SAN FRANCISCO – The pre-Super Bowl 50 festivities have rolled out over the past week in the milelong stretch along Market Street to the Moscone Center from the Embarcadero, the picturesque departure point for ferries to Alcatraz and Sausalito across San Francisco Bay.
As Sunday’s game drew closer, the size of the crowds at the epicenter of the NFL’s premier event grew from a gentle stream to a flood that turned downtown roads into a driver’s nightmare. It was a stampede to downtown San Francisco, a city big enough that residents have been able to escape to the Mission District, the Haight and the Castro to avoid the tourists and the attendant jamboree.
When Minneapolis’ Super Bowl turn comes in 2018, all of that activity will be concentrated in a smaller, colder city — stark differences being carefully prepared for by Minnesota planners.
Minnesotans wondering what to expect then can start by picturing a longer, stronger, louder version of the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Target Field.
“It is going to stand out more,” Super Bowl Host Committee CEO Maureen Bausch said of the 2018 event, adding, “I worked at the Mall of America for 25 years; people love crowds.”
There will be crowds. And longer lines than Minnesotans are accustomed to, and guests streaming through hotel lobbies to and from parties, receptions and rooms booked long ago at premium rates north of $400 a night. Celebrity sightings will be abundant. Bausch said she stood next to Beyoncé, saw Jamie Foxx and posed for a picture with Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy.
Two public attractions bookended this year’s pregame action. Super Bowl City took over the northern end of the stretch of Market Street, down by the bay. And the NFL Experience sat in and around Moscone Center. Over the week, 1 million to 1.5 million visitors were expected to stop by those venues. That’s many more than the 70,000 fans who will go to the game.
1 million in Mpls. before fans
Minnesota’s crew is planning for 1 million visitors from the Saturday to the Thursday before the 2018 game. Those are the days before gameday fans arrive, said Super Bowl Host Committee COO Dave Haselman.
“We’ll manage; we’ve got some phenomenal ideas,” he said Saturday.
Bausch, too, is unfazed by the numbers. As the chief executive at Mall of America, she was accustomed to 150,000 shoppers on a routine Saturday.
Throughout the week, Super Bowl City, a sponsor-driven extravaganza, grew more crowded. TV and radio stations set up open-air studios there, and others hosted lounges for eating and drinking. Hundreds of fans lined up for a 40-minute wait to buy NFL merchandise from a trailer.
Getting into that event required waiting in unrelenting security lines some 50 deep. Once they were in, visitors could buy $8 pours of Budweiser or spend $10 to get the beer in a souvenir cup.
Bausch said she envisions using both Nicollet Mall and Loring Park for Super Bowl City. While venues for other events are not yet determined, the Minneapolis Convention Center and St. Paul’s RiverCentre are obvious choices for something.
The Mall of America is likely to become a party venue in addition to a shopping destination. And St. Paul has committed to building an ice castle, Bausch said.
“Everybody’s going to get caught up in the excitement,” she said. “Everybody’s in.”
Haselman said planners are mindful that business as usual also needs to go on in the city. He compared choosing spaces to manipulating a Rubik’s cube, where everything has to fall precisely in its place.
Embracing the climate
Space will be tighter in the smaller, colder Twin Cities. Sunday’s temperature at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where the game will be played, is expected to be 70 degrees, and the week leading up to the game has been a little chillier, but the sun was out.
Minnesota’s venues must be covered, heated and/or indoors, planners say. But with the theme “Bold North,” they will embrace the climate.
“You can’t hide February; it’s cold,” team owner Mark Wilf said. “We love what we’ve got in Minnesota. … It’s Minnesota Bold. You’re going to have snowmobiles jumping in the air and ice sculptures.”
Wilf also is looking forward to showing off the new stadium, which will be twice the size of the Metrodome. “When people go inside our building, they’re going to feel like they’re outdoors, but it’s going to be 68 degrees in there all the time,” he said.
Law enforcement, too, has been scouting out how San Francisco is handling the game. Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Bruce Folkens has been in town, along with three other law enforcement representatives from Minnesota.
Logistically, security will be easier in the Twin Cities, Folkens said. For instance, “We’re going to be really lucky in Minnesota not having the venues 40 miles apart,” he said.
Much as they did at the All-Star Game, police will have a strong and visible presence on the streets in 2018, Folkens said.
A toast to what’s to come
In the Twin Cities, as in San Francisco, restaurants, clubs and theaters will be booked for the nightly parades of concerts and parties.
Pharrell and Adam Levine played here Friday night. The hometown San Francisco 49ers hosted parties, as did 2017 host committee Houston. And Minnesotans gathered for brunch Saturday on the 39th floor restaurant atop their Marriott Hotel across from Moscone.
At Saturday’s brunch, executives from a number of Minnesota institutions ranging from the Mayo Clinic to Land O’Lakes to Polaris drank “Minnesota Mimosas” and “Bold North Bloody Marys” at a buttoned-up gathering with sweeping views of the bay.
Wilf, former Viking Matt Birk, now an NFL executive, and U.S. Bank President Richard Davis spoke to the crowd of several dozen.
For all the Minnesotans’ talk about embracing the cold, there apparently is a limit.
“I want you to pray for two things,” Davis said. “Sun and 31 degrees.”