After it was over—after the Broncos beat the Panthers and fans jammed into restaurants and bars to cheer or cry in their beer before returning to their hotels, exhausted— you could almost feel the San Francisco Bay Area deflate like a popped balloon. It took a few days for the last vestiges of a high-energy, weeks-long Super Bowl 50 celebration to be cleared and traffic in downtown San Francisco returned to normal.
Countless moving parts (including more than 5,500 volunteers) were involved in pulling off what was much more than a four-hour football game. Since May 2013 when Super Bowl 50 was awarded to Santa Clara’s still-under-construction Levi’s Stadium (the estimated $1.2 billion venue opened in July 2014), public and private planners from throughout the region were on fast-forward, working every possible angle of engagement to ensure the success of football-themed events ranging from redcarpet galas to down-home tailgate parties. And while the long-term benefits of hosting the nation’s most-watched sporting event have yet to be calculated, Super Bowl Week events and activities, aided by perfect weather and worldwide media coverage, served to reinforce San Francisco’s status as one of the hippest, most beautiful cities in the world.
But it wasn’t and never was intended to be all about the City by the Bay. While superphotogenic San Francisco served as a backdrop for the lion’s share of television coverage leading to the Feb. 7 kickoff, Super Bowl 50 was intended from day one to shine a spotlight on the entire Bay Area—including of course, Santa Clara, the Silicon Valley home of Levi’s Stadium, an hour south of downtown San Francisco, where the actual game was played.
“It’s going to be amazing,” says David Andre, vice president of marketing and communications at the Santa Clara Convention and Visitors Bureau, as the clock ticked down. “If anybody would have guessed years ago that the 50th Super Bowl would be played in Santa Clara, no one would have believed it.”
Despite concerns that Santa Clara and other South Bay communities would play second fiddle to wideangle shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and hoardes of visitors crowding Market Street’s Super Bowl City fan village, Silicon Valley communities instead garnered a fair share of the spotlight, Andre notes.
The Santa Clara CVB worked hard to market itself as a visitor destination through a well-received promotional campaign that included “50 Awesome Things to Do” and “50 Awesome Places to Eat” blogs created by staff. Regular “countdown to Super Bowl 50” emails sent to media, planners and suppliers kept Santa Clara top-of-mind for almost a year in advance of the game. Social media efforts paid off with 1.5 million web visitors during the week before the game, according to a post-game CVB report. In the three months prior, Santa Clara venues hosted events that included the exhibit Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the Triton Museum of Art, a Run the Road to Super Bowl race, a freeticketed concert by Heart, and a football-themed STEM Innovation Bowl that took place on January 30 and featured immersive viewing technologies like augmented reality and telepresence robots.
To coordinate the city’s signature event, a daylong, Super Community Celebration held Feb. 6 at Santa Clara University, the CVB hired Caravents, a Beverly Hills-based experiential and digital marketing agency. “It’s a big celebration aimed primarily at locals, although we’ll also get people from out of town,” says Sabrina Benson of the Caravents staff. Components of the festival included a pep rally, wine and beer tents, a community stage with local bands, a youth zone, a fan experience zone, a flag football game, a fireworks show and a separately ticketed concert by Huey Lewis and the News.
Also in Silicon Valley, Super Bowl fever caught fire in San Jose on Feb. 1, when some 5,000 members of the media and many thousands more fans flooded downtown San Jose for Opening Night festivities at SAP Center. The nearby San Jose Marriott, meanwhile, scored a coup in hosting the Carolina Panthers, whose players and entourage moved in on Jan. 31, taking over about 400 of the hotel’s 510 rooms, according to general manager John Southwell.
Southwell didn’t know until the playoffs a week before the Super Bowl which team the hotel would be hosting. By then preparations were well under way. “We’ve done due diligence with other hotels and other destinations that have hosted a Super Bowl team to get a feel for how they handled it,” he says. “We’ve also worked with the NFL to get their take on things. Every destination and each team is different. We’ve hosted most of the visiting NFL teams during the regular season, so we have a lot of experience operating within the unique requirements of the NFL.”
Those requirements include, of course, feeding the human battering rams who would clash with the Denver Broncos on the playing field.
Southwell couldn’t disclose what hotel chefs would be feeding the players, but noted that most teams travel with a nutritionist who works directly with the kitchen staff. “As you might imagine, they eat a lot!” he says.
Super Bowl 50 spawned dozens of extravagant parties, most in San Francisco and many staged as fundraisers. Among the “hautest” was the Big Game Big Give bash for 500 guests staged at the Atherton mansion of venture capitalist/philanthropist Jillian Manus. It featured, among other over-the-top elements, trained seals performing in an above-ground pool, a faux Golden Gate Bridge hovering above food stations manned by celebrity chefs and an auction hosted by Jay Leno that raised more than $1 million for charity. Also high profile was the 25th Annual Taste of the NFL Party With a Purpose, a $700-per-ticket, red-carpet event for 2,500 guests staged at the Cow Palace and featuring top chefs from all 32 NFL cities.
Echoes of Super Bowl 50 also spilled outside the Bay Area and into the Sonoma and Napa valleys, where football-related events included a chartered “Big Game Train” excursion on the Napa Valley Wine Train hosted by 10 sports greats and wines made by former players and coaches turned vintners (featured wines included vintages from Dick Vermeil, Rick Mirer and Terry Hoage). “It’s not traditionally what you do with football, but we thought we’d celebrate by having a wine event,” says Kira Devitt, director of marketing for the Wine Train. “We have these great names in football who are also passionate about wine.”
Just up valley in Yountville, six Hall of Fame Players shared their stories and provided star power at a Super Bowl 50 “watch party” held at the local community center, where the game was viewed on a 14-foot high-definition screen as well as on oversized monitors at each of two bars. The event, hosted by the Yountville Chamber of Commerce, featured high-end tailgate fare and a pregame Q&A session with the approximately 130 fans who attended. The tiered admission scheme ranged from buyout of private, eight-person lounges for $5,000 (including food catered by renowned local restaurants Hurley’s and Redd Wood) to $75 general admission ($25 for locals) with limited seating and stand-up cocktail tables, says Cindy Saucerman, president and CEO of the chamber.
“This event came to be because the Hall of Fame Players Foundation was bringing these players to wine country and looking for an affordable place to hold their fundraiser,” she said, adding that the event raised $6,700 for the Tug McGraw Foundation, which provides support and resources for people affected by brain-related trauma.
“The Yountville event was typical for us,” elaborates Megan Holland, executive director of the nonprofit Pro Football Hall of Fame Players Foundation. “We don’t compete with the big boys or go wide with ticket sales. We want our events to be very small and boutique-like, so when our guests go home they not only can say ‘We just hung out with the coolest bunch of guys!’ but that they actually got to talk to them and ask about this play and that play.
“There are only 295 players in the Hall of Fame, 107 of them living,” Holland adds, “so bringing them to Yountville is a big deal for the fans. We pride ourselves on being very one-to-one, intimate, family-friendly and reasonably priced. Our goal is to bring knowledge and awareness of our group. We’re not profiting from the Yountville event. Our goal is to give back.”
Cultural Concierges Illuminate Zany San Francisco
Super Bowl or no Super Bowl, San Francisco wouldn’t be San Francisco without a wacky side. Super Bowl 50 demanded—and got—a crowd-pleasing expression of the city’s creative nature in a crew of eight roaming “cultural concierges” enlisted by San Francisco Travel, the city’s destination marketing organization, to offer insights to visitors on how best to experience local cultural events and attractions.
Wearing Burning Man-inspired, LED-lit capes and top hats with a steampunk flair, the concierges roamed the Super Bowl City fan village on Market Street, answering questions and making themselves available for selfies.
“There is definitely a buzz around them. They are impressive as one or as a force of eight,” says Lisa Hasenbalg, senior director for arts and culture strategy at SF Travel. “The cultural concierges radically express the persona of our community,” she continues. “They are providing a civic responsibility to enlighten visitors, with gifts in the form of illuminating ideas. A true representation of the Bay Area collective art and maker community.”
When it came to costumes, Hasenbalg says, “We knew we wanted to create a design that would accommodate a diversity of volunteers and result in a highly visible, photo-worthy and fun experience for those participating.”
Concierge capes and hats were designed and fabricated by two San Francisco artists: Karen Allman, a freelance designer of illuminated fashions and part of the Burning Man community, and Jolie Benner, an accounting professional by day and creative designer by night.
“Karen creates ‘walking art’ that is highly visible in dark spaces,” Hasenbalg says, “while Jolie is known for turning unexpected and unconventional materials into unique custom pieces that are incredibly fun.”
SUPER BOWL 50 BY THE NUMBERS
Super Bowl 50 set recordbreaking numbers in viewership, streaming, website, philanthropy— and perhaps partying, although numbers for that aren’t available. Here’s a preliminary report from the Host Committee:
1.1 million people, both Bay Area residents and out-of-town fans, visited the free Super Bowl City fan zone set up on Market Street and sponsored by Verizon; and the NFL Experience, a paid-admission experience sponsored by Hyundai and staged at Moscone Center.
$13 million raised by the 50 Fund, the Host Committee’s philanthropic arm, to benefit local charities.
5.9 million visitors to the Host Committee website (sfbaysuperbowl.com) before the big game.
$1.2 billion cost of Internet cabling at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
1.85 million square feet of Internet cables.
68,500 stadium seats that were able to access high-speed Wi-Fi, allowing guests to post selfies to their social networks on the spot.