GLENDALE, Ariz. — Lombardi’s trophy won’t be hoisted for another 65 days. There’s still five weeks of regular-season play in the NFL, and no playoff spots have been secured yet.
But that doesn’t mean the words Super Bowl aren’t already on people's minds.
Much like those who helped prepare Salt Lake City for the 2002 Olympics can attest, the process of preparing for a major sporting event is no small task.
What does it take to host America’s largest annual sports party?
The people of Phoenix are finding out, as the Feb. 1 date for Super Bowl XLIX nears. The details and planning surrounding the game at the University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals, are well underway.
“We interact very regularly with the NFL and they are just a great partner,” Jay Parry, president and CEO of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, told the Deseret News. “What I’ve learned on working on this the past two years is that every Super Bowl is different and every host community is different.
“The NFL is masterful at making it bigger, but really making it fan friendly and finding ways for football fans — Super Bowl fans, folks who just want to have fun — giving them ways to get involved.”
Super Bowl XLIX will be the third in the Phoenix metropolitan area: Super Bowl XXX was held at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe in 1996, and University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale played host to Super Bowl XLII in 2008.
This will be only the fifth time in the past 20 Super Bowls the NFL’s premier event will be held west of Texas — San Diego has also hosted it twice since 1996.
The process of preparing to host the upcoming Super Bowl has been years in the making.
“Last year, we sent 10 different people down to the Super Bowl. But each year, our key staff go and monitor what’s going on,” said Scott Norton, director of marketing and public relations at University of Phoenix Stadium. He noted that meetings where the stadium’s staff talked Super Bowl logistics began a couple years ago.
Phoenix Convention Center Director John Chan outlined a similar timetable for his staff. The convention center will host this year’s NFL Experience, an interactive football theme park.
“It started with, we went to New Orleans (for Super Bowl XLVII in 2013) with a group of people from the convention center and our public safety staff to observe all the fan-related events they did in New Orleans, to look at their NFL Experience and Media Center and take what we saw that could work the best and apply those here,” he said.
The planning has ramped up this year.
“This summer is when we started getting all the details and detailed floor plans of the NFL Experience, where all the exhibits were going to be located. It’s actually this summer when everything started coming together,” Chan said.
“Even though the game’s not until Feb. 1, we from a planning standpoint want to have all of our plans pretty much solidified by early December. Then from that point, everything is fine-tuning up until mid-January.”
But there is familiarity and experience on the side of those planning for the Super Bowl.
“Luckily we’ve done it in the past. It evolves and changes every year, but we’re quick to adjust. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of moving parts in keeping up with it. But we’re ready,” Norton said.
Venues up to the task
Phoenix is no stranger to hosting major sporting events. The area has been the home to the NBA All-Star Game, the MLB All-Star Game and WrestleMania, and annual events include the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Fiesta Bowl, at University of Phoenix Stadium.
In addition to the Super Bowl, future events at the Cardinals’ home stadium include the College Football Playoff national championship in 2016, a national college semifinal in 2017 and the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four in 2017. The stadium was awarded the bid for the Final Four two weeks ago.
BYU also has experience with University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cougar basketball team played Arizona State at the venue in 2008, and the football team is scheduled to face the University of Arizona there in 2016.
The 2015 Pro Bowl, set for Jan. 25, is also on the move. For only the third time in history, the NFL All-Star event will take place at the same city as the Super Bowl, one week before the championship.
“It’s a great honor to get both of those games. … Obviously we’re hoping to sell that game out,” Norton said, while mentioning the NFL will take over the stadium for 30 days for these games. “And now you’ve got the Cardinals pushing on the playoff door, so hopefully we’re going to — knock on wood — host a playoff game here.”
Upgrades have been made at the eight-year-old stadium since it last hosted the Super Bowl in 2008. They include a new scoreboard on the south end, an enhanced Wi-Fi signal — “you’ve got 1.7 million square feet here, so it’s tough to push that signal out,” Norton said — and a fully LES sports lighting system.
“It’s almost three times the size of the one that was in that spot,” Norton said of the new south scoreboard, which is 164 feet wide and 59 feet tall. The old one in the south end was then moved to the north end to upgrade both ends. “It’s a split screen, so you can have two HD images up there at the same time.”
Upgrades weren’t just limited to University of Phoenix Stadium, though. The Phoenix Convention Center was under construction when the most recent Super Bowl was in the area.
“For the 2015 Super Bowl, we didn’t even bid on the NFL Experience. It wasn’t even a part of our proposal,” Chan said. “But when the NFL came in and we toured them around the downtown, we toured them around the new convention center and they saw all the possibilities: proximity to light rail, the downtown hotels. They thought it was a natural fit within the downtown to consolidate all these events right here.”
Now the convention center will play host to NFL Experience and will be a part of the 12-block downtown area known as Super Bowl Central, where numerous, and free, Super Bowl-related events will take place the week before the game. According to Chan, the NFL and its partners will arrive in town on Jan. 18 to set up for NFL Experience, giving them six days to prepare for the Jan. 24 opening.
“We call this the world’s largest interactive football theme park,” he said. “In terms of size, it’s the equivalent of about seven football fields of exhibits, interactive games. People can bring the family down and they can pass, run, kick; there are all kinds of active exhibits for people to actually do things that the pros do.”
Community prepared for the party
According to Parry, the host committee has more than 7,000 volunteers signed up to help with the festivities and is seeking 10,000 helpers. So far, the committee has performed more than 30 community service projects.
“Arizona is really tailor made to host mega events, from an airport standpoint to hospitality. We have beautiful hotels, resorts, golf,” she said. “The community is prepared and really knows how to roll out the red carpet for the over 100,000 visitors we’re expecting for Super Bowl XLIX.”
The host committee, whose litany of tasks include hospitality for visitors to the area and planning and organizing events and fundraisers, will also host Super Bowl Central.
“It is very important to the NFL and to us as the local host committee that we leave a lasting legacy in Arizona,” Parry said, while noting the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee is the first to have a bilingual website, both in English and in Spanish. “We will generate and then donate over $2 million back to nonprofits here in Arizona.”
Another unique event meant to enrich the lives of the Phoenix community is the 4.9K run on Dec. 13, 49 days before Super Bowl XLIX.
“One of the cornerstones of the NFL and the Super Bowl is really being active, being healthy and having an awareness of healthy living and fitness for children,” Parry said. “That is something that we have a number of programs that address, but this idea of a 4.9K run came up and we loved it. … We’re going to have a run, we’re going to have a walk, we’re going to have a 49-yard dash for some of the little toddlers.”
In the past week, news broke that Katy Perry will be headlining the halftime show at Super Bowl XLIX. Additional announcements will be made available for Super Bowl Central in the coming weeks. Still, though, the main outline is in place.
Chan said at NFL Experience, there will be a scale-sized football field, kicking games and autograph sessions. There will also be exhibits for Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl champion rings. “There’s a set where you can be on stage as if you were the No. 1 draft pick on draft day,” Chan said.
The convention center will also house the NFL Shop, a 30,000-square foot store full of Super Bowl merchandise, and the Media Center, which will be opened to fans with tickets to NFL Experience.
Super Bowl Central will have concerts, football-themed activities and autograph areas, in addition to the iconic oversized Super Bowl XLIX roman numerals available for photo opportunities. Recently, the host committee unveiled a giant football statue in the Super Bowl Central area to help build excitement for the impending event.
“We will, in the coming weeks, unveil what our Arizona wow factor will be,” Parry said. “In Indianapolis, that was the zipline in downtown Indy. In New York, that was the toboggan run. We’re getting ready to unveil what the Arizona wow factor will be.”
Then, of course, there will be the game itself. Currently, the hometown Cardinals, at 9-2, are tied for the best record in the NFL and own the top record in the NFC. Could the NFL see its first team make the Super Bowl in its home stadium?
“I think it would be monumental,” Chan said. “This is a football town, and it’s really exciting to see the fans get behind the Cardinals and root them on.”
Regardless of if that happens or not, the Super Bowl XLIV experience, with all of its corresponding events, are expected to be a major boon for the Phoenix area. Parry said the economic impact from the weekend of the 2008 Super Bowl was measured at $500.8 million and “it will certainly be in excess of that half a billion dollars” this time around.
Plus, getting the community involved in the festivities are expected to lead to lasting memories.
“A lot of your general football fans won’t be able to go to the Super Bowl,” Chan said. “This is actually a great way for football fans, adults and youth alike, to really be a part of the Super Bowl and experience a lot of the events.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of the Arizona Cardinals or the New England Patriots, there is going to be something to see for fans of all 32 teams.”
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