As part of his daily routine, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee’s chief operating officer, Dave Haselman, habitually tests the precision of his planning skills.
He figures out when he’ll be done with dinner or return home from a workout. He can calculate within a couple of minutes his arrival time at the family cabin. He gives himself a tiny bit of leeway but, he conceded with a confessional smirk, “I’m upset if I make a mistake.”
Haselman’s got little room for error in his work for the next five months. He’s orchestrating the planning and execution of Super Bowl LII, a 10-day event culminating in one of the world’s most watched sports events on Feb. 4, 2018. As the chief operating officer, Haselman is the mastermind of the blueprints.
He spent months creating more than 150 work plans for the event. Then he created backup plans. With the clock inexorably ticking down, Haselman is still calm and more likely to appear bemused than beleaguered.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you get into,” he said of planning the Super Bowl. Then he shrugged. “It’s not anything anybody hasn’t done before.”
Although he also conceded, “It’s a lot of detail.”
In the 10 days of Super Bowl fever, there will be dozens of parties and events spread across the Twin Cities. Haselman’s job is to make sure they succeed safely. One poorly executed gathering can damage the entire week of events — and the state’s reputation. More than 1 million people are expected to attend Super Bowl events, attendance that organizers say will bring an estimated economic impact of $400 million to the region.
Haselman is happy taking on tricky projects. He built the family cabin from the ground up. He assembles crazy-complicated stereo systems. When his daughters were young, he made them rudimentary computers from surplus parts. His aim is always the same: “I just want to get it to work.”
At 60, the St. Paul Central High School graduate, St. Paul resident and married father of two adult daughters has spent a career running massive operations at some of the continent’s largest malls, NBC-TV in New York and Northwest Airlines.
He was hired for the host committee in mid-2015. Committee CEO Maureen Bausch said she secured Haselman’s word that he would take the job even before she came aboard. The two worked together for years at the Mall of America.
At public Super Bowl events, Haselman is usually in the back of the room, scoping things out, often dressed for mobility in a black fitted half-zip “Bold North” pullover and Lululemon pants.
“I don’t want any of the getting-out-front stuff. I’ll let Maureen do that,” Haselman said. “I’ll make everything work.”
Bausch said she and Haselman have complementary skills. She said she does the development and marketing, while “Dave’s in negotiations all day long with buildings, with parking lots.”
Haselman is the overlord of about 30 subcommittees filled with volunteer experts taking care of the logistics, from risk management to wheelchair accessibility, transit and party planning. Haselman can’t be involved in the finer points, but he’s got trusted relationships built over years in operations. “You pull in a lot of help,” he said.
He’s not a Super Bowl veteran. In 2016, he saw the event for the first time in San Francisco. After Houston earlier this year, the countdown to Minnesota’s game began and the operation shifted from planning to execution.
Nothing’s firm yet — even the budget. “I’ve got a financial sheet with eight different scenarios, and I keep moving that around,” he said.
He works out of a small office with a tidy desk, a purple shag rug and a view of U.S. Bank Stadium. On the upper left corner of his desk sits a document, about an inch thick, inside a binder. The pages are dog-eared, and Post-it notes poke out from their edges. The document is Haselman’s copy of the state’s bid to the National Football League that landed the game and forms the framework of what must get done.
“You constantly think of stuff in the middle of the night,” Haselman said.
As he pulls things together, a critical piece is delivering the event the state promised the NFL in the bid.
A strategist, coordinator and wrangler, Haselman talks to everyone from NFL executives to Gov. Mark Dayton’s office, the Minnesota Vikings, the Minneapolis Police Department, the City Council and some of the 10,000 volunteers who will be needed for the event.
“We have to have certain things. We have an end date,” he said of the work.
As that deadlines approaches, the workdays get longer for him and the staff. Soon weekends won’t exist.
When the event’s permanent volunteer headquarters on Nicollet Mall opened on a Saturday for interviews last month, Haselman held a clipboard behind a desk and interviewed applicants.
When things inevitably get bumpy, as they did at a recent committee meeting for a marquee event, Haselman becomes the enforcer with a pointed sentence: “This is not going well.”
He wasn’t worried. By the end of the week, everyone will be back in a room with a new plan and be on track, he said.
He’s had a longtime, friendly and beneficial business relationship with the Ghermezian brothers of Canada, who have built some of the biggest malls in North America, including the Mall of America, which figures to be a workhorse venue for Super Bowl events.
“In 1991, I saw the Mall of America happening and just wanted to be part of it,” he said. Initially, he managed the mall’s information technology, energy and security. He stepped away for stints at then Eagan-based Northwest Airlines, and to lead transportation and security at NBC in New York City and during the 2012 London Olympics.
He’s putting all that experience toward the Super Bowl with backup plans to backup plans. “The contingency plan for weather is the size of a phone book,” Haselman said.
When it’s over, he will be forced to do something unfamiliar for him — go on a vacation coordinated by others.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said with that smirk. “I like to plan.”