SBJ/January 30 - February 5, 2006/Other News

Hot tickets: Mags’ Super Bowl parties draw ’em in with skin

Lad mags have replaced the NFL itself as purveyors for the most popular corporate parties during Super Bowl week, using sex to draw athletes, Hollywood stars and middle-aged businessmen to their elaborate shindigs.

Ravens QB Kyle Boller with Playmates at
Playboy’s Super Bowl party last year.
Invitation-only events such as the Maxim and Playboy parties are sometimes tougher tickets than the game, and are a bit more stimulating than the NFL’s staid Commissioner’s Ball.

Last year, a seller on eBay made $2,000 selling passes to the multimillion-dollar Maxim affair in Jacksonville that proved to be fake, magazine officials said. The 1,800 real tickets are distributed free by Maxim to advertisers and VIPs, but the after-market is well established, with Maxim and Playboy party tickets for sale on eBay last week for $1,750 apiece. Security is so tight for the parties that the magazines do not divulge their locations to the public or media.

“It’s not even about the game anymore,” said Robert Tuchman, president of TSE Sports & Entertainment, which handles Super Bowl hospitality for Fortune 500 companies. “Guys are looking to go out and have fun; they’re looking to hang out with celebrities.”

He described the late-night parties, most of which take place in trendy nightclubs, as a guilt-free way for men in their 40s and 50s to relive their wild and crazy single days.

Playboy began the trend with its first party in 2000 in Atlanta. “It was a bunch of guys gawking at Playmates,” Tuchman said. “People paid $1,000 to get in.”

Those days were innocent compared with this week’s frenzy in metro Detroit. Penthouse magazine is throwing its first Super Bowl party this year, as is adult film company Vivid Entertainment with ClubJenna, a management and production firm run by adult starlet Jenna Jameson.

Maxim, Playboy and even Sports Illustrated — which three years ago began hyping its swimsuit edition at the Super Bowl — will all use sex in varying degrees of subtlety to woo VIPs to their events.

SI uses its party largely as a sales-development tool, as advertisers are able to purchase discounted Super Bowl packages from the magazine that include game tickets and party invites. The party and swimsuit theme this year also are sponsored by Anheuser-Busch.

Maxim also uses party tickets as a perk for its clients, but the event has become so popular that it serves more as a branding tool that reaches the entire advertising and media community, which converges in the Super Bowl city and is always looking for entrée to the hottest night spots.

Aside from the adult magazines, though, no one wants to admit that they’re putting a sexy stamp on their events.

SI will deploy its swimsuit models to conjure up “tasteful sex appeal,” said Jeff Price, chief marketing officer and president of SI Digital. “Tasteful” is a word that Anheuser-Busch’s Tony Ponturo also repeated several times in a joint interview promoting Anheuser-Busch’s sponsorship of the swimsuit issue and related parties.

Amy Newman, executive creative director of Maxim, protested that its themed affairs are more about “Hollywood glamour and glitz” than sex. Its “Maxim Rock City” party will simulate a “Tommy”-like rock opera atmosphere this year.

Yet one past attendee, an NFL employee, recalled a Maxim party where “they had [scantily clad] girls on swings hanging from the ceiling.”

That sex appeal is the theme is no surprise, said Kim Willis, senior director of marketing for ESPN The Magazine, which will hold a comparatively chaste party on Friday night.

“It’s really the niche their magazines fill,” she said. “It’s truly their brands brought to life.”

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