Super Bowl Party Rundown: City Builds Village, While Brands Plan Smaller Events on Bigger Budgets

By Jenny Berg January 25, 2012, 5:00 PM EST

Rendering: Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association/

From its residents' hairdos to the city itself, “big” is an adjective that's liberally applied to Dallas, home to the 2011 Super Bowl. Not so for Indianapolis, which is gearing up to host this year's game on February 5. Nonetheless, city officials are determined to ensure the same kind of glitzy events and outsize fanfare that accompanies football's biggest game in any host city.

Some planners say their events have larger budgets than ever before, despite smaller guest counts. Brands such as Rolling Stone and Maxim are rolling out splashy new happenings and, across the board, big sponsors will get recognition thorough on-site activations and social media promotion.

As a first-time Super Bowl host, Indianapolis has a “real hunger to ensure an impactful event,” said Chris Gahl, spokesperson for the city's convention and visitors association. “Indianapolis will welcome more than 150,000 global visitors during the four-day Super Bowl weekend, with more than $150 million in economic impact expected to be generated. We know 65 percent of these visitors will be corporate decision-makers, with the influence to decide where to hold a convention or meeting and the affluence to come back with their family and friends. In the world of tourism, [the Super Bowl] is a very sought-after visitor.”

To prepare, the city plans to turn a three-block stretch of downtown into Super Bowl Village. The festival-like setting, open to the public from Friday through game day, will have Zipline rides, two stages for live music, ice sculptors, heated lounges, an ESPN broadcast studio, an inflated dome with games from Kinect by XBox 360, and more. From the village, guests can walk to the ticketed NFL Experience at the Indiana Convention Center, which Gahl described as an “interactive football theme park” with games, football clinics, and autograph sessions.

The downtown area will also house the first-ever Super Bowl Social Media Command Center. According to Mashable, the center will operate from January 30 to game day out of a 2,800-square-foot space. Managed by digital marketing agency Raidiuous, a team of about 20 strategists and analysts will monitor conversations about the game on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms, and spend 15-hour days tweeting answers to fans' questions about matters such as parking and directions.

Then, of course, there will be the celebrity-ridden parties hosted by liquor, magazine, and other types of brands. “We are expecting more than 1,000 private jets on the ground and more than 130 private parties in Indianapolis in just six days,” Gahl said.

Maxim, which never shies away from a lavish Super Bowl bash, is among the returning hosts. With a superhero theme, the February 4 event on Indiana State Fairgrounds will have a headline performance presented by Coca-Cola Zero (the name of the act has not been released, though reps promise someone “big”). The Tabasco Saloon will dole out hot-sauce-infused Buffalo wings and ”Bionic Bloody Maria” cocktails, and Patrón's photo booth will let guests dress up as superheroes.

“Our party saw 3,400 guests last year, and the budget reflected that,” said Tracy Kessler of TK New York Inc., which is producing the Maxim event for the seventh consecutive year. With about 2,500 guests, “this year's party is back to a guest count and venue size that will create a more intimate feel. ...The [overall] budget reflects those changes. From a theme and branding perspective, our budgets are roughly the same as last year.”

ESPN the Magazine will host a 2,000-guest warehouse bash February 3, with production by Event Eleven and a performance from Drake. “The Indianapolis market is a more challenging one based on our infrastructure needs,” said Alyssa Muenkel, associate director of ESPN event marketing. “It's a smaller city in a cold-weather climate, which presents additional challenges and costs we didn't need to address in the past with markets such as Miami, Tampa, and Arizona. That being said, it's also considerably more prepared for the inclement weather, as opposed to Dallas and Fort Worth. The city also lends itself to having our guests, athletes, and celebrities in a smaller radius." 

Though she couldn't discuss budget, Muenkel said that “each year we are consistent in maintaining our integrity and standards, making everyone feel like a V.I.P. and bringing attention to Next.“ For advertisers, the event provides a “high-impact marketing and hospitality platform to generate PR, social media content, and visibility among the biggest trendsetters in sports and entertainment.”

Sponsor activations include Ford's Mustang Customizer, a tool that lets guests design their own vehicles on a touch-screen TV. Dunkin' Donuts will distribute hot chocolate and coffee out of a 36-foot truck, and servers will roam the space distributing munchkins as well as products from Snickers, Powerade, and Bud Light. Maker's Mark offer specialty cocktails at its three hosted bars, Old Spice will host a branded photo area, and Van Heusen Institute of Style will offer custom ties and bracelets and host a silent auction.

Outside the exit, the Vick's Dayquil and Nyquil warming tent, with free hot cider and gas-powered fire pits, will provide a cozy spot to await transportation. The magazine will have its own social media area on site, built out to resemble an ESPN broadcast studio and with guest celebrities posting live content to the brand's Facebook and Twitter pages.

According to company reps, Playboy's event on February 3 will have a smaller guest list this year but a significantly increased decor budget. With a “Carnival Mystique” motif and production from Caravents, the 1,500-guest soiree will evoke Parisian cabarets and French circuses. Sixteen Playmates will appear in bunny costumes, and there will be performances from Ne-Yo, DJ Reach, and DJ Jessica Who. The event will occupy a heated tent at the Bud Light Hotel, which lends automatic access to social media promotion.

Managed by Fusion Productions, Bud Light's returning activation will take over a downtown Hampton Inn February 2 to 5. Through an open video casting call on its Facebook page, the brand will select a salaried Bud Light Hotel correspondent. The winner will host videos showcasing the on-site parties, which will include EA Sports' in addition to Playboy's and will stream online. 

Playmates will also appear at the Leathers & Laces event, hosted by Axxis Sports and Entertainment at the Regions Bank Tower on Friday and Saturday nights. Organizers enlisted three hosts instead of the traditional two for Saturday night, when the bash will reunite Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson from television show The Girls Next Door. Friday night's hosts are Jenny McCarthy, Carmen Electra, and Jersey Shore's JWoww.

The event is “bigger this year, which required an increased budget” by about 50 percent, said William Ekeroth, owner and president of Axxis. “The majority of the budget is going to production, sound, lighting, decor, and more special effects.” Planners expect around 1,500 guests each night.

Sponsors include Belvedere, Moët and Chandon champagne, Monster Energy Drink, Sirius XM Radio, Designer Skin, and Barracuda Networks. “All the hosts, sponsors, and working partners will be tweeting and 'Facebooking' about the event from now through event day,” said Ekeroth. “Leathers and Laces has standalone Facebook and Twitter pages that will be updated daily.”

New events include Rolling Stone and Bacardi's Super Bowl party at the Crane Bay on February 4. “The Rolling Stone associate publisher is from Indianapolis, and he was one of the first people to suggest doing a large-scale Super Bowl event because the local community is so strong,“ said publisher Matt Mastrangelo. “Plus, our partner Bacardi is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, so we decided to create a really spectacular experience.”

To salute the rum's heritage, “we're creating experiences that will transport guests back in time to Cuba in the 1920s and the golden age of the 1950s, as well as the modern era,” Mastrangelo said. Four bands—LMFAO, Gym Class Heroes, Cobra Starship, and Lupe Fiasco—will each perform 45-minute sets. The Saturday event will draw around 1,300 guests, and on Super Bowl Sunday Rolling Stone will host a new tailgate party for 3,000 fans. In a venue two blocks from the stadium, the tailgate will offer performances from Jane's Addiction and the Roots.

Maxim will also host a new tailgate party. Called “Salute to the Heroes,” the event is in a heated tent within walking distance from the stadium and will offer games and prizes, thematic snacks and cocktails, and entertainment from professional cheerleaders. Comcast is the media sponsor, hosts include NFL editor-at-large Tony “Goose” Siragusa and Maxim “Hometown Hotties” winner April Rose, and the guest honoree is Dakota Meyer, a congressional Medal of Honor recipient.

Maxim has built the [Saturday-night] event into the premier party at Super Bowl and wants to do the same for its tailgate parties. Tailgate parties are definitely under-leveraged at Super Bowl,” said Robert Tuchman, president of Elite Experiences. Tuchman works with corporations to develop V.I.P. Super Bowl packages and has partnered with Maxim for its events over the two days.

In general, “the party scene finally feels like it's back to 2006, prior to our economy falling off a cliff,” Tuchman said. “It's been a slow climb the last few years at Super Bowl, but this year, it seems like everyone and everybody is having an event. It should be quite awesome.”

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