Keeping Score: Capitalizing on Super Bowl LI
The stage is set for America's biggest party

By now you have heard a certain football game is coming to town. Hosting the Super Bowl LI means so much more than a big party Downtown, a bunch of celebrity sightings and, yes, the NFL Championship game being played at NRG Stadium. Those are all big news, but the even bigger news, and more importantly, the long-lasting benefits of being selected as the host city for the largest single-day sporting event in the world is this: Houston has the opportunity to broadcast to a worldwide audience our personality and the reasons to love living, working and playing in Houston. It’s our chance to show approximately 100 million people what’s great about our city, to bust out of the stereotypes and show them our true personality, diversity, creativity and ingenuity. 

“This is our opportunity to tell Houston’s story on an international stage,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Many people outside the city don’t see Houston at the most diverse city in the country – many people are still surprised by that. We are more than cowboy hats and cowboy boots. We have a lot of creative talent with our artists, plus our Museum District, outdoor theaters, the world’s largest medical center, the Port of Houston, the petrochemical industry; we are a city of innovation.” He goes on to cite, as he often does, the global nature of Houston, where 142 languages are spoken and 92 consulates are present.

That is why local business leaders spent their time, money and energy on the bid and, according to Ric Campo, chairman of the Houston Super Bowl host committee and CEO of Camden Property Trust, “the planning and prep started in May 2013 when Houston got the bid, and we’ve been meticulously planning ever since.”

For the record, the big game takes Place at NRG Stadium on Feb. 5, at approximately 5:30 p.m. Teams TBD; Lady Gaga headlines the halftime show. Right here in Houston. Boom.

Hosting is Huge for Houston

Campo explains it’s not only the game and those who are attending, but the eyes of the entire world that follow this event. “Being the host city of the Super Bowl offers a tremendous platform for Houston to communicate to the world that Houston is a great place to live, work and play,” says Campo. “We are a city of the future with a diverse population.”

“This is our chance to show people from all over who we are firsthand,” says Turner. “We offer urban chic with southern hospitality. You can’t beat our restaurants. People are surprised to see our great parks and green spaces, and we continuing to build those across the city. We have a fantastic zoo … there’s so many things that Houston can showcase. This is our opportunity to demonstrate who we are—we dream big, we make big things happen.”   

Turner believes the lasting effects of hosting the Super Bowl will be determined by the impression that people take away from the city, whether they are visiting our city or viewing it on TV or online media. “Many people who will visit or tune in during the Super Bowl festivities will be doing so for the first time or first time in many years,” says the mayor.  “We want them to walk away with a very positive impression of the city.”

He explains that the idea is to win people over who can in turn bring conferences and conventions to Houston, to inspire them to plan vacations to Houston, or recommend Houston as a travel destination to others. “For international visitors, when they think of the U.S., we want them to think of Houston, not just New York or L.A. or San Francisco,” he says. “We want Houston to be in the top tier of business and leisure travel destinations.”

“A Super Bowl can yield 3.5 billion media impressions,” says Campo. “We will have 5,000 credentialed media writers, photographers and broadcasters working out of the George R. Brown for 10 full days days. We have to make the most of that spotlight.” Campo further emphasizes his point with a Super Bowl broadcast stat: of the Top 20 TV broadcasts of all time – 19 out of 20 are Super Bowls (the other is the M*A*S*H finale).

It’s Everyone’s Game

The Host Committee wants Super Bowl LI to be something all locals can enjoy and take part in, versus something we all have to tolerate or endure so that a limited number of wealthy or well-connected VIPs can go to the game. 

That’s why 10 days of free—free!—festivities leading up to Super Bowl LI are planned for Downtown Houston. Anyone is welcome. This past fall, via the Super Bowl LI Touchdown Tour, Campo, the mayor and members of the host committee brought pep rally-style events to 11 schools and neighborhood parks across the area.

“We want the entire city and region to feel a part of the Super Bowl experience,” says Turner. The idea is to create connections to the big game and the festivities for everyone in the Houston area, so that the visitors and media will be exposed to the contagious spirit of Houston.

Super Bowl Live: Free Fun for All

The host committee, led by president and CEO Sallie Sargent, hopes Super Bowl Live draws locals from Houston and the surrounding region to share in the excitement of being the host city and being a sports fan. During the weekdays, school groups will be able take field trips to Super Bowl Live at Discovery Green.

“We want to create positive impact, create shared experience, help people feel good about their city and their community and to remind them the community is not something that is run by politicians, but the community is made up of individuals, the people are the community,” says Campo. Approximately 100,000 of those individuals are expected to attend Super Bowl Live daily, that’s potentially 1 million over 10 days.

The free Super Bowl Live event takes place Jan. 28-Feb. 6 at Discovery Green, and even spreads beyond the park onto four blocks that lie just south of the park, (three surface parking lots and Root Memorial Square). “That entire footprint, totaling 750,000 square feet, will be a giant festival with food and beverage, a concert stage, and the WOW Factor, which is a big attraction for us,” says Sargent.

Festivalgoers won’t want to miss the NASA-engineered virtual reality ride called the WOW Factor. This first-of-its kind experience offers a virtual journey to Mars. Can you say, wowo?! For those who’d rather not take the ride, the experience also features a fascinating educational display on space exploration, manned by NASA experts – no seat belts required. It’s the ultimate example of the Super Bowl of the Future in the City of the Future.  

“Fox Sports, official broadcaster of the game, will set up their studio in Discovery Green and broadcast live for the entire week before the Super Bowl. They are a great partner for us,” says Sargent. Additionally, CNN and NFL Network will also broadcast from the park area.

ESPN will set up in Midtown.

The Houston Super Bowl Host Committee has taken a unique approach to sponsor participation. Unlike past Super Bowls that have featured various individual points where sponsors create a fan experience, within Houston’s Super Bowl Live festival zone will be an area called Houston Live. This is where major sponsors will engage with fans to showcase the story and personality of Houston, in addition to promoting their business. Houston Live will also showcase the local performers selection from the open call for auditions, so keep an eye (and ear) out for your talented friends and neighbors! 

While you’re Downtown, you can enjoy the “Rockets red glare” during three Houston Rockets games taking place during the festivities (See Know Before You Go to plan your route and transit options). And look to the sky to see “bombs bursting in air,” as a fireworks display is planned for each of the 10 nights during Super Bowl Live.

Located inside the George R. Brown Convention Center is the NFL Experience, the NFL’s traveling interactive fan experience. The ticketed event features a variety of NFL-themed games to test your football skills, plus the NFL PLAY 60 Zone for younger kiddos. Fans will get the opportunity to meet some of their favorite NFL players of the past and present, including autograph sessions. The event also features exhibits on the history of the game, including all past Super Bowl championship rings and a photo-op with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Ticket prices were $25 for kids, $35 for adults at the last Super Bowl.

“We want to avoid having the hoopla of the game just come and go and locals not get to experience any part of the events and festivities, and not have lived through some part of the Super Bowl experience,” Turner says. That notion was the inspiration for the Touchdown Tour, which brought the excitement of the game and fueled civic pride across Houston and Harris County.

An additional outreach effort has been through charitable donations.  The Houston Super Bowl host committee developed Touchdown Houston as a charitable program, designed to provide a positive impact on the Houston community long after Super Bowl LI has been played. The program expects to donate a minimum of $4 million, $1 million of which is donated by the NFL Foundation, to nonprofit organizations throughout the community with a focus on three key areas: education, health, and community enhancement.

Volunteers Deliver Our Can-do Spirit

Members of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee went to Super Bowl 50 in the San Francisco Bay area, as did a number of representatives of the Houston Fire Department and Police Department, the City’s Department of Special Events and Houston First. “We got to observe how they were planning things and how things turned out,” says Turner. “One of the things we noticed was the lack of volunteers at all the different hotels and other locations.”

Thinking about the fan and visitor experience, from the airports, to parking in and around Downtown, and entering the festival footprint, the committee identified the need for 10,000 volunteers. These folks will each work three shifts, yielding 30,000 shifts. “This is where our volunteers become ambassadors for Houston, helping visitors experience the hospitality that we can deliver,” says Sargent. “Plus they will be well-trained and well-informed to help with wayfinding, answering questions and be wearing highly visible, bright red uniforms.”

At the first volunteer orientation rally at Toyota Center in October more than 9,000 volunteers showed up, representing every zip code in the Houston area, ranging in age from 18 to 88. (Way to go Houston!) “We are so pleased that our volunteer corps is representative of Houston,” says Sargent.

“We had 9,000 people at the volunteer orientation rally,” says Campo. “To hear them all chanting ‘Houston, Houston…’ was electric. You could feel the spirit, camaraderie and civic pride.” 

“The volunteer program gives 10,000 people the opportunity to participate and be a part of that collective voice that tells the story of Houston,” says Turner. “Those people will not only serve the community, but they will also get to enjoy aspects of the events from up-close and personal perspective.”

Traffic and Transportation Plan

Hosting the Super Bowl takes a great deal of preparation,” says the mayor. “We’ve been prepping for the last two years, especially for security and transportation with folks like HPD and the Sherriff’s Department and federal partners.” 

“We’ve worked with local law enforcement, METRO, TxDot and every agency in between to determine the most efficient way to channel people to Downtown,” says Sargent. “After two years of regular meetings we have a very robust plan in place and we are putting the word out via our ‘Know Before You Go’ messaging,” says Sargent. 

“Also, METRO and the Downtown District have been great partners for us,” says Sargent. “I have to give them a shout-out, especially Bob Eury, who’s been our Mobility Czar since day one.”

“We’ve looked at every detail, evaluated street closures, wayfinding, public transit,” says Campo. “It’s all been carefully assessed, planned and coordinated for the best way to get ready, host the events and the game, and then promptly tear it down to make way for the Rodeo.”

If we do enough things well and show off the genuine personality of Houston, we can get on the short list of host cities. “We are optimistic after receiving positive responses from NCAA for Final Four and Copa Américas,” says Turner. “We’re hoping that it won’t be another 12 years before we get to host again.” The next four host cities have been announced: Minneapolis, Atlanta, South Florida, Los Angeles, which means the next possible spot will be Super Bowl 56 in 2022.

Know Before You Go 

Get the App. Be sure to download the Super Bowl LI App for easy access to transit and parking info, plus all the scoop on the festival and game.

Go Public. Leave the cars and trucks at home or park well outside of the Super Bowl Live area and use our stellar public transit options, such as METRO’s additional routes and frequent service for the events – as always, just $1.25 per ride on rail or bus. Take the Downtown District’s free Greenlink shuttles, running the standard Green and Orange routes, plus a special Silver route to and from the East side during Super Bowl events. METRO will also be running an Uptown-Downtown express shuttle all week.

Ride a Bike. Park your bike at the BikeHouston valet on Rusk Street, near Crawford, or grab a BCycle. Check the BikeHouston and Houston BCycle sites for more info.

Gimme a Sign. Watch for those digital signs on the freeways – The VMS, or variable messaging system, will help route traffic to detours upon exiting. No ramps are expected to close. Find current messaging via the Houston Transtar website, under Message Signs.

Clear Path to the Basket. Sports diversity anyone? There are three Rockets games that week: Jan. 31 v. Kings, Feb. 2 v. Hawks and Feb. 3 v. Bulls. Trying to drive to the arena and park in your regular spot will put you in foul territory. If you want to cheer on the Rockets, then check the Super Bowl LI app and plan your approach like a true citizen of Clutch City. Go Rockets!

Beyond the Game – what do we gain? Debunking “it’s not worth it”

Skeptics scoff at projections of economic impact reaching hundreds of millions of dollars. And it doesn’t pan out for every host city, but Houston has financial advantages over past host cities. Our stadium was built years ago and any infrastructure improvements or new hotel projects, such as the Marriott Marquis, even the enhancements to the George R. Brown Convention Center are permanent. Those don’t go away and that will raise Houston’s profile as an attractive convention, business travel and leisure destination.

“These are legacy benefits,” says Ric Campo. The GRB renovation and Marriott Marquis would not have happened if Houston had not won this Super Bowl bid. Additional lasting major improvements include the Houston First Tower and the Broadway Boulevard Beautification project near Hobby Airport. These are great dividends to many Houstonians beyond the Super Bowl.

Furthermore, all of the events – the game at NRG Stadium, the NFL Experience and Super Bowl Live at Discovery Green – all happen within the city limits as are all the major hotels and venues hosting NFL related events. So a significant amount of revenue and tax dollars will stay in Houston.

According to Campo, funding for Super Bowl LI comes primarily from private businesses, the corporate sponsors, and also from tourist-generated taxes via the state’s Major Events Reimbursement Program, known as MERP. That means no actual funds from city and county budgets, because the money comes from sponsors and tourists. “We are projecting an economic impact of $372 million for the Houston area, and $45 million in local and state tax revenue,” say Campo.

“Tourists don’t go to a city unless  they have heard about it and read about it,” says Campo. “Businesses don’t relocate to a city unless they’ve heard a lot about it and been there. If you don’t compete with other cities they will draw your talent from you, period. This is about competition. It’s about making sure we set the groundwork for future growth.”

Hosting the Super Bowl is worth spending a lot of time on. “It’s not about football, it really isn’t,” says Campo. “It’s about using the platform – the biggest one-day sporting event in the world.”

Our job is to tag onto that platform, and send your message to the world. That’s why cities spend big money to get to host the Super Bowl: to raise the profile of the city. 

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