SBJ/Jan. 13-19, 2014/Super Bowl

Party planners battle for ‘wow’ factor in NYC

For anyone involved in planning events and hospitality around Super Bowl XLVIII, it’s already been a long and arduous journey.

DirecTV’s private Saturday night party, which usually has a guest list of around 6,000, takes a year of planning. Holding it in New York City required even more time. So for its eighth annual Super Saturday bash, the 80,000-square-foot tent (more a portable arena than a tent) bought specifically for this party a few years ago is being erected on two soccer fields housed at Pier 40, a 14-acre site that juts out into the Hudson River. New York City has agreed to shut down lanes of the West Side Highway to allow access for guests.

A year of planning time just wasn’t enough.

A rendering shows how DirecTV’s 80,000-square-foot tent will occupy Pier 40.
Rendering: DIRECTV
“All I can tell you is, I’m very glad we started planning this two years out,” said Jon Gieselman, senior vice president of advertising and public relations for DirecTV. “Each year, we try to top ourselves. In any Super Bowl city, there’s a lot of noise. This year, we’re kind of competing with New York City itself for attention.”

Two levels and a Playboy Club inside the party space should compete for attention — even in Manhattan. Additionally, during the day, DirecTV will use the same venue for its annual celebrity volleyball party/competition, the DirecTV Beach Bash. That showcase is expected to attract about 4,000 people, with everyone clearing out by late afternoon so preparations for the evening party can begin.

The size and scale of any Super Bowl effort can be daunting. In New York City, it’s off the charts.

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“Everyone has to deal with the weather contingencies, but the real challenge is, because so much of what we’re doing is unique, we’re doing a lot more than usual, and we are doing it in our home market,” said Mary Pat Augenthaler, NFL vice president of events, who has been with the league since 1996. The NFL’s biggest affair is its 10,000-person Tailgate Party at the now-decommissioned Meadowlands Racetrack, to be held hours before game time.

As for corporate partners, many of the NFL’s largest business backers are trying to outdo their previous Super Bowl efforts.

For Anheuser-Busch, that means putting its multimillion-dollar Bud Light Hotel on a cruise ship slightly north of DirecTV’s Pier 40 location, adjacent to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Rob McCarthy, vice president of Bud Light brands, recalled that a boat was mentioned as a possibility within a month of last year’s Super Bowl, after A-B marketers realized there was no Manhattan hotel with enough event and adjacent outdoor space large enough for their effort. So instead of making over a hotel into a brand icon, as it’s done in the past, A-B is transforming the Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship — the 1,000-foot-long Norwegian Getaway — into this year’s Bud Light Hotel. That gives A-B room for more than 4,000 “passengers,” along with more than 20 restaurants and nightclubs.

“There aren’t very many things you can do in New York to make people say ‘Wow,’ but this is something that will be noticeable from the sky,” McCarthy said. A-B has brought in sponsors including EA Sports, Pandora and Pepsi to help support four nights of concerts in a heated amphitheater that will be built across from the museum.

Consider it an “arms race” of sorts among Super Bowl parties.

“A Super Bowl in New York City comes with an opportunity to do things never done before, and that requires more effort and money, and to cut through the clutter in any Super Bowl is decidedly difficult,” said Chris Caldwell, senior vice president at Team Epic, which has clients including NFL corporate sponsors FedEx, Visa, Mars, Procter & Gamble and Barclays. “Every client’s expectations are higher than ever, and in a lot of cases, you have to pay a lot more money just to stay flat with what you have done in the past.”

Noting the numerous local and national retail and media ties to the Bud Light Hotel, A-B’s McCarthy said that while the brand’s Super Bowl marketing spending was up, so too will be its ROI.

“We are spending more, but we see the opportunities for return as more significant,” he said. “Financially, we are very happy with where we will net out. Our total return really depends on getting the word out about the Bud Light Hotel to millions, in addition to the thousands who will be on the boat, and we’re doing a good job there. As we look to leverage our big marketing platforms, Bud Light Hotel allows us to effectively combine our music and sports investments.”

ESPN’s 10th annual see-and-be-seen Friday night shindig is another mammoth Super Bowl party that will be held at a river site. Around 50,000 to 60,000 of Basketball City’s 118,000-square-foot expanse will be employed for a 2,500-person invitation-only party. This year, it’s being tied to ESPN The Magazine’s music issue, so it will include live DJs and musical performances and has been rechristened as ESPN the Party. There will be the usual volume of integration from ESPN sponsors, including Coke Zero, Mercedes-Benz and Diageo, along with the live DJs and performances from Kendrick Lamar, Jermaine Dupri and Robin Thicke. To encourage attendance from midtown-bound New Yorkers, ESPN is collaborating with Uber for an app that grants invited guests a $30 credit.

“New York’s our backyard,” said ESPN event marketing manager Lauren Robinson, who is working on her sixth party. “With all of our clients and agencies here, it’s so important for us to have this event be impactful and as big, or even bigger, than it has been before.”

New York City’s heightened level of competition within any endeavor is a local hallmark. Within the Super Bowl hospitality space, there’s enough perceived opportunity that both the NFL and the New York Jets are competing with established New York restaurants by mounting separate football-themed hospitality efforts.

The New York team’s Jets House will be situated within the 15,000-square-foot 50-Yard Lounge but will require separate admission. The 50-Yard Lounge is being run by Lonny Sweet of The Connect Group, which works with celebrity chefs. Around 50 culinary heavyweights, including Marc Forgione and Michael White, will mix with live music at One Penn Plaza, across from Madison Square Garden. Tickets are $400 to $650 per day.

“Our concept is a food-and-wine festival meeting traditional Super Bowl hospitality, so we’ll have things like an NFL legend learning to roll sushi from a master,” said Sweet, a veteran of 12 Super Bowls who’s hoping to attract 1,000 to 1,500 people per day.
For the league, after two years of sold-out branded corporate hospitality with its NFL House (this year within the Marriott Marquis), the NFL is tackling an effort called Forty Ate, a Super Bowl-themed “pop-up restaurant” within the Renaissance New York Hotel, near Times Square. Run with restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, the 80-seat steakhouse will have entrees priced from $16 to $36, serving lunch and dinner. It will open on the Monday before the Super Bowl and be open roughly 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. through game day.

Pro Football Hall of Fame artifacts, including a Super Bowl ring collection, will help give it a football personality.

“We’re giving the general public that level of hospitality we’ve given our partners in NFL House,” said the NFL’s Augenthaler. “New York City is a place that will definitely support this, and if it works, you could see it at future Super Bowls.”

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