HOUSTON – The 2018 Super Bowl won’t so much as be held in the Twin Cities as it will engulf them. The Mall of America is going to be a hot spot of media activity. The Minneapolis Convention Center will be the home to the National Football League’s interactive play zone, and a freshly redesigned Nicollet Mall will be put to use for some game-related event.
In the 26 years since Minnesota last hosted a Super Bowl, the event has exploded from a weekend football celebration focused on a single stadium into a 10-day extravaganza spread across dozens of spaces and cities. Minnesota planners expect a $400 million-plus economic impact.
In comparing the two, Dave Haselman, chief operating officer of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, shook his head as if to say that couldn’t be done. “The 1992 Super Bowl was just a speck of what it is today,” he said this past week on a tour of the shuttered two-story Barnes & Noble in downtown Houston that had been turned into headquarters for the 10,000 red-shirted volunteers who were being deployed around town.
The Twin Cities region has seen marquee events in recent years — the Ryder Cup last summer and the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. While those drew tens of thousands of fans, they don’t compare to what’s going to happen next January and February.
The event is so expansive that even Haselman can’t say how many venues and how much space will be needed. Along with an estimated 1 million visitors for the event next year, Minnesotans will feel it beginning this week, when countdown clocks go up on billboards all over town. They’ll also be asked to be part of it, with thousands of volunteers needed.
Where Houston is a big city always ready to host a major convention, the Twin Cities will do more with less money, less infrastructure, less political support and much lower temperatures.
On the ground for the 10-day event with rotating crews of sponsors and officials from the Mall of America to the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce and the Minneapolis Downtown Council, Haselman said he had major “Houston envy.”
The city received a $28 million public subsidy from the Texas Fund to put on the event. No such help will come in Minnesota. All money must be raised privately. The Minnesota Host Committee is expected to raise more than $30 million, although it won’t reveal a specific number.
The Houston police force has more than 5,000 officers; Minneapolis has about 800 and will need help from across the state.
Even the capacious second-floor ballroom at the convention center, where halftime star Lady Gaga held a news conference made Haselman wide-eyed. “We’ve got to figure out where we’re going to host this; this room is huge,” he said.
Houston has multiple convention hotels with more than 1,000 rooms. In Minneapolis, only the Hilton, with 865 rooms, comes close, according to city Convention Center executive director Jeff Johnson.
Johnson, who was seeing his first Super Bowl event, said, “The scope of it is huge. It’s like nothing else.”
Superstar athletes and well-heeled celebrities are everywhere. ESPN, Fox and other major media outlets set up massive open-air studios in prominent public spaces. Police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs are never far away. Guests pass through metal detectors to get into most buildings connected to official events.
Fleets of oversized black SUVs — along with their chauffeurs — get shipped into the Super Bowl cities so wealthy team owners and corporate sponsors can cruise in comfort. Those shiny vehicles and their passengers, however, face the same maddening traffic rerouting and concrete barriers as other drivers — with the exception of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who gets a police escort.
Minnesotans who remember 1992 won’t recognize the 2018 event.
In the earlier game, a tiny punt-pass-kick setup was the complete “NFL Experience,” which has morphed into a blowout interactive event that will use about 500,000 square feet at the convention center in Minneapolis. Fans get to look at the Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl rings or hop on one of the fields for obstacle courses and football agility tests.
The other fixture: Super Bowl Live. The free event, put on by the host city, is another music-thumping, sponsor-filled party with concerts, food trucks and the Puppy Bowl. Free concerts every night include top-notch talent and an array of genres, from Solange, Lizzo and Ryan Bingham to Leon Bridges, ZZ Top and Gary Clark Jr.
Houston, home of NASA, is showcasing a space-themed ride with a 90-foot drop called “Future Flight: the Journey to Mars.” Riders strap themselves into seats and strap on virtual reality goggles to experience liftoff. They watch Earth shrink as they speed closer to Mars, then abruptly fall and hurtle toward NRG Stadium for the Super Bowl. Minnesota is expected to deliver its own “wow” experience for fans.
In the 96,000 square-foot, three-level “Club Nomadic,” built as a temporary venue, Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift headlined concerts for exclusive audiences of 9,000.
Work to do
When the Minnesotans return late Monday, they will start putting puzzle pieces together. Many venues won’t be determined until the months leading up to the game.
As part of the bid requirement by the NFL, more than half of the 38,000 hotel rooms in the Twin Cities region have been put on hold for Super Bowl week — along with conference and event spaces, host committee spokeswoman Andrea Mokros said.
At their Minnesota host committee party Thursday, while sipping flutes of Veuve Clicquot Champagne and $50 bottles of wine, the big names behind the event were giddy. U.S. Bank’s Richard Davis led the crowd in the chandelier-lit room in a chant, “I say Bold, you say North.”
A relaxed Vikings owner, Mark Wilf, there with his wife, Jane, said the organization will put on the “best Super Bowl ever. It’s good to set high expectations.”
Minnesotans have supported the team and the new stadium, he said, adding. “We are going to work every single day to make sure your investment is rewarded.”
Chatting before the start of the party dubbed “Bold North Down South, host committee CEO Maureen Bausch and chef-entrepreneur-TV personality Andrew Zimmern didn’t balk at lifting expectations for the Bold North Super Bowl.
“There is a welcome generous spirit in our state that is going to impress,” he said.
Bausch smiled reassuringly, “We are just going to blow people away.”