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Big game’s bigger expectations

Observers caution Super Bowl organizer to temper ‘unreasonable' hopes of North Jersey business owners

As CEO of the 2014 Super Bowl host committee, Alfred F. Kelly Jr. is leading the effort to prepare for what he hopes will be the “greatest event that has ever happened in this region and in the country.”

As CEO of the 2014 Super Bowl host committee, Alfred F. Kelly Jr. is leading the effort to prepare for what he hopes will be the “greatest event that has ever happened in this region and in the country.”

But it’s also the first time he’s built a small business, with his staff of 10 offering a much different challenge from working as president of American Express, where thousands of people worked under him. And while he describes himself as “always a detail-oriented, roll-up-my-sleeves guy,” he’s finding that developing a playbook around the big game will leave those sleeves rolled up higher than ever.

Kelly, 53, spent this year overcoming the kind of challenges many entrepreneurs face, from deciding how to handle the payroll to assembling a staff — he started in April with just himself. He expects that the peak size of the host company — a business that’s legally distinct from the committee — will reach between 40 and 45.

“There’s an element of really depending on the people who work for you when you only have nine other people,” Kelly said. “They need to be good, they need to be passionate, energetic, and I have a phenomenal team so far.”
He also has turned to his contemporaries in other cities for advice on preparing for the Super Bowl, and at least one former big-game organizer said Kelly’s approach has him on the right track.

Bill Lively, CEO of the 2011 Super Bowl, in Arlington, Texas, said Kelly has the experience and attitude to succeed in leading a host committee after the two met in Texas in the spring.

Lively said the host committee CEO must be politically and financial astute, as well as being a good manager.
“You have to be able to inspire your staff,” Lively said. “It’s a mission more than a job. It requires inspiration all the time.”
But one of the major challenges Kelly will face, Lively said, is setting realistic expectations for the region’s business owners.

“People have unreasonable expectations of what the game can deliver. The game can deliver a whole lot, but it can’t do everything,” Lively said.

Every hotel in the Dallas-Fort Worth area expected to be full, and every entrepreneur starting a service-oriented company expected to get a slice of the revenue generated by the Super Bowl, Lively said. The Texas host committee asked former NFL players who met with area business and government officials to dampen over-enthusiasm about what can be accomplished through the game.

Still, when the game was in the books, Lively said he asked each of the sponsors: “Did you get your money’s worth, and would you do it again? The answers were yes and yes.”

Lively’s words of caution were echoed by Michael L. Lahr, an associate research professor at Rutgers University’s Center for Urban Policy Research, who has studied the economic impact of sporting events. Lahr said Lively’s experience in Dallas will be amplified in a region that is close to many of the visitors’ home cities.

“We should take heed,” Lahr said of Lively’s comments, adding that many visitors will have brief stays.
“Your impacts are going to be low, because people are less likely to stay at hotels,” Lahr said. “It’s a one-day event, but then people will come and then leave.”

But Kelly, a New York resident, said Garden State businesses can receive a sizeable piece of the Super Bowl business if they work together to prepare for the event. This dovetails with Kelly’s own work, which he said draws on his corporate experience.

“There’s a strategic planning effort to this, and whenever you do a big project … you need to plan well, you need to build good relationships, you have to make sure that roles are clear and you need to motivate people, and ideally, incent people,” he said.

New Jersey businesses are already participating in effort. The Super Bowl logo, designed by Hackensack-based Source Communications, depicts the George Washington Bridge, the Hudson River and a snowflake, symbolizing the links between the host states and the first game in which snow could affect play.

Kelly began the effort to coordinate strong support for the event among New Jersey businesses at the annual convention of the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau in September. He announced at the event that 13 of the 22 host sponsors for the event either are based in New Jersey or have a significant presence in the state.

“We want to bring people to New Jersey, because that’s where the big action is going to be,” he said.

And his plans are being closely watched by New Jersey business executives who see an opportunity in the Super Bowl.
“It’s a good idea, if I can get in on it,” said Phil Azzolino, president of Kinnelon-based Group Tours & Travel LLC. “Usually, the big boys get in on it.”

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