With Super Bowl, city seeks to distinguish itself

After more than five years of preparing to host the Super Bowl, the curtain rises on Indianapolis Friday.

The official ribbon-cutting on the Super Bowl Village takes place downtown at 2:45 p.m. and the NFL Experience and a slew of other activities kick off at 3 p.m.—including the highly anticipated zipline offering aerial rides down Capitol Avenue (see video below).

Like every host city, Indianapolis has tried to stand out with unique or unusual features of the 10-day party it's hosting for the nation. But will any of those things live on, becoming standard parts of the Super Bowl experience in future years?

A couple of veteran organizers of the Super Bowl and its related events think so.

“Each community brings some sort of unique perspective that they put on the game and say, ‘Wow, that’s great!’ and you can add it on down the road,” said Jim Steeg, who led Super Bowl organizing duties for the National Football League for 26 years. He said the NFL Experience, for example, started as a simple stadium tour in San Diego in 1988—to which a stunning 40,000 people turned up.

Robert Tuchman, president of New York-based event planning firm Elite Experiences, said Indianapolis has done exactly the right thing for a cold-weather city: have a constant stream of activities.

“I’ve noticed more events during this Super Bowl than really during any other Super Bowl,” said Tuchman, whose firm is helping to host the Maxim magazine parties on Feb. 4 and 5. “They’ve really tried to make sure there’s enough going on for the corporations coming into town, as opposed to other cities just banking on people just picking up a set of golf clubs and going golfing.”

Those activities include concerts, nightly lighting and pyrotechnic shows, the Super Dash competition for fans and stadium tours—as well as the usual downtown events such as symphony concerts and an Indiana Pacers game.

And for the NFL’s most important guests—major sponsors, league executives and team owners—Union Station has been converted into the lodge-like NFL House. It will function as a drop-in-anytime hospitality center—so long as you have an invitation and plunk down $400 a day—to get unlimited drinks and snacks, play at game tables, watch celebrity chefs or mix with NFL stars past and present.

Future host cities, Tuchman said, “they’re going to have to emulate a lot of this kind of stuff. The hospitality center, some of the other things."

Indianapolis has several firsts about its hosting effort. It “pre-funded” its Super Bowl bid with $25 million in commitments from corporate donors, something no other city has done. Those donations helped transform Georgia Street into a pedestrian walkway, complete with canopies to keep off the snow and fire pits to push out the cold.

The city recruited an 8,000-person army of volunteers—and then solicited other community members to make each of them a scarf to keep warm during the Super Bowl festivities. It will also have hosting “quarterbacks” who will roam around downtown with giant flags on their backs and tablet computers in their hands, ready to answer any visitor’s question.

Steeg, who grew up in Fort Wayne but now lives in San Diego, said he expects Indianapolis’ people to make this year’s Super Bowl a good experience for the estimated 150,000 visitors that will descend on the Circle City.

“I know that town. And I know they’ll do an unbelievable job, with the meet-and-greets at the airport, and all those things,” Steeg said.

Indianapolis tapped its heritage by decorating IndyCars with the logos of all the NFL teams. They will be on display on South Meridian Street in the days leading up to the game on Feb. 5.

And to counter its gas-guzzling auto-racing image, Indianapolis also worked to make this the “greenest” Super Bowl ever. The host committee organized the planting of 2,012 new trees in the city’s near-east-side neighborhoods and also created a web portal called 1st and Green where city residents reported their carbon- and water-saving actions.

The most likely part of Indianapolis’ hosting effort to be imitated in the future, Steeg said, is the decision to create a social media command center, as well as to open up the broadcast media booths—radio row and the ESPN Broadcast Studio—to the public.

“It was kind of the transformation of old hotel hotlines,” Steeg said of the social media command center, which will be located in the Morrison Opera House building on South Meridian Street. “I thought that was very unique and different.”

And opening up the broadcast media studios will let visitors not only see the on-air personalities, but also the string of celebrities that come to the Super Bowl every year for interviews and promotional activities.

“The experiment with opening media day and letting people walk through. There’s going to be an exciting moment,” Steeg said. “I’m happy for Indiana because I think everybody’s going to find it a pleasant experience.”


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