Atlanta group heads to Super Bowl, preparing for next year

The Falcons didn’t make it back to the Super Bowl, but Atlanta nevertheless will send a large delegation there.

Dozens of Atlantans will pack their heaviest coats and travel to Minneapolis this week, part of their preparation for hosting the mega-event here next year.

The delegation will study the Super Bowl spectacle up-close at the NFL’s invitation, getting a behind-the-scenes view of what’s headed this way.

“I think it’s really critical … to make sure to take advantage of this next week and have in-depth conversations with the members of the Minnesota host committee, with the NFL partners and with the vendors and contractors that are up there working,” said Brett Daniels, chief operating officer of the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee.

The Atlanta group will include staff and board members of the host committee, as well as representatives of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Georgia World Congress Center, Philips Arena, the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau and public-safety departments. Some members of the group will spend just a couple of days in Minneapolis to observe particular aspects of the Super Bowl setup, while others will be there most or all of the week and be at the indoor U.S. Bank Stadium when the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles play on Sunday.

While Atlanta often hosts marquee sports events, most recently college football’s national championship game on Jan. 8, the enormity and complexity of the Super Bowl sets it apart.

“It’s a major undertaking. It’s different,” said Daniels, a former long-time Dallas Cowboys executive. “On the College Football Playoff, obviously they’ve got a great team and we had a great time working with them this past year; it’s pretty much a family atmosphere working with them. I think what we see with the Super Bowl, just the size and scope of everything going on, it’s New York City, it’s Park Avenue, it’s big business.

“It’s the biggest event in the country for a reason. Everybody kind of wants to latch on to that in some way, shape or form, whether it’s an official function or an unofficial type of event or party. It’s the place to see and be seen.”

Events associated with college football’s title game were spread over three days in downtown Atlanta and required about 1,100 local volunteers. But Super Bowl events in Minnesota consume 10 days – they started Friday and are scheduled to intensify each day this week – with almost 10,000 local volunteers deployed.

Atlanta has hosted the Super Bowl twice previously, in 1994 and 2000 at the Georgia Dome, but the amount and duration of the ancillary events have grown substantially since then.

Super Bowl Live is a massive 10-day outdoor fan festival in downtown Minneapolis that features concerts, sleigh rides, “larger than life” ice sculptures, snowmobile stunts, huge Super Bowl-themed snow globes that fans can stand inside, a zipline 100 feet in the air across the Mississippi River and sponsor exhibits.

Super Bowl Experience, inside the Minneapolis Convention Center, is an eight-day interactive football theme park that includes games, displays, autograph sessions with NFL players, skills competitions and a large NFL merchandise shop.

Super Bowl Opening Night, formerly known as Media Day, will be held Monday night at Xcel Energy Center – the home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild – in St. Paul. Throughout the week, the media center for 5,000 credentialed journalists and “Radio Row” for live broadcasts on 150-plus outlets will be located at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.

Such is the type of show, minus things like ice sculptures and sleigh rides, coming to Atlanta next year.

The Minnesota host committee has embraced the region’s winter weather and a Super Bowl theme of “Bold North.”

“What they do in Minneapolis will certainly be different than what we do in Atlanta and different than what happened in Houston last year,” Daniels said. “I like to think of it as a puzzle that comes into town, and it’s a matter of how does that puzzle fit in and around our city compared to how it fits other cities. We take all of those pieces and figure out where best to lay them and how to put it all together.”

One major difference is that the major ancillary events, which are spread out in Minnesota, are expected to be held in close proximity to Mercedes-Benz Stadium next year.

Atlanta’s host committee has proposed that next year Super Bowl Live will be staged in Centennial Olympic Park, Super Bowl Experience in the Congress Center, Super Bowl Opening Night in Philips Arena and the media center in the Congress Center. The NFL hasn’t finalized those locations yet, with decisions expected by spring.

One thing this year’s and next year’s Super Bowls will have in common: new stadiums.

The NFL’s practice of using the Super Bowl to incentivize cities to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on new stadiums continued with the awarding of the 2018 and 2019 games to Minneapolis and Atlanta. U.S. Bank Stadium opened in 2016, one year ahead of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Although long-term forecasts call for a high temperature near 10  degrees on Super Bowl Sunday, it’ll be about 68 degrees inside U.S. Bank Stadium, which has a transparent fixed roof.

The stadium also will precede Mercedes-Benz Stadium as host of college basketball’s Final Four. That event will be in Minneapolis in 2019 and in Atlanta in 2020.

While in Minnesota this week, various members of the Atlanta delegation will try to get a look at all aspects of the Super Bowl and ancillary events: venues, the volunteer program, media operations, security, technology, connectivity, transportation, food-and-beverage operations, sponsor activations, you name it. About 35 members of the Atlanta group are credentialed for an NFL-organized tour of the stadium and other major venues Friday.

At an early-morning news conference on Feb. 5, the day after the Eagles-Patriots game, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the Minnesota host committee will ceremonially “hand off” the Super Bowl to Atlanta for next year.

“That will be our official launch,” Daniels said. “That’ll be the beginning of Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta, and we’ll hit the ground running.”