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Volume 21 No. 1

Super Bowl

Call it the NFL’s law of lodging: A hotel in the Super Bowl city is always tougher to find than a game ticket. It’s simple supply and demand. There are always more tickets than hotel rooms.

Not so this year.

With the Super Bowl being played in New Jersey, a mere dozen miles from Manhattan, hotel rooms in New York City are as easy to find as a subway stop. The customary four-night Super Bowl hotel minimum has been cut to three.

File all those stories about people renting their homes near MetLife Stadium for thousands of dollars under Urban Legend.

“This is the easiest market for [Super Bowl] hotel rooms ever,” said Kit Geis, senior vice president at Genesco Sports Enterprises, which is securing around 300 New York City hotel rooms for clients, including NFL corporate sponsors Pepsi and Campbell Soup. “This is all about inventory and demand, and New York City definitely has hotel inventory.”

As examples, Geis noted that at last year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans, one NFL sponsor was paying $450 a night for the Marriott on downtown Canal Street for a four-night minimum. This year, for $100 less per night, the sponsor has rooms with a three-night minimum at the far-swankier Parker Meridien in midtown — one of the very few hotels in Manhattan with an indoor rooftop pool. Similarly, this year’s sweepstakes winners from another NFL sponsor are at the Fairfield Inn in Times Square for $270 a night. Last year, they were in suburban Metairie, La., for $400 a night.

Another factor reducing hotel demand is that many people who usually travel to the Super Bowl won’t be traveling this year.

“Every other year, you have thousands of people traveling to the Super Bowl city from New York,” said New Yorker Gary Spitalnik, who is working on his 14th Super Bowl. The previous ones were for Marquis Jet; now, it’s with Wheels Up, a new private aviation company started by former Marquis Jet founder Kenny Dichter. “This year, all those people from the TV, marketing and business world will all sleep at home,” Spitalnik said.
Wheels Up rented 114 rooms for clients and guests at The James hotel in SoHo from Thursday to Sunday of Super Bowl week. “Even with all the options in New York, hotel deals are relationship-based,” Spitalnik said. “After all these years, we have those relationships.”

Brian Learst of QuintEvents, which sells the NFL On Location hospitality packages, noted that New York City hotel rates are among the nation’s highest at any time and that the first weekend in February is not normally a time when tourists flock to New York. 

Another factor in hotel sales is the game’s unusual Northeast location: Super Bowl XLVIII will be the most regional NFL championship game ever and, accordingly, many attendees won’t stay overnight.

“This is the one time people in the Northeast are going to be able to drive to the Super Bowl,” said Learst, whose On Location hotel and room packages (ranging from $3,099 to $10,699) are nearly sold out. “We haven’t had any problem at all finding good, quality rooms.”

Hotels like the Hilton Times Square have rooms available, although they come with the traditional Super Bowl markup.
Photo by: NEWSCOM
Of course, the abundance of rooms hasn’t stopped New York hoteliers from doing what their counterparts in other markets have done previously: pumping up their Web-listed rack rates to astonishing levels. Examples: For a three-night stay the weekend before the Super Bowl, the cheapest room at the Grand Central Hyatt was $219 per night. During Super Bowl weekend, the most inexpensive room is $554 per night. At the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, rooms the weekend before are listed at $219 per night. The cheapest room during Super Bowl weekend is $819 per night. At the Hilton Times Square, you can get in for $217 per night the weekend before, but during Super Bowl weekend, the cheapest room will cost $759 per night.

Those aren’t the same rates being offered to business-to-business customers.

“Typically, we have to go to the secondary market for hotel rooms, but not now,” said Tiffany Grame, account director at Octagon, which is handling Super Bowl hospitality for MasterCard. “Rack rates are even somewhat low for New York City.”

Team Epic is charged with finding around 200 hotel rooms for clients including NFL corporate sponsors FedEx, Visa, Mars, Procter & Gamble, and Barclays. “I wouldn’t quite call it a buyer’s market,” said Team Epic director Denadjae Combs. “New York City is a place where availability and options are always there if you are willing to spend. Sometimes, you or your client zeroes in on one particular [hotel] property. Then it can get expensive.”

But overall, for planners, cross hotel rooms off the fret list for this year’s game.

“There are lots of hotel options, so they are not a big worry,” said Jan Katzoff, head of global sports and entertainment at GMR Marketing, which is booking around 400 rooms for clients including NFL sponsors Visa and SAP. “Our concerns are about weather, security, congestion and expense. For weather, we make contingencies and work around it. We dealt with those other factors in London for the Olympics, so we’re pretty experienced there.”

For Broadway theater producers, this year’s Super Bowl is a mixed blessing.

“We’re not expecting it to be a boon, but we’re also not expecting a drop-off,” said Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, a trade association of theater owners and producers. “Some of our regular customers are leaving New York because of the crowds expected with the game in New York, but we also expect that many of the people coming for the Super Bowl will want to see a play.”

By far, the hottest ticket on Broadway is for “The Book of Mormon,” the musical by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone that opened in March 2011. Thanks to an average ticket price of $172, “The Book of Mormon” has been grossing more than $2 million each week for eight performances in the 1,100-seat Eugene O’Neill Theatre. Ticket availability for the show throughout all of 2014 is so limited that any Super Bowl attendees hoping to snare a ticket will have to go the premium-seating route. Select premium tickets, at a cost upward of $400 per seat, are still available.

“Wicked,” which opened 10 years ago, and “Kinky Boots,” the 2013 Tony winner for best musical, are the only other Broadway plays running during Super Bowl week that consistently play to full houses.

Coinciding with the Super Bowl is what’s become a regular Broadway promotion called Broadway Week. Twenty-six Broadway plays began offering two-for-one tickets on Jan. 6 to customers who purchase seats to shows between Jan. 21 and Feb. 6. Included in the official announcement of this year’s offer — a campaign created by NYC & Co., the city’s official marketing and tourism organization — is a reference to football fans in town for Super Bowl XLVIII, encouraging them to take in a show.

At least one production is taking steps beyond the collective Broadway Week effort in hopes that Super Bowl XLVIII can be good for business. “Bronx Bombers,” the third sports-themed play by “Lombardi” and “Magic/Bird” playwright Eric Simonson, was scheduled to begin performances at Circle in the Square theater this past Friday — a date picked with football in mind.

“We knew the last week in January would be a great opportunity to showcase the play to many sports fans coming to New York for the Super Bowl,” said Tony Ponturo, the former Anheuser-Busch sports marketing chief who has teamed with Fran Kirmser for the production of each of the Simonson shows. The show debuted late last year in an off-Broadway theater before moving to Circle in the Square this month. “It’s also the week before pitchers and catchers start reporting for spring training,” Ponturo said, “so it’s the best of both worlds for us and a very unique window we think we’ll be able to take advantage of.”

Keith Urban shares the MSG calendar with the Knicks and Rangers.
Outside of the theater, there are few big entertainment events in the New York area during the Super Bowl run-up. Madison Square Garden is presenting country music star Keith Urban on Jan. 29 (tickets were still available last week) but otherwise is booked with sporting events in the week leading up to the game: four Knicks games, one Rangers game and a college basketball doubleheader (St. John’s vs. Marquette, Georgetown vs. Michigan State).

That doubleheader is on the Saturday before the Super Bowl — and precedes a Knicks home game at MSG versus Miami that night.

For its part, the NBA was mindful that the eyes of the sports and entertainment world would be on New York in scheduling LeBron James and the Heat to play the Knicks on that Saturday night.

While the Rangers will only have one game at MSG during Super Bowl week, they will be on ice nearby on two other occasions — at Yankee Stadium, as part of the NHL’s Coors Light Stadium Series. The Rangers will play the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 26 and the New York Islanders on Jan. 29.

“It’s going to be an exciting time in New York leading up to the Super Bowl, so we thought placing the Yankee Stadium games that week made a lot of sense,” said Brian Jennings, NHL executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

The first game, on a Sunday afternoon exactly one week before the Super Bowl, is sold out. (Capacity at the stadium for the hockey games is expected to be in excess of 40,000). The Rangers-Islanders game, which is on a Wednesday night, has been a tougher sell — likely because the second game, by nature, makes it less of a must-see event, and neither the Rangers or Islanders is having a strong season on the ice. More than 10,000 tickets remained available last week, but league officials still expressed confidence the game will be sold out by game time.

Among other entertainment offerings and venues during the week:

The Beacon Theatre, owned by MSG owner Cablevision, is presenting a comedy show called “The Comedy Kickoff” the night before the Super Bowl. Featuring comedians Sommore, Bruce Bruce, Arnez J, Tony Rock and Gary Owen, it is the rare event during the week that is aiming its marketing directly at the game. The promotional material for the show reads, “Before the big game, don’t miss this big night of laughs!”

Barclays Center in Brooklyn has a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert on Feb. 1 (tickets were still available last week), a Luis Collazo-Victor Ortiz welterweight boxing match on Jan. 30, and a pair of Nets games during the week.

The Prudential Center is Newark is hosting Super Bowl Media Day on Jan. 28, a Seton Hall-Butler basketball game on Jan. 29 and a UFC event on Feb. 1.

As for the Izod Center in East Rutherford, adjacent to Met Life Stadium: It is out of action until Feb. 14 because its parking areas are needed for the Super Bowl.

Staff writer John Lombardo contributed to this report.

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.”

Secondary-market tickets for Super Bowl XLVIII are tracking as the most expensive in event history, but much like the weather for the outdoor game, the market forecast for the next three weeks remains subject to significant change.

Ticket metasearch outfit SeatGeek said the average resale listing price for Super Bowl XLVIII is $3,990, representing the most expensive event the company has tracked in its five-year history. Similarly, StubHub said the median price for actual sales thus far for the game is $3,415 — 57 percent higher than a comparable point before last year’s game. And sales volume on the site is up 40 percent from a year ago.

Several factors are driving the numbers. In addition to this being the first cold-weather outdoor Super Bowl and its staging in the high-cost New York market, the NFL upped the face value of top-tier Super Bowl tickets this year to $2,600, more than twice the premium face-value cost for last year’s game in New Orleans. The move is an attempt to close the gap between face value and resale prices, which typically exceed $2,000 regardless of the matchup or venue.

Beneath those robust numbers, however, several other market factors are at play. Super Bowl resale values often fall sharply in the last seven to 10 days before the game, once the matchup is determined. The weather forecast, if it turns dire for Feb. 2, could further depress the market.

Also, the actual out-of-pocket expense for Super Bowl buyers on the secondary ticket market is likely to be less this year thanks to the availability of hotel rooms and flights.

“This is not at all the norm. Usually, you’re paying heavy premiums for motel rooms far from the Super Bowl stadiums, and flights are really tough to get,” said Jim Holzman, president and chief executive of Boston-based Ace Ticket, a prominent broker. “But in New York, there are lots of options still available for lodging and transportation, and that leaves people with more money to spend on tickets.”

The uncertain weather forecast is also driving a higher level of precision in choosing seats. In many years, Super Bowl ticket prices did not necessarily vary greatly between sections. This year, tickets with indoor access are carrying far higher costs. Many club seats at MetLife Stadium, for example, show listing prices of more than $6,000 each.

“This year more than ever for the Super Bowl, it’s definitely about location and access,” said Robert Tuchman, president of Goviva, a New York-based event travel company. “There’s a bit of a mixed appetite among the corporate community for outside seats, but anything that has indoor access, there’s definitely a premium attached.”

Besides “The Book of Mormon,” arguably the hottest ticket in New York outside of the Super Bowl is for a one-night-only event.

On Jan. 31, Sirius XM is hosting a public birthday party for Howard Stern at Hammerstein Ballroom. Jimmy Kimmel will host the show, which will be broadcast live on the satellite radio network. David Letterman and Louis C.K. are among the stars set to appear, with surprise musical guests expected as well.

On his radio show, Stern said the date was arranged purposefully to coincide with the events leading up to the Super Bowl. Tickets are available for SiriusXM subscribers through a lottery. Because the theater holds only about 2,000 people, demand is far greater than supply.

Scott Greenstein, SiriusXM’s president and chief content officer, said that requests for tickets have come in from the world of football but he declined to share specific details.

“The response from fans, celebrities, athletes and the press that we’ve received to Howard’s event has been nothing short of amazing,” Greenstein said. “People know that when Howard throws a party, it’s an event you don’t want to miss.”

Next month’s Super Bowl will generate about $75 million in ticket revenue, a nice late-holiday treat for the league. But what if the league is just scratching the surface and could increase that amount to half a billion dollars — without raising ticket prices?

Such is the contention of Rick Harmon, whose company, Forward Market Media, sells options on tickets to big sporting events, including the February tilt in three weeks.

Fans pay a reservation fee at a point during the season to buy a Super Bowl ticket at face value. The fee fluctuates based on the possibility of the team making the final game. Only if the fan’s team makes it does the fan get to buy the ticket. If the team doesn’t make it, the reservation fee is lost.

Last week, the fee to book a San Diego Chargers Super Bowl ticket was around $350, far higher than earlier in November when the company’s site for the game launched — and when the Chargers weren’t one of only eight teams still playing that could reach the Super Bowl. For a top contender like the Denver Broncos, the fee was much higher: more than $1,800.

Last year, when the Orange Bowl hosted the BCS National Championship Game, it earned a sum amounting to $600 over face value for each of the 2,600 tickets it sold through Harmon’s options market, said Michael Saks, the bowl’s chief operating officer. That represents the money that came from fans who participated in the market by paying the reservation fees.

“We would have done more, but we ran out of capacity,” said Saks, noting that season-ticket holders at Sun Life Stadium (home of the Miami Dolphins and the venue that hosted the game) had first claim on the seats. “I would have put 10,000 tickets out there if I could have.”

Forward Market Media, which also ran options markets for this year’s BCS title game and Sugar Bowl, has a few hundred Super Bowl tickets it acquired through Ludus Tours. Fans can buy an option on the tour operator website, or at Fans considering a trip to New York for the game also can buy options on hotel rooms, Broadway plays, the annual pre-Super Bowl Maxim Party, and even tickets to the New York Knicks’ game against Miami the night before the Super Bowl.

Since the site went live in late November there have been 325,000 unique visitors, 2.1 million page views and 6,066 transactions.

The NFL declined to comment on the venture, but sources close to the league said the idea of a forward market for Super Bowl tickets isn’t something the league hasn’t considered itself. The concept was kicked around in the mid-2000s, one source said, but rejected for fear of alienating fans who lost their reservation fees. The NFL also doesn’t like fans buying Super Bowl tickets through anyone other than the league or Ticketmaster, its official ticket exchange.

Harmon believes all the obstacles can be overcome, noting that an options market also would be a way to collect data on fans that would be useful to NFL brand partners. The company has done research that shows if 5,000 Super Bowl tickets were sold through the forward market, it would generate $34 million above and beyond face value. Getting to half a billion dollars would require all tickets to the game being sold this way, and while that would seem implausible, the possibility of more than 5,000 tickets being sold this way or hotel stays and tickets to other events being packaged with game tickets offers a glimpse at how this kind of revenue stream could increase.

After the Super Bowl, the next big thing for Forward Market Media is options for the Final Four, then hammering out a final agreement with the College Football Playoff, the new final of college football that will make its debut after the 2014 season.

Harman Corp.’s stable of audio brands, which include JBL, Harman/Kardon and Infinity, are using Super Bowl XLVIII as a way to further push into music and entertainment marketing.

With so many consumer brands adding layers of music and entertainment to their sports portfolios, new Harman CMO Ralph Santana is doing the opposite. “Layering passion points” is now accepted industry terminology for marketers combining entertainment and music.

“We’re not abandoning music — that’s our DNA,” Santana said. “We want to find the intersection between music and sports. Athletes use music to get fired up; it’s all over every sports venue. There’s a real role for our products within sports.”

JBL is presenting sponsor of a private Maroon 5 concert during Super Bowl week, for which it will offer a ticket with purchase promotion and use it as a client and customer entertainment platform. There will be athlete appearances at the new Harman stores on Madison Avenue in New York City. There’s also been recent sponsorships with the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Pinstripe Bowl.

Recent media buys have included NBA cable TV telecasts and sports radio for the first time in memory.

“It’s all about building a smarter and broader consumer connections,” Santana said.
Insignia Sports and Entertainment is assisting on the activation strategy.