Houston set high bar for Atlanta’s Super Bowl
By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Feb. 10, 2017
The pressure is on — not only on the Atlanta Falcons to make a return trip to the Super Bowl — next time bringing home a win.
The pressure also is on Atlanta — to deliver a successful 2019 Super Bowl — one at least as good as the one that Houston hosted the first weekend in February.
“They did a really good job,” said Carl Adkins, executive director of the Atlanta Football Host Committee and Metro Atlanta Host Committee — the entity formed to plan and execute the hosting of the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship, Super Bowl LIII and the 2020 NCAA Men’s Final Four.
Adkins was one of a large group of Atlantans who were in Houston to do more than cheer on the Falcons. Their job was to look at the myriad of details related to how Houston hosted the Super Bowl and what Atlanta could learn from that experience.
“They played to their strengths,” said Adkins. “I think they set a new attendance record for the NFL Experience.”
Adkins said up to 1 million people visited downtown Houston during the extended Super Bowl weekend — going to the NFL Experience or participating in the multiple events taking place on the Discovery Green — which stretched for multiple downtown blocks in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center.
“We are probably going to program certain events differently,” Adkins said. “The concert series got overwhelmed on Saturday. It is going to be incumbent on us to figure out how to best program events.”
Several people said Atlanta has advantages that Houston did not have.
“The biggest difference is that in Houston, the stadium is 15 minutes away from downtown (when there isn’t traffic),” Adkins said. “In Atlanta, everything is located downtown. We are going to work with local government partners to figure out what our traffic plan will look like.”
The public zone for Super Bowl festivities will extend from Mercedes-Benz Stadium to Centennial Olympic Park— but it may even be expanded to include the Fairlie-Poplar district and possibly Woodruff Park. Adkins said the Atlanta host committee is looking to partner with the NFL’s On Location team to have even greater cooperation between the community and the League in putting on the countless events that surround the Super Bowl.
Brett Daniels, chief operating officer of the Atlanta host committee, said another local plus is the availability of MARTAnear the main activities.
“We are going to be positioned here to have an outstanding game in Atlanta,” Daniels said. “The downtown area will be alive and vibrant. A big asset for us is the walkability in downtown. The ability to take MARTA from the airport is another big asset.”
William Pate, president and CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, was inspired by some of the creative marketing techniques he saw in Houston. That included full-motion video projections on the sides of buildings.
Atlanta could follow.
Central Atlanta Progress is advocating for a new sign ordinance that would allow a portion of the downtown core to be illuminated with large signs and video boards just as the city preps for marquee events, including the Super Bowl in 2019.
“That’s a great opportunity for the city,” Pate said, adding he was also amazed at the amount of fans taking pictures and sharing them via social media in Houston.
“One of the great opportunities we have throughout the city is to create these Instagram moments,” he said. “It’s a great way to brand the city. I thought Houston was very smart about that.”
Paul Bowers, CEO of Georgia Power, said the event in 2019 provides Atlanta and Georgia a wonderful opportunity to promote the area as a place to do business. Bowers flew in and out of Houston on one of the charter planes provided by Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank, along with Gov. Nathan Deal.
“We need to look at this as an economic development platform,” Bowers said, adding there are a host of issues Atlanta will need to work on — from the number of TSA stations at the airport to the logistics of having many out-of-town drivers in the city shuttling people around without knowing the city.
Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said the Super Bowl is a great time to entertain economic development prospects.
“In 2019, we’ll roll out the red carpet and show them why Atlanta is a great place to do business,” Moddelmog said.
“We know millennials flock to the Super Bowl and we will be ready,” she added. “We’ll pull out all the stops and leverage our ChooseATL platform to create an experience that speaks to them. We’re also brainstorming on a lounge and meeting space for visiting CEOs to use while they are enjoying the festivities.”
Atlanta also was charting new ground in Houston — specifically turning a major concert venue near the NFL Experience into Falcons Fan HQ — a magnet for all the Atlanta fans in Houston.
Mike Gomes, senior vice president of fan experience for the Atlanta Falcons, said they were able to secure the venue just a couple of days after winning the NFC Championship.
“The NFL came through yesterday and said teams don’t normally do this,” Gomes said right before the actual Super Bowl was played on Sunday. “They want to talk to us about what we did. It was a great opportunity to have a spot for our fans to hang out together.”
The Falcons Fan HQ had performers, including CeeLo Green, as well as Sports Talk 92.9 broadcasting from the venue and super large video screens where fans without tickets could watch the game live.
Mitch Frohman, a 15-year Falcons ticket holder, was one of those fans.
“It was the best party ever,” Frohman said just before the game. “I came with 12 guys, and the party was amazing. People were dancing on tables.”
Despite the heart-wrenching outcome at this year’s Super Bowl, Atlanta leaders seemed pleased with the city’s potential for the future.
“We’re very proud of our Falcons and everything they represent for our region,” Moddelmog said. “Hats off to Arthur Blank and the entire team for a job well done.”