SBJ/September 25 - October 1, 2006/This Weeks News

SMG gets Superdome ready for big game

SMG’s experience operating mega-events at the Louisiana Superdome will come in handy for tonight’s New Orleans Saints game, the facility’s first public event since Hurricane Katrina wrecked the building 13 months ago.

Workers take a break to watch a crew install
new turf in the Superdome.
SMG, the dome’s third-party operator, rehired 80 full-time employees after laying off 153 in the wake of Katrina. The dome closed after suffering heavy damage from the hurricane and a week of housing 25,000 evacuees.

“We have less than half the employees that we had before, but the people that are back are experienced, having been through many Super Bowls and Final Fours,” said SMG regional vice president Doug Thornton. “That’s a big plus.”

In addition, SMG completed one of its largest recruiting and training efforts to hire 2,500 part-time event workers for tonight’s game and the rest of the Saints’ home season.

The Saints return to their home field tonight for the first time in two seasons, playing a game against Atlanta that ranks among the facility’s biggest events outside of Super Bowls and Final Fours.

“It rivals the LSU-Oklahoma game,” Thornton said, referring to the 2004 Nokia Sugar Bowl, which decided college football’s national champion. “Tickets are being scalped for $650 in the [upper-deck] terrace.”

The Falcons-Saints will carry all the trappings of the NFL’s title game and celebrates the rebirth of the stadium and the city, Thornton said. ESPN and Home Shopping Network are doing live remotes, and bands are performing throughout the day on the plaza outside the dome.

The difference is that tonight’s crowd is made up mostly of locals. The Super Bowl draws from throughout the country, and the majority of those ticket holders walk to the dome, Thornton said.

“We’re going to have a large drive-in crowd and there will be a lot of pressure on the major arteries coming into the stadium, and once you get there, the plaza itself will be crowded,” he said.

The game is the culmination of a massive effort to rebuild the Superdome, a $185 million project that will be completed next year when the suites are finished and Centerplate’s new point-of-sale concessions system is installed.

“We all knew how important this day would be if we could reach it,” said Thornton, alluding to the naysayers who thought the dome would never reopen for business. “What is so amazing is that it is playing out how we had hoped.”

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