Lucas Oil Stadium was the first NFL venue designed and built specifically to host the Super Bowl, and early reviews from its big test on Sunday were encouraging.
Early-arriving fans sailed through security screenings and arrived at their seats well before kickoff. Lines for restrooms and concessions didn’t get too long. Fewer in-stadium advertisements allowed fans to focus on the game. And if the dining options didn’t draw rave reviews, well, stadium food is stadium food.
In many ways big ways and small, the feedback on Lucas Oil Stadium did nothing to discourage the city’s ambitions of hosting another Super Bowl.
“Lucas Oil is the best stadium ever,” Madden NFL Creative Director Michael Young raved in a post on Twitter. “Less than a minute wait for bathroom and food all night.
Local Super Bowl host committee brass spent much of the game with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other senior league executives, who left Indianapolis impressed.
“One of our board members was with the commissioner late into the game and all the feedback was terrific,” said Mark Miles, chairman of Indianapolis’ Super Bowl host committee. “I think we burned a lifetime of good karma in a week and the culmination of that was tonight’s game.”
Before the game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots kicked off, Indianapolis officials were in a giddy mood. A week of superlative mid-winter weather pushed more than 1.1 million fans through Super Bowl Village downtown—about double what the host committee originally projected and about 30 percent more than revised projections made Wednesday. (See a video recap of highlights below.)
NFL officials also were feeling good after the NFL Experience attraction broke the Super Bowl attendance record set in Arizona in 2008, drawing 265,039 fans, and merchandise sales soared more than 25 percent past estimates.
But Goodell made it clear when he addressed the media Friday that the way the city and stadium operated on game day would have much to do with Indianapolis’ chances of landing another Super Bowl.
“We’ve got a weekend still to go and a game to put on,” Goodell said then. “I know everybody in Indianapolis is focused on the future, but we want to make sure that this week turns out to be what everyone has worked so hard for.”
NFL executives became skittish about relatively new facilities last year after several entrances at Cowboys Stadium malfunctioned and temporary seats were deemed unusable shortly before Super Bowl XLV kicked off in Dallas.
Compared with a regular season Colts' game, Lucas Oil Stadium increased its capacity by about 3,800, to 68,658, for Sunday’s Super Bowl. Dallas’ stadium added 20,000 to hold more than 103,000 last year, prompting capacity issues in restrooms and in concourses.
There were no such problems in Indianapolis despite a stadium-entry procedure the NFL implemented that bore little resemblance to the usual format for Colts games.
Most notably, the league set up fan security screenings complete with bomb-sniffing dogs and metal detectors in heated tents outside the stadium’s perimeter, including in tents connected to the Indiana Convention Center. Traffic moved smoothly by most accounts, and fans largely took their seats by game time.
It certainly helped that many fans arrived early. Crowds backed up a bit at the north and south escalators, as is typical for Colts games, but actually seemed to move more smoothly for the Super Bowl.
The stadium’s most notable features, the north windows showing skyline views and 96-foot-by-35-foot high-definition video boards, were on full display for Giants and Patriots fans. In fact, the screens allowed those in the nosebleed seats to actually see Madonna during the halftime show.
Patrick Flanagan, a digital marketing executive at Simon Property Group, described the overall experience as “phenomenal” thanks to an army of ushers, seat cushions for every fan and a stadium environment less cluttered with advertising than usual.
“It was more focused on the game, a clearer overall look,” Flanagan noted.
The NFL used the full screens to show video, rather than using a portion of the space for extra ads, as the Colts do. The league also didn't show advertisements on the digital ribbon display that surrounds the stadium bowl. The ribbon screens were incorporated into the halftime show.
Flanagan had only two minor critiques: The food was the same-old, same-old stadium fare, lacking creativity or a foodie touch; and the stadium exit procedure sent fans through the convention center, preventing attendees from walking back through downtown to the Super Bowl Village.
The smooth traffic flow of fans into and out of the stadium was a high point in the eyes of the game’s planners.
“I’ve been to the last five Super Bowls, and I’ve never seen the set up for getting fans in and out of the stadium anywhere near as efficient as it was here,” Miles said.
Lucas Oil Stadium was built to allow the convention center and other areas surrounding the stadium to be used for entry and exit for a high-security event like the Super Bowl, said Brian Trubey, design principal with Dallas-based HKS Sports & Entertainment, the architecture firm that designed the $720 million, retractable-roof stadium.
“We put a lot of thought into what it would take to host a Super Bowl in this building when we designed it,” said Trubey, who flew to Indianapolis to attend the game. “There are bigger stadiums in the league, but when it comes to the Super Bowl, it’s not all about maximum capacity and maximizing ticket revenue. It’s about providing a great fan experience and the league taking care of its sponsors. This is a superior entertainment venue from a corporate standpoint.”
Trubey thinks Indianapolis has an excellent chance at luring the Super Bowl back.
“I think you could make the case that Indianapolis is one of the premiere locations for a Super Bowl in any way you want to measure it,” he said.
Now comes the tear down. Miles wasn’t sure how long it will take to get downtown Indianapolis back to normal, but added, “it’s not a one-day tear down.”
Host committee officials said they’ll disseminate information about traffic and other downtown issues early this week.
According to its contract with Indianapolis, the NFL has a 10-day “load out” period during which it has complete control of Lucas Oil Stadium and the convention center. It will use that time to deconstruct Super Bowl infrastructure and ship it out of town.
Host committee officials next will begin wrapping up their financial books, preparing reports, looking at economic impact, and, Miles said, “looking for ways to improve.”
That may not be an easy task. But it also may be the surest sign that Indianapolis is already drawing up a new playbook to attract another Super Bowl.