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Game plan that’s all about teamwork

Execs say playbook is unlike other Super Bowls, '94 World Cup

When the big game comes to East Rutherford, it'll be unlike any other Super Bowl, as teams of New Jersey officials plan for snow and the threat of losing economic activity to New York. Planners Brad Mayne, left, and Wayne Hasenbalg meeting at MetLife Stadium during a snowstorm last week. – AARON HOUSTON

Not long after the last piece of confetti fell Sunday night in New Orleans, where the NFL crowned a new Super Bowl champion, the attention of the football world turned some 1,300 miles north to MetLife Stadium, the site of next year’s big game.For planners in New Jersey, so begins the second year of tackling two challenges unique to the Meadowlands game — the potential for severe winter weather and securing the Garden State’s share of one of the country’s great economic windfalls.
Making sure New Jersey shines has been nothing short of a job requirement for Wayne Hasenbalg, president and CEO of the Sports & Exposition Authority. That urgency goes back to late 2011, when Gov. Chris Christie first approached him about the post.
“He wanted me to understand that this was a top priority for him, and that I needed to make it top priority for me,” Hasenbalg said. “And literally, every time I’m in Super Bowl-related meetings, I remember how much he stressed in that conversation just how important the Super Bowl was to him and to the state.”
To meet its list of goals, New Jersey officials last year formed a working group of executives at some 15 agencies, the host committee and MetLife Stadium. The group’s six subcommittees have been at work since early last year, but the heavy lifting begins in earnest now, with planners starting to unveil how the Super Bowl week events and lodging will be split between New Jersey and New York City.
“You’ll see fans who will follow their team here to New Jersey and want to stay either in the hotel or near the hotel that the teams are going to be in,” Hasenbalg said. “So that’s just one example of how New Jersey could benefit economically … because it’s not just about the game. It’s not just about the tickets that are sold.”
By several accounts, efforts to spread events and economic value over two states have been a practical collaboration from the outset. That dance between New York and New Jersey hasn’t always gone as smoothly, as was the case 20 years before the Super Bowl, when the 1994 World Cup came to Giants Stadium for seven matches in June and July.
After agreeing to install grass sod at the turfgrass stadium and convincing the World Cup’s governing body to waive its requirements for field dimensions, state officials at one point faced the prospect that New Jersey would not be included in the branding for the event. George R. Zoffinger, then-CEO of the sports authority, said once that hurdle was cleared, the authority moved independently to court individual teams.
That included sending representatives to Italy and convincing the national team to train here, one of four squads that opted to do so, he said. The Italians ultimately trained at the Pingry School, in Bridgewater, and filled the entire Somerset Hills Hotel, in Warren, creating an economic ripple with its following of fans and media.
“We basically recognized early on how you get the benefits, and that was by getting those teams,” Zoffinger said.
The top organizers of next year’s Super Bowl said they didn’t study the 1994 World Cup, but Hasenbalg said he’s working “to maximize what New Jersey gets out of the Super Bowl.” Besides planning for NFL-sanctioned events, which will pick up this year, he has told local officials and businesses across the state “there’s nothing that prevents you as a town or you as a corporate citizen in New Jersey from planning your own Super Bowl-related experience.”
Already, the 2014 host committee has about 4,000 hotel rooms under contract in New Jersey, said Al Kelly, president and CEO of the committee. And that’s certain to grow as the game becomes closer — and as the team hotels are announced.
Another economic driver will be showcasing the rest of the state for people visiting for Super Bowl-related events; this year, Hasenbalg wants to develop “messaging” through media and other means to “promote all that New Jersey has to offer and … facilitate their visiting other attractions throughout” the state.”
Late last month, the host committee started carving up the event between the two states. The Garden State will host the media day, and the teams will practice and lodge here, while Manhattan will host Super Bowl Boulevard, a four-day-long fanfest. Other key announcements are still to come — including the high-profile commissioner’s ball and the Taste of the NFL fundraiser — and “certainly getting those locked down is going to be very important,” Kelly said.
Maximizing the tourism and economic impact is among several tasks being handled by New Jersey’s subcommittees, along with issues like security and transit. The groups are even developing a strategy for rescheduling the game due to severe weather — a complicated decision that must consider the networks, league and fans.
“That’s a worst-case scenario,” said Hasenbalg, who co-chairs the working group’s executive committee. “The point, though, is that you have to be ready. … That’s why this model that we’re using is a good one. It forces you to make sure you have an operational plan associated with every one of the planning elements.”
There’s also no shortage of preparation under way at MetLife Stadium. Brad Mayne, the stadium’s CEO, said many of the venue’s normal responsibilities will be amplified, like planning with Public Service Electric & Gas to manage the power grid, ensuring the strength of its wireless infrastructure and temporarily expanding the press area.
Meantime, Mayne and about 10 other stadium staffers planned to be at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for this year’s game, and in April, MetLife will “have a little bit of a precursor of what Super Bowl will be like” when it hosts WWE’s WrestleMania, which also has a weeklong series of functions and draws fans from far beyond the region.
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On Twitter: @joshburdnj

Joshua Burd

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