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Volume 22 No. 32
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What makes a great Super Bowl party?

Just as the Super Bowl decides the championship of the NFL, so too does it separate winners and losers in the hospitality industry.

Valuable corporate relationships of long standing can be enhanced or ruined by a bad party, hotel trouble or a transportation snafu. So when Engine Shop was creating a new Super Bowl party for clients Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, it assessed the opportunity like a consumer products marketer, looking for the right opportunity.

“We saw a gap in the event landscape for a Saturday night event that wasn’t two or three thousand people,” said Engine Shop CEO Brian Gordon, who has worked the last 15 Super Bowls and had a hand in creating ESPN’s massive Friday night bash. “Everyone wants athletes and musicians, but a lot of them don’t want to deal with the mess of a really big party.”

So using the insider connections of Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, Engine Shop helped craft what it hopes will be a new Saturday fixture in the Super Bowl party competition that can be as tightly contested as the game. By Super Bowl Saturday night standards, it will be “intimate,” a 500-person affair within a decked-out hangar at the Scottsdale Airport.

“We’re looking to build the ultimate ‘industry event’ and give the feeling of walking into a big living room,” said Gordon, who also helped with DirecTV’s first Beach Bowl Bash in 2007. “At Super Bowl, hospitality becomes marketing. When you see brands doing things outside of what the market wants, which is mostly hospitality, they can get hurt.”

All of which prompts the question, Exactly what makes a great Super bowl hospitality event?

In New York last year, ESPN threw its 10th big Friday night bash.
Photo by: MICHAEL LOCCISANO / ESPN FOR GETTY IMAGES
For ESPN, now in year 11 of its mammoth party, it has always been about strong ties to its products and to the local community. With an ESPN The Magazine cover featuring Super Bowl Halftime diva Katy Perry and Houston Texans star J.J. Watt, and a set at WestWorld of Scottsdale that will take 10 days to build, ESPN is confident it will again achieve a “wow factor” for the expected 2,500 guests. They’ll be entertained in what’s designed to resemble a midcentury modern home with life-sized rock formations. It also will include 700 linear feet of projection mapping of sunsets and sunrises in a desert setting.

Sponsors including Ciroc, Coors Light, Dunkin’ Donuts, Mercedes-Benz, Jockey, Nike Golf and Fiji Water help defray the costs.

Carrie Brzezinski, vice president of marketing solutions at ESPN, said the event is as much about buzz as anything else.

“We want people to feel a local connection. You want great headliner music, but more than anything, we create some great selfie moments when the space or the person you are standing next to makes you post something,” she said.

“You want to wow them with music before the Super Bowl payoff on Sunday,” said Kit Geis, executive vice president at Genesco Sports Enterprises, which is producing a private Pitbull concert Friday for consumer electronics manufacturer Harman and handling other Super Bowl hospitality for the likes of MillerCoors, Pepsi and Campbell Soup.

If ESPN owns Friday night as far as the massive parties go, then DirecTV has been the Saturday night headliner. But this year, it has switched its strategy with a four-day music fest in Glendale on a site it is building on a farm across from University of Phoenix Stadium. While it’s being run more like a music festival than a Super Bowl hospitality play, the company said the series of concerts, which cost $99 daily and will include the Zac Brown Band, Calvin Harris, Imagine Dragons and Snoop Dogg, will be profitable.

Saturday night will be the usual private party.

Jon Gieselman, DirecTV’s senior vice president of marketing, said it’s not a pricey venture relative to buying a Super Bowl ad.

“Beyond just the cost of the spot, it winds up being a $10 million commitment,” he said. “To give our sponsors what they were asking for, we created three days of [ticketed] concerts, which allows them to bring their guests in early and entertain their guests.”

Fifty-person “hospitality chalets” on the site of the concerts were priced at $250,000. Overall, tickets were not sold out as of press time, but Gieselman said they are planning on repeating the formula next year.

Sponsors include Anheuser-Busch and Pepsi.

Different clients have different imperatives for their Super Bowl soirees.

“A great Super Bowl party for us is going smaller, more intimate, and bringing unique experiences to our customers,” said Phil Pacsi, Bridgestone’s vice president of consumer marketing.

That being the case, on Saturday night, Bridgestone is entertaining around 150 top customers and renting out the Copper Blues club within the NFL House hospitality complex. Sunday morning’s brunch will feature a pregame chalk talk by ESPN’s Ron Jaworski and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Rolling Stone returns with a party this year on Saturday night at The Venue Scottsdale, where Steven Tyler and Charli XCX will headline. The event is sold out, and late last week secondary tickets were selling for more than $1,300.

“With the advent of social media, these events around Super Bowl are more global than ever,” said David Spencer, partner/director at Talent Resources Sports, which is producing the event. “Influencers who have their own social media following will come, and it’s a great way to get in front of them.”

The Giving Back Fund’s annual Big Game, Big Give benefit is always opulent. This year, it is even more so, since it will be held in Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams’ 18,000-square-foot home in Paradise Valley.

Giving Back Fund founder and President Marc Pollick is confident this year’s event, which will include the Budweiser Clydesdales, Optimus Prime and a private fireworks display, will be the first Super Bowl charity event not directly affiliated with the NFL to raise more than $1 million. The previous high was $650,000.

Perhaps the best-known Super Bowl charity function, Taste of the NFL, is in its 24th year and features a “strolling food and wine event that mixes players and celebrity chefs at dozens of food stations.”

The “chefs as superstars” angle is more pronounced than ever. Thursday’s “Culinary Kickoff” is a $2,000-a-seat dinner prepared by chefs Charlie Palmer and Michael Mina for 150 people at Bourbon Steak at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which was nearly sold out at press time. Chrissy Delisle’s Delisle Group is producing the event.

Even with all the different forms of Super Bowl hospitality, every planner seems to be charting a course to a similar spot: a transcendent nexus of celebrity, music and sports.

“The Super Bowl is where athletes meet celebrities more than anywhere else, and we put you or your brands there,” Spencer said.

Echoed ESPN’s Brzezinski, “We feel like ESPN can own sports and entertainment on one of the biggest weekends of the year for both.”

It seems to be a search for that perfect mix.

“I don’t know who geeks out more at our events,” Delisle said. “The chefs over the athletes, the athletes over the chefs, or the people eating over seeing them together.”

Added Engine Shop’s Gordon, “There’s an intersection between famous athletes, celebrities and musicians that feels like a natural place to play. They all want to hang out with each other and everyone wants to be around them, so we all just try to provide a place where they can all hang together.”

Staff writer Daniel Kaplan contributed to this report.