Is New York Ready for Super Bowl Sunday?

Jan 29, 2014

A NJ Transit train sits at the New Meadowlands stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photographer: Ryan Sutton/Bloomberg

Everybody seems to have a prediction for Super Bowl XLVIII.

Final score between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos? No, try warnings of winter storms, traffic jams, and security ordeals for the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl coming this weekend to the New York metropolitan area.

When 400,000 people come to town, rolling out the welcome mat takes more than a pull-out couch and some clean towels. New York and New Jersey have been hard at work preparing for the throngs of football fans expected to descend on the region for the festivities leading up to the Feb. 2 game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  But is the infrastructure of an already densely populated region—some 20 million strong—ready to handle the influx?

The state of New Jersey has spent $17.7 million on its game day preparations, much of which has gone to readying its transit systems, from adding trains to reinforcing its infrastructure. The state even built a new $7.7 million bus service facility in Secaucus to triple bus service capacity.

Visitors are expected to generate $550 million in revenue for the region during the week of revelry, but banking on that football fortune is a gamble. While Indianapolis profited from the Super Bowl two years ago, Glendale, Arizona lost money on the 2008 game it hosted.

Adding to the complexity this year, the second biggest match-up could be between New York and New Jersey. While the game is being held in the Garden State, a quick jump across the Hudson puts most of the parties and events in New York City. In 2010, former New York Governor David Patterson said that $500 million of the projected revenue would wind up in his state.  

And what of Polar Vortex III?! Fears over winter weather disaster have hung over this Super Bowl since the site selection in 2010.

Susan Sherer has heard such doomsday warnings before, as executive director of the host committee for Super Bowl XL in Detroit, She may not have had to worry about an outdoor stadium in Detroit, holding the game inside cozy Ford Field downtown. But her committee did have similar logistical issues to account for in planning for the 2006 championship.

"We got lucky with the weather," said Sherer, founder and president of consulting firm Sherer Inc., in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. "It wasn't super cold heading into the Super Bowl, and we had some perfect snow that made everything look beautiful. We were prepared for snow, so it wasn't a problem for us to very quickly handle that amount of weather.”

Sherer and her staff of 30 won plaudits from the NFL for hosting one of the few Super Bowls played in a northern city, having planned for everything from transportation snafus to bad weather.

As it turned out, the unseasonably warm Detroit winter created its own unexpected challenges for the festivities that year. But weather isn’t just an issue for northern cities. In fact, Super Bowl XLI, held the following year in Miami, has been ranked as one of the five "worst weather" Super Bowls of all time.

Atlanta was also battered by ice and snow storms in the run-up to Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000 — a “devastating” development that Sherer says shows that “cold weather is not that bad in cities that are prepared for it, but in cities that aren't prepared it can be terrible." caught up with Sherer for an interview recently, in which she discusses the challenges of hosting a northern Super Bowl, her excitement about what a New York-area event will encompass, and her hopes for bringing the game back to Detroit:

What were some of the unique challenges of hosting the Super Bowl in a northern city?

Well, first of all, it was the combination of a northern climate and a city like Detroit, with its reputation nationally. That was the biggest challenge. Having sold Detroit to national conventions for many years, I knew people came into that Super Bowl with modest expectations. And they were surprised by the depth of the destination.

This is an important city in the United States, and a city with that kind of legacy and history is always going to have lots of art and wealth and all of that ... but people don't perceive us that way.

How did you overcome some of those perceptions?

Well, certainly we knew the weather thing would be a singular challenge. So, we decided about six years out that we'd start driving it home. Everything we did was about being prepared for the weather. We'd go down to a Tampa Super Bowl or one in Miami, Houston, or Jacksonville and — even in the press areas, on radio row — we would be dressed in fleece and have things that showed snow. Our booth even had a fireplace in it.

That was all going toward reinforcing this idea of shifting the paradigm from the golf and warm weather destination to a cold weather, urban environment. We focused on restaurants and the city instead.

It really was remarkable. We were able to secure it and it was so successful. We also brought a lot of our (Detroit area) sports stars. If there isn't something provocative going on, the week gets a little long and it gets hard to keep the storyline going. We used our city and its history of sports to keep the storylines going.

How important were local businesses to the effort of hosting a Super Bowl in a northern climate?

For us they were central. It's important. It's about image making from the Super Bowl brand. It wasn't just a way for local small businesses to showcase their support (for Detroit), but also for big, national retail companies to experience the power of the Super Bowl and sharing that brand, if you will.

Do you think New York will be prepared?

I'm sure in New York, since it's the hometown of the NFL, they are ready to go either way. God will have his way on the weather, so it's not entirely predictable.

For something like a Super Bowl, it's not like a regular (Detroit Lions) game, where people are coming down in their cars and trucks. They are coming on buses and they're in hotels nearby. Everything starts super early for a Super Bowl, too. Things start at one for a 6 o'clock kickoff, so your odds in Detroit, or New York for that matter, of not making it to the stadium are pretty narrow. It would be a different experience if you're sitting out in some blizzard, though.

I will tell you, though, there are a lot of cities with outdoor stadiums waiting to see what's going to happen in this game, to see if maybe they have an opportunity to host a Super Bowl. 

Is the outdoor stadium element the biggest difference between New York and other northern cities that have hosted?

That's the obvious one. I haven't been to that stadium out there, but I think when Super Bowls are spread out, in this case shared over two municipalities, I think they might lose some of the concentrated gravitas or critical mass of the event. 

I think New Orleans is such a great city for the Super Bowl. You have warm weather, most of the housing is almost within walking distance of the stadium, and if not, it's just a short cab ride. There's not a whole lot of cities that can accomplish all those things like New Orleans can, and it has an indoor stadium.

But I think New York is going to be a great Super Bowl destination because of the significance of New York being a global destination. I also participated a couple years ago in a strategy planning session on New York and how strategically it should be positioned. I think you're going to see a global kind of approach to it. I think it's going to be really special.

My hope, of course, is that Detroit will muscle in and claim another year. I think we're certainly poised for it, now more than ever.

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