SBJ/20090126/Super Bowl XLIII
The challenge? Making everything fit
Published January 26, 2009
The Super Bowl returns to an urban setting this year after a two-year absence from such sites, and that means Jerry Anderson’s job gets a bit tougher putting all the pieces together for North America’s biggest one-day sporting event.
Anderson, a senior principal at HOK Sport, has served as the NFL’s chief consultant for setting up the Super Bowl campus and supporting compound since the 1985 game at Stanford Stadium in California. His partner in the effort, builder Noel Lesley, has been by Anderson’s side since the beginning.
“Super Bowl XIX,” Anderson recalls. “It was supposed to be a small remodel job, but I spent a year and a half with stadium planning, and it turned into game-day operations.”
This is the fourth Super Bowl in Tampa and the third one Anderson has worked on in the city during his 25 years preparing sites for the big game. It is Tampa’s first Super Bowl since the 2001 terrorist attacks, though, and there have been significant adjustments for the seven games played since that time.
Starting with the 2002 game, game-day operations have centered on a secure perimeter installed at a minimum of 300 feet from the stadium entrances, created by putting eight-foot fences and concrete barriers around the facility. Crews work throughout the night before the Super Bowl to set up what amounts to a massive fence line surrounding the stadium, something that can be tricky in an urban environment. Before entering the perimeter, everybody, including security employees arriving on the job, must walk through tents where crowd managers pat them down and use magnetometers to check for weapons.
The last two Super Bowls, in suburbs of Phoenix and Miami, were held at stadiums surrounded by parking lots. That provided ample space for officials to set up shop for the game, the 1.1 million-square-foot NFL Experience and the 350,000-square-foot NFL Tailgate Party for VIPs.
Two years ago was the first time NFL Experience became part of the Super Bowl site, marking another big change from the last time Tampa played host. Before the 2007 game, the massive interactive attraction was held in the host market’s convention center. With the change, for this year’s Super Bowl, the secure perimeter will extend about 1,000 feet at its farthest from the stadium.
“The big difference was the last one in Tampa was prior to 9/11,” Anderson said. “It’s a challenging site because of major roads on the east and west sides of the stadium. We have been very careful planning access with the police department and DOT.”
Those major thoroughfares and secondary roads to the north and south frame a skinny footprint compared with the Super Bowl sites of the past two years, forcing officials to create new pathways for fans making their way to the stadium, said Frank Supovitz, the NFL’s senior vice president of events.
That’s especially true for Super Bowl ticket holders heading from north of the stadium in the hours before the game, Supovitz said. It will be a challenge to get them over to the south side, where they need to go through the security screening process before they can access the NFL Experience area.
NFL Experience is open to the public during the week leading up to the Super Bowl, but fans holding tickets to the game get exclusive access to the space on Sunday.
In the two years that NFL Experience has been on-site, it has been a big help in terms of evenly distributing crowds, Supovitz said. The attraction opens at 11 a.m., three hours before the stadium gates open at 2 p.m.
“We have seen between 5,000 and 7,000 people waiting to get into the Experience, which makes life much easier for everyone,” Supovitz said. “They have already cleared security, had their tickets scanned and gone through the patdowns and magnetometers.”
Raymond James Stadium, regular-season home of the Buccaneers, is unique among Super Bowl host stadiums because it contains landings in its four corner ramps that are perfect for supporting 25 temporary booths for international media outlets broadcasting the game. Those flexible areas effectively minimize the number of seats that the NFL “kills” for the Super Bowl due to obstructed views. In a typical year, 1,700 to 2,000 seats are killed for the game. This year, the number will be in the range of 1,400, Anderson said.
The NFL requires a Super Bowl facility to have 70,000 saleable seats, including suites, and with Raymond James’ capacity of 65,857, it’s the job of Anderson and his staff of 60 to fill every nook and cranny with portable chairs to meet that benchmark. All told, officials say Super Bowl capacity in Tampa should be about 72,000.
About 6,300 temporary seats will be set up in the end zone plazas, including the north end, where NBC is establishing its game-day set on the pirate ship, the facility’s most recognizable design element.
To make room for more seats in that end, officials have to tear down part of the Caribbean-themed port town structure on the concourse behind the ship, Supovitz said. It will be rebuilt after the game is over.
Elsewhere in the stadium, it’s a matter of tucking about 1,000 additional seats into various crevices around the building. “There are always some little seams and cross aisles we can make use of,” Anderson said.