Super Bowl Boulevard a new challenge for NFL event planners
Sure, the risk the NFL is taking by holding an outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather region is out of character for a staid organization that makes so much money, there is little need for gambles.
But the audaciousness of that plan is nothing compared to what the league has in store for Wednesday, Jan. 29, through Saturday, Feb. 1, the four days leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII: closing 14 blocks of Broadway, from 34th to 47th Streets, to stage a celebration of the game and sport.
"Some people think we are a little crazy for tackling what we did in New York," said Mary Pat Augenthaler, NFL vice president for event production.
It's so crazy, it just might work.
The person charged with seeing that it does is Augenthaler, who grew up in Port Washington and Manhasset and thus, like many employees in the league's New York offices, feels an added bond with her 18th Super Bowl.
"Yes, without a doubt," she said Wednesday, three weeks before Super Bowl Boulevard is to open to the public. "The motivation level that we feel just because we're in our own backyard and we're doing things we've never done before, that feeling of being motivated and challenged and excited about the work, is through the roof."
Indianapolis pioneered the concept of turning over several city blocks to Super Bowl festivities in 2012 -- complete with a zip line -- and soon thereafter, the NFL began making plans for a version adapted to New York.
The centerpiece will be an eight-lane, 60-foot-high toboggan run, the only attraction that will charge a fee. The $5-per-ticket revenue will go to MillionTreesNYC, which aims to plant one million trees in the city over a decade.
Other features include autograph sessions by day and concerts by night, opportunities to pose with the Lombardi Trophy and oversized Roman numerals and sets for live coverage by (from north to south) Fox, NFL Network, CNN and ESPN.
Augenthaler said she is especially excited about a football-themed "virtual theater" video presentation that will be projected on the façade of Macy's each evening.
Food will not be sold on the Boulevard to avoid hurting nearby businesses, other than a pop-up restaurant dubbed Forty Ate at the Renaissance hotel, where exclusive access to a table for the week -- including food, game tickets and game-day parking -- will go for up to $50,000. (Those packages are close to selling out.)
Missing will be many familiar elements of the NFL Experience, a Super Bowl staple for which there was no suitable indoor venue available in the metropolitan area.
"I can't tell you how many times we say in meetings, 'This is not the NFL Experience,' " said Augenthaler, who has managed that event, too. "We've done that for 20-something years. There is no formula for this. This one is from scratch."
She said it has required working with nearly every city agency across two mayoral administrations and that the NFL has received widespread support.
While the event is listed as "snow or shine," Augenthaler said, "I'd love 50 degrees. But it can be cold. We are ready for it . . . But I'd love not to be talking about wind chills of minus-18."
The idea is to give visitors and the millions of metropolitan-area residents who will not be at the game itself a connection to the event.
Augenthaler said that while every Super Bowl has challenges, this one is a doozy.
"We're working essentially with a street," she said. "Normally we have a venue per se -- a field or parking lot or convention center. Working along 14 blocks is unique and different for us, but also very fun and challenging."
The challenge goes without saying. The fun remains to be seen for the Long Island native who has to make sure it works.
And if it does? "The level of satisfaction will be that much more strong because you think, 'Wow, we did all this,' " she said. "There's something quite special about it, I think."