League shows flair for dramatic with Super Bowl Boulevard
Give my regards to Broadway.
Those famous words may sum up the NFL’s bold Super Bowl entertainment experiment unfolding in the coming weeks — almost more so than the highly publicized fact that it’s the first time the game is being held outdoors in a cold-weather city.
The NFL is shutting down 13 blocks in the heart of Manhattan, running through Times Square, in order to stage a Super Bowl festival complete with a toboggan run and a virtual theater. More than 1 million people are expected to pass through the stretch of Broadway, which will be closed to traffic over four days, something that’s unheard of in America’s most populous city.
“This is most definitely the most exciting endeavor I have worked on,” said Mary Pat Augenthaler, vice president of events at the NFL, who is running the project. That is saying something for Augenthaler, an 18-year league veteran, given her role in the reopening of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.
It was just two years ago the Indianapolis Super Bowl wowed the NFL and visitors in town for the game by shutting down parts of its downtown, something common at big international sporting events like the Olympics. Past Super Bowl weeks, however, had been far-flung events, with very little centralized activity.
The league quickly took over the Indy concept, dubbing it Super Bowl Boulevard, finding sponsors (Verizon last year, GMC this year), and making it, next to the game and the parties, arguably the most important part of the Super Bowl experience. The NFL touts the Boulevard as “where Super Bowl lives.”
Last year in New Orleans, the concept detoured a bit, with Super Bowl Boulevard housed along the riverfront in a park and not in the city center as the league had hoped. (The NFL had wanted the Boulevard to run from Jackson Square to the Mississippi River).
The league got its wish in New York, though, after laborious negotiations with the city. Part of those talks were fueled by the host committee’s inability to secure a venue for the league’s fan-interactive NFL Experience, which will not occur this year. So the NFL went into high gear two years ago and convinced the city to close down Broadway to ensure an outdoor replacement of sorts for NFL Experience.
The toboggan run will stretch over two blocks. Other features include football films shown on the side of Macy’s Herald Square, an interactive football play space, concerts, a field goal kicking area, a Lombardi Trophy display, and the oversized Super Bowl Roman numerals display that the league in recent years has made into a showcase. Eight NFL sponsors, including GMC, have activation spots on the blocks, alongside the 10 events areas.
The Boulevard also will host the NFL’s pop-up restaurant, its VIP sponsor center, and studio sets for game broadcaster Fox, as well as ESPN, NFL Network and CNN.
But there are a few items fans will not find: food, warming centers or bathrooms.
“That was an intentional decision, that where you can go to get warm or pop in to use a restroom are the businesses,” Augenthaler said.
Most local businesses only allow paying customers to use a restroom.
The NFL has hired 18 pedestrian traffic managers to help with the affair because the cross streets are not closed down other than one to accommodate the toboggan run.
The host committee for next year’s Super Bowl in Arizona plans to study New York’s effort closely, Augenthaler said. When Arizona last hosted the game, in 2008, one would have been hard pressed to find a Super Bowl activity in downtown Phoenix. That will not be the case next year, when the 49th Super Bowl is in Arizona, she said.
Ken Podziba, who ran the New York City Sports Commission for more than a decade and is on the NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee, described the shutdown of Broadway as unprecedented.
“You are going to really feel the energy of New York City,” he said, “and its essence on Super Bowl Boulevard.”
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Forty Ate Restaurant
Renaissance Hotel/47th Street and 7th Avenue
The NFL partners with restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group to run a “pop-up restaurant” within the hotel.
Radio City Music Hall/50th Street and 6th Avenue
The NFL’s annual Saturday night awards show starts with a red-carpet arrival of players (Feb. 1).
On the air
ESPN, NFL Network and Fox Sports all plan to have broadcast sets built along Broadway, using Super Bowl Boulevard as the backdrop for their week of Super Bowl programming.
Note: Map provides a sampling of activities and sponsors. Additional activation points and displays are planned.