Imagine putting on the biggest bash in the country for about 80,000 guests and over 100 million spectators.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
Imagine putting on the biggest bash in the country for about 80,000 guests and over 100 million spectators. How about an outdoor extravaganza in New Jersey in the middle of winter? Alfred F. Kelly Jr. is doing just that as President and CEO of the 2014 Super Bowl Host Committee. Super Bowl XLVIII will be held at the MetLife Stadium and Sports Complex in East Rutherford on February 2, and Kelly’s heading towards the end zone.
“I think this is a tremendous opportunity for this region,” said the CEO about the $550-600 million economic windfall New York and New Jersey are poised to reap. The fact that it’s the first outdoor, cold weather Super Bowl, and the only one to involve two states, doesn’t seem to alarm him at all.
“The NFL headquarters is in New York City and two out of the 32 teams are located in this region,” he said. “It only makes sense that the biggest game should be played on the biggest stage in the country.”
Up until now, NFL by-laws required that a host city’s average winter temperature not fall below 50 degrees. When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell allowed a one-time waiver of the climate clause, the MetLife Stadium, which has one of the largest seating capacities of any NFL Stadium, became a contender.
The fact that a NY/NJ Super Bowl is unprecedented meant Kelly had to build a team from scratch, which he began doing in April 2011 after having spent 23 years at American Express, the last three as President. Previously, he was the head of Information Systems at the White House.
His illustrious career notwithstanding, he said, “There was no such embryonic organization here for the Super Bowl, so I was handed the challenge of putting all the infrastructure in place myself. We definitely have leaned on the NFL a lot and we do everything we can to help them, including raising approximately $60 million to support all aspects of the game.”
Leading the committee, with Kelly, are Co-Chairmen Robert Wood Johnson IV, owner of the Jets, and Jonathan Tisch, co-owner of the Giants with the Tisch and Mara families. With a staff of 30, their goal is to provide a smooth, enjoyable Super Bowl experience, which includes midtown’s Super Bowl Boulevard, media parties, and corporate events the preceding week. More importantly, they hope to establish the New York/New Jersey area as the consummate destination for all major events.
“The long-term benefit to this year’s game is the possibility of getting another Super Bowl, an Olympics, or other sports and entertainment events here,” said Kelly. “Repeat tourism brings tremendous value to the region.”
With that in mind, Kelly is leaving no stone unturned. Logistics plays a pivotal role. Seamless transportation and utilizing mass transit is a top priority. Visitors should keep in mind that on game day, 25-35 percent of the MetLife lot is lost to security and broadcasting, so parking is limited.
“We have a fantastic rail and bus system in this region. We are partnering with the MTA and NJ Transit to influence that end with a saturation of public announcements,” explained Kelly. “Let the professionals take you around.”
Tantamount to mass transit is the Host Committee’s volunteer program, strategically placing 12,000 hospitality volunteers at airports, transportation hubs, hotel lobbies, and street corners. Trained and uniformed, they’re responsible for making people feel welcome and distributing maps.
Security, of course, is a major consideration. Kelly pointed out, “The Super Bowl is the only event in sports that has a level one national security designation, so Homeland Security is involved in planning a detailed security protocol.”
Although it’s on a lot of people’s minds, snow is not one of Kelly’s preoccupations. “I don’t worry a lot about the weather because there’s nothing I can do about it. We’re focused on being prepared, so we work closely with Governors Christie and Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, the local New Jersey mayors and statewide departments. Our main objective is to have a kick-off at 6:30, regardless of what Mother Nature has in store.”
In addition to all the detailed planning, the Host Committee is extensively involved in legacy programs that give back.
“It’s extremely important for the Johnsons, the Tisches, and the Maras that we use the Super Bowl to make sure we are leaving a lot of good behind for our local communities. Very few events give us such a platform,” explained Kelly.
The NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee has created a charity called the Snowflake Youth Foundation to refurbish after-school facilities for kids throughout the two states. In conjunction with the NFL, they’ve already raised $2 million. They’ve also organized a Super Community Blood Drive, and are planning food recovery at all the events. On October 19, in partnership with the NFL and “Million Trees NYC,” they planted thousands of trees in Rockaway to restore the coastal forest devastated as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
“Years after this Super Bowl is played, we want people to say, ‘a lot of good came out of that game,’” remarked Kelly, who will be at the game cheering, along with his wife Peggy and their family of five.
For more information or to “join the huddle,” log on to www.nynjsuperbowl.com.