Steeg said. “And downtown here on Saturday was gridlock with people walking the streets and coming across the Main Street bridge, so it worked.”
Ticket prices for the game were at price points of $500 and $600, with last year's $400 ticket level dropped for this year's game. The corporate hospitality village drew more than 4,700 people at $525 apiece for a three-hour pre-game and two-hour post-game event with food and beverage.
Entertainment included former NFL player Doug Flutie's band and actor Dennis Quaid's group, as well as meet-and-greets with players. The annual Friday night Commissioner's Party at the equestrian center drew more than 4,000, and the pre-game invite-only Tailgate Party for sponsors and advertisers was attended by approximately 10,000 patrons. From the pre-game shows by Gretchen Wilson, the Charlie Daniels Band and the Black Eyed Peas, to a Ray Charles tribute, Kelly said music played a bigger part than ever leading up to the game. “We had to overcome the fact that there isn't that much to do in Jacksonville in terms of bars and restaurants downtown,” he said. So, the city arranged to have live entertainment on both sides of the river in the days leading up to the game, with 3 miles of food, drink and live entertainment on the riverfront, including a stretch of Bay Street that was closed off from the stadium to the public landing.
Based on more than three-and-a-half minutes of in-stadium signage gaining exposure during the game, Front Row Marketing Services estimated that Alltel received nearly $17 million worth of branding exposure during the broadcast. “It's definitely the most exposure the venue has ever had,” said Kelly.
The economic impact on Jacksonville is estimated by the NFL to be around $300 million. Bob Downey, general manager for SMG Jacksonville, said there was a benefit to his company managing a majority of the Jacksonville venues used in the Super Bowl festivities. “It is unusual for one group to control that many venues,” said Downey of SMG, which operates Jacksonville's Alltel stadium, Veterans Memorial Arena, The Baseball Ground of Jackson, Jacksonville Equestrian Center, the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts and the Prime Osborn Convention Center. The Media Center inside the Osborn Convention Center housed 3,200 credentialed journalists and was the location for the numerous NFL press conferences. The Performing Arts Center was the site of the Host Committee gala on Friday night, attended by 2,500 and sports agent Leigh Steinberg's 19th annual party on Saturday night, which drew 2,500 at $400 a piece, among them many current and former NFL stars.
Additionally, the Westwood One radio network held a private brunch for 100 at the Arts Center on Sunday. Other events at SMG-managed venues included a kick-off salute for the game on Monday night with Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the team owners at the Arena as well as a private Chamber of Commerce gathering at the venue, which drew 3,000. The city of Jacksonville put on three nights of concerts (Thursday-Saturday) at the Baseball Grounds as part of its SuperFest, a themed entertainment area featuring food and drink tents, vendors and live entertainment on several outdoor stages stretching for 3 miles along the downtown riverfront.
The SuperFest drew an estimated 400,000 between Thursday and Sunday, according to police estimates. “The NFL staff came and critiqued the stadium and had very complimentary things to say throughout the week,” Downey said. But, of course, no operation is totally glitch free, and, unfortunately on game day the toilets at the stadium were on the fritz. Downey said some debris made its way into the system during an upgrade of the facility prior to the game and it caused the toilets and other water-supplied equipment to run out of control. “The flushometers stayed open and we had almost 1,000 toilets running continuously,” Downey said.
Detroit has already put a number of facilities on hold for the 2006 Super Bowl (Feb. 5). “We have first-tier facilities on hold all over the metropolitan area,” said Susan Sherer, executive director of the Detroit Super Bowl Host Committee. “When the NFL or a customer like DirectTV calls, we already have facilities they can look at.” Among the venues on hold, in addition to Ford Field, are the Pontiac Silverdome as a practice site, the Henry Ford Museum for the Commissioner's party and the 700,000-square-foot Cobo Hall for the NFL Experience. Sherer said the 600,000-square-foot main hall and another 100,000-square-foot hall just below should provide plenty of space for the popular attraction.
A handful of theaters within walking distance of the stadium will be used for corporate hospitality on game day, among them the Gem, Century, Fox, Opera House, Music Hall and State Theater. Unlike Jacksonville, which struggled to find enough hotel rooms and downtown diversions for guests, Sherer said downtown Detroit has more than enough rooms and cultural attractions to lure visitors.
Issues the 20-person Host Committee staff is already thinking about include contingency plans for the unpredictable winter weather and the larger issue of holding the Super Bowl on an international border in a terrorism-threatened environment. “The border presents a challenge and an advantage,” Sherer said. “It's cool to enjoy another country and go to Windsor, but it's a challenge in terms of homeland security and public safety.” Sherer expects to have 8,000 volunteers lined up by the end of April to help with planning and execution.
Interviewed for this story: Jim Steeg, (212) 450-2000; Pete Kranske, (800) 754-5150; Michael Kelly, (904) 493-7239; Bob Downey, (904) 630-0335