Super Bowl’s popularity has skyrocketed since early contests

It’s been 11 years since this city hosted a Super Bowl, and in many ways that game and its ancillary aspects were a quaint affair just a decade ago when compared to this year’s production.

From the hype, to the technology, to the marketing, to the wrangling for the game, things have become more polished, competitive and corporate. Those responsible for landing Super Bowl XLVII wonder what’s in store should the city secure the 52nd Super Bowl in 2018.

“We’ve been planning this since 2009. It is an organizational chart that resembles mission control,” said Mark Romig, president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corp. “Every aspect is managed to the minute detail. It has got to be done perfect.”

It wasn’t always that way, though.

New Orleans hosted its first Super Bowl on Jan. 11, 1970, a cold, miserable day. It was only the fourth football world championship, something the country was just embracing, remembers Bill Curl, spokesman for the Superdome from 1977 to 2010.

When the Super Bowl first came to town, Curl was a young sports information director for Tulane University, which hosted the game at its mammoth outdoor stadium in the heart of Uptown.

Unlike today, there was no week-long lead up to Super Bowl Sunday. There were no glitzy parties hosted by major corporations with A-list celebrities serving as headliners. There was no need for cavernous convention center space to accommodate thousands of journalists from around the world. The Associated Press reported a day after that first New Orleans-based game that people had trouble giving away the $15 tickets.

“In 1970 for the Super Bowl, our (media) hospitality consisted of two 6-foot tables in the lobby (of one of the local hotels),” Curl said. Included on those two tables 43 years ago: brochures about local tourist sites and two bowls: one for wet wipes to clean off fingers stained with ink from newspapers and a bowl of Tylenol to help with hangovers.

“It was kind of a last-minute thought,” Curl recalled recently from the middle of today’s media center, a massive newsroom in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for broadcast, print and Internet reporters from across the world.

When the city next hosted the game in 1972, it had already begun to grow, creating a snowball effect that has seen it explode in scope and size.

“But that first time around it was pretty rudimental,” Curl said. “It was get the two teams in town, play the game, get the trophy.”

The Super Bowl really began to morph, Curl believes, after the Crescent City hosted its first game and as fewer and fewer game tickets were given to the home team and more were given to the visiting teams and corporate sponsors, resulting in more visitors going to games.

“I think, maybe, when they came here for the early Super Bowls there were so many great things to do that they expected that wherever they went, so other cities had to manufacture something,” Curl said. When Pontiac, Mich., hosted the game in 1982, that city created an entertainment district and called it Bourbon Street, Curl recalls. “Others tried to emulate what we had right here, so the entertainment grew.”

But with fewer locals going to the game, the NFL needed to find things for them to do. Born of that need were events such as the NFL Experience and concert series. Offshoots of those events include other parties and concerts and the marketing and corporate sponsorships blossomed.

“These events occur because there are corporate sponsors that can underwrite at the sums that are important to put on this big show which means there are more parties, more requirements for hospitality,” Romig said. “The footprint is larger, the events each year seem to outdo the previous year, so the bar is raised every year from a standpoint of food and beverage to the wow factor.”

As the game’s popularity has skyrocketed since its inception in 1967, security has become key to keep the event safe for those working and celebrating.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said it’s taken 18 months of meetings with local, state and federal officials to write the security plan for this game.

That was much more complex than the last Super Bowl he worked here in 1997, when he was the No. 2 man in the NOPD.

“Back then the Super Bowl was not this seven-, eight-, nine-day event like it is now,” Serpas said. “It’s monstrous.”

The biggest challenge for this year’s game, Serpas said, is the city has fewer police on the force but more hotel rooms to hold more visitors and more area to police because of game-related events.

But, security officials point out, the safety plan has evolved and now includes local, state and federal law enforcement.

New Orleans hosted the first post-9/11 Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2002. That was the first National Special Security Event, the same level event as the presidential inauguration, for example, and was overseen by the U.S. Secret Service, said Jeffrey Miller, the NFL’s vice president and chief security officer. That was the catalyst for change in security procedures that exist today, such as metal detectors at each entrance.

“What we did was adopt many of the best practices and principles from that game, and we took that on throughout the course of the last 11 years,” Miller said. “I can’t even talk about some of the stuff we do, but suffice to say it is a very secure event.”

Miller said there is a standing security committee that updates the safety plan each year, and security for next year’s Super Bowl is already being planned.

While the 9/11 attacks permanently changed people’s Super Bowl experiences, technology has also drastically changed the Super Bowl.

The last time the city hosted the game, none of today’s social media sites existed, and cellphones did little more than make calls.

But with the proliferation of smartphones and the ability to instantly post comments and pictures to a worldwide audience via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, a social media command center is part of the Super Bowl host committee’s duties this year. It’s only the second year social media has played a part in the game, and the first year it’s been part of the host committee’s formal operating plan, according to Tiffany Starnes, vice president of FSC Interactive, a local online marketing company that helped to operate the social media center.

Volunteers monitor the social networks for every post about the game that is sent from within 10 miles of the media center. Responses are sent to as many messages as possible. The city this week launched a social media campaign asking people to use the hashtag #BestOfNola to share tips about things to see and do.

The social media aspect is two-fold, Starnes said. Not only do visitors and locals exchange tips, the city can better market itself.

“This is really more of a larger project to showcase what’s great about New Orleans,” Starnes said.

And this year for the first time, social media will be implemented into the halftime show, with users submitting photos to the production.

Since technology changes so quickly, and because the Super Bowl social media center is still in its infancy, Starnes said she’s not sure how the host committee will write its proposal for the 2018 game, which the city has already said it is seeking.

Romig agreed that the possibilities for five years from now are endless and unknown.

“Change is constant,” Romig said. “1970 — no one could have even imagined going ahead to 2013 and knowing that we’d be hosting our 10th Super Bowl. No one could’ve imaged the Superdome back then, let alone how far we’ve come.”