When it comes to hosting big events, it wouldn’t appear Indianapolis would have anything to teach New York and New Orleans.
New Orleans has hosted nine Super Bowls and the Big Apple has hosted everything from Broadway musicals to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
But New Orleans and New York officials here this week for the Super Bowl said they’ve learned a lot from the Circle City as they prepare for their turns.
New Orleans will host its 10th Super Bowl in 2013—matching Miami’s hosting record—and New York will welcome America’s most popular sporting event in 2014.
“The Super Bowl changes and grows every year, so there’s a lot to take in,” said Jay Cicero, executive director of New Orleans’ Host Committee. “Although we’ve held this event many times before, Indianapolis is breaking a lot of ground and we’re learning many things from them.”
New Orleans last hosted the Super Bowl in 2002.
Cicero and his staff, who are working from a booth adjacent to radio row in the JW Marriott hotel, have been especially keen to shadow Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee members in their social media command center. That operation—on the third floor of the Morrison Opera Place building—is a first of its kind, and monitors what people are saying about the event this year.
“That social media command center is state-of-the-art, and we definitely want to emulate that,” said Mark Romig, New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee public relations committee chairman.
New York officials, who are working from a booth at the NFL Experience in the Convention Center, also have been impressed by the social media command center.
“What’s struck us is how immediately you can monitor what people are saying about your event and staff,” said Meadowlands Regional Chamber CEO Jim Kirkos, who is here with New York’s host committee. “We really like the immediacy in which you can get information to take corrective action or give feedback to people in the way of added information.”
Other new features that are getting attention are the Super Bowl Village and the zip line.
“We like the way that there’s a central gathering place where local residents and visitors that want to celebrate the Super Bowl can come together,” Kirkos said. “That may be a little more difficult for us to do, but we definitely like what we see here.”
New Orleans—which is famous for throwing downtown parties including Mardi Gras—has been impressed by local participation in Indianapolis. The city’s central location had helped draw crowds, said officials from New Orleans, but there’s more to it than that.
“You have a crowd here that has been bigger than any crowd the week before and especially the weekend before the Super Bowl than I think has ever been seen before,” Romig said. “A lot of credit goes to Indianapolis’ host committee and the work they’ve done communicating with local and regional residents about all the activities.”
Grace Hanlon, executive director of New Jersey’s division of travel and tourism, has been impressed with the popularity of the zip line down Capitol Avenue and the use of vacant real estate, especially the placement of The Huddle inside the former Nordstrom space at Circle Centre mall.
“They’ve taken something that could have been a negative and turned into a really nice amenity for people coming downtown,” Kirkos said.
The zip line, Hanlon said, is as big a spectator attraction as it is for participants. “It’s just fascinating watching people fly overhead,” she said. “It’s an absolute amazing attraction.”
While fancy downtown features and innovative operations may be the most obvious things for New York and New Orleans to observe, officials from both future host cities said there’s a lot to be said for Indianapolis’ basic blocking and tackling.
“This is the cleanest city I’ve ever seen, especially for a big event,” said New Orleans’ Cicero. “So we’re looking at how city crews have worked during the event and in the late night and early morning hours to keep everything clean. We’re also looking at how they place their waste receptacles to encourage people to put trash where it belongs.”
New Orleans has long struggled to keep its city clean during big events.
On Wednesday, former NFL player and broadcaster Boomer Esiason said “Indianapolis is like New Orleans without the dirty.”
New York is no stranger to dealing with winter weather. Still, its host committee has taken a detailed look at Indianapolis’ plans to deal with snow and ice. As it turns out, Indianapolis dodged a bullet with warmer-than-average temperatures, but Kirkos said the city’s readiness plan was impressive.
“The takeaway is you can never be too prepared,” Kirkos said. “We looked at everything from how to handle massive amounts of snow to how to keep Super Bowl food and drink distributors moving in case of bad weather.”
Both out-of-town host committees noted the Hoosier hospitality that greets visitors almost anywhere they go.
“Your hospitality through the volunteers is the best I’ve ever seen,” New Orleans’ Romig said. “It starts at the airport, and permeates through the whole city.”
While Kirkos thinks Indiana natives are naturally friendly, he also thinks volunteer training has helped amp up the hospitality. The Indianapolis host committee and Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association launched a Super Service training program last fall that was required for many of the 8,000 committee volunteers and was strongly encouraged for hotel and restaurant workers, cab drivers and myriad other area hospitality and service providers.
“Too often, New York and New Jersey gets bad press for being gruff and mean-spirited,” Kirkos said. “Seeing the high level of customer service here really reaffirms that [customer service] needs to be a high priority. The type of greeting and service we’ve gotten here leaves a lasting impression.”
Upon their return to New Orleans, Cicero and Romig plan to discuss the many positives they’ve seen in Indianapolis with the chairman of their host committee, famous political consultant James Carville.
“You have raised the bar and challenged us to follow,” Cicero said. “You’ll be a hard act to follow.”