Clinics, autographs, merchandise and more available at NFL Fan Experience

Clinics, autographs, merchandise and more available at NFL Fan Experience

“This very large grandstand event allows everyone to come, whether you have a ticket to the game or not.” Mary Augenthaler, director of special events at the NFL

While football fans in New Orleans are undoubtedly excited about hosting the Super Bowl for the 10th time, snagging a ticket to the big game is an immaculate reception in its own right.

Fortunately, the NFL Fan Experience might help ease the pain of not being able to be in the Dome itself come kickoff.

The Fan Experience is a temporary theme park that brings interactive activities, football history, memorabilia, star players and special events to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

“What really sparked the creation of the NFL fan experience in 1992 has really not changed today. We know there’s a finite amount of seats inside the stadium, and this very large grandstand event allows everyone to come, whether you have a ticket to the game or not,” said Mary Augenthaler, the director of special events at the NFL.

For the Fan Experience, the NFL will turn 850,000 square feet into a veritable NFL museum, complete with a replica locker room, Astroturf fields for football clinics and other activities.

“Laying that temporary field is a major installation…but that’s what keeps us authentic. The field goal posts that we bring in are regulation field goal posts, unless you’re in the Kid Zone, where we have pint-sized versions of things. Authenticity is what we’re all about there,” Augenthaler said.

The replica locker room is one of the most popular attractions at the NFL Experience.

Augenthaler said that, rather than being based on any particular locker room, it’s more of a compilation of all the teams in the NFL.

“There is one locker for every team, and we have one player’s locker represented there and we try to make that look as authentic as we can, so if a player chews a specific brand of gum or uses a specific product, we put those all in so you can really get an idea of what an NFL locker room looks like,” she said.

Fans who have been to the NFL Experience before will be pleased to know that there are a few new plays in the playbook this time around.

The merchandise store is available to all comers, even if they don’t have a ticket to the NFL Experience, and there are new events as well.

“We’ve got over 15 different exhibits that we did not have the last time we were in New Orleans. We’re always trying to be more innovative and come up with new things — the Command Center is a new addition. It was not around the last time that we were in New Orleans with the Super Bowl. NFL officials will come in and host referee clinics in the Command Center. I think the most interesting part is that fans walk out of there and they realize how difficult it is to be an NFL official,” she said.

For kids who would rather toss and tackle than officiate, the event offers many football clinics for children aged 6-12. There the youngsters will learn basic football skills from NFL players.

“We bring in youth coaches from all over the country to help us do this,” Augenthaler said. “So it’s very fun. … One group is footwork, another is throwing and catching the ball correctly, and it’s exciting for kids to have an NFL player show them how to tuck a ball and run. The kids love it and the parents love it, too, because they can sit in the bleachers and get some great pictures.”

Another event popular with both kids and adults is the Autograph Stage. Augenthaler couldn’t reveal who would be making an appearance at this year’s show, but she did mention some big names from previous events.

“We had Joe Montana last year. We’ll have a lot of Saints players, and we’ve had the Mannings there before. It’s very recognizable names and exciting players up there for sure, and if you were standing on the other side of that autograph stage and watched some of those kids come down after they’ve gotten an autograph, it’s that wide-eyed wonder that makes you say, ‘This is why we do this.’ ”

The NFL Experience continues through Sunday.

Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster, and more information about the event can be found at their website, http://www.nfl.com/superbowl/47/events/nfl-experience.