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Super Bowl XXXVIII: Reflections - by Zennie Abraham

...Experiencing the best Super Bowl ever.

Our Super Bowl Seat View at Houston's Reliant Stadium.

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Three SBSers attended Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Texas: Rachel Sears, Brian Killgore, and myself, Zennie Abraham.

Here's my impression of the event. Rachel and Brian can chime in by using the comments section, or their own blog.

This was my third Super Bowl. The first one I attended was in Atlanta, Georgia in the year 2000; the second was in San Diego in 2003. Regardless of which Super Bowl, all were incredible experiences for me. That's an amazing complement to an annual event. But the reason it's so great is that it's an expression of everything that is American popular culture. It's also exclusive: there's a great charge out of being one of 70,000 people actually in a spot on Earth being looked at by 90 million people.

For me, the Super Bowl has always been connected to some business I was involved in. In Atlanta, I was president of the Oakland Alameda County Sports Commission, and in charge of forming the bid to bring the Super Bowl to Oakland for the year 2005. (We lost to Jacksonville.)

The NFL, in the guise of Jim Steeg, Senior Vice President of Special Events, did a fantastic job of making sure me and my board members were able to attend the "A" list events: The NFL Commissioner's Party, The NFL Sponsorship Party, and the NFL Tailgate Party. Atlanta did a fine job of representing the league's premier event product, but they couldn't control the weather. It was forecast to be 60 degrees, but in reality it was about 30 degrees -- and that was the high.

The result was icy ground and terrible weather conditions. There were a number of car accidents and lawsuits: an unfortunate matter given how hard the city worked to land the right to host the Super Bowl, and then the work invested to present it.

What I like about the Super Bowl is that it's a networker's dream. If you ever wanted to meet a large group of people who are successful in various walks of life, you must come to one of these events. If you're at all shy, or not comfortable with successful people, stay at home. But if you're in the sports business, or sales or broadcasting industry, you've got to attend a Super Bowl. The trick is knowing where to be.

At any Super Bowl, the NFL Media Headquarters Hotel is the best place to network, but it also tends to be overrun with people looking for tickets. If you want to do league business, go to places like The Ritz Carlton or the Four Seasons Hotel. In Atltanta, I met a number of league executives and was able to talk about Oakland's Bid for the Super Bowl. In San Diego, the Marriott was the best place. In Houston, the Four Seasons was the proper venue.

What I've noticed about the Super Bowl, is the following:

1) There are more "A" list parties that are as hard to get into as the game itself. They are as expensive to attend. In Atlanta, it was the Leigh Steinberg Party. Last year in San Diego, I was at the Nike Party. This year in Houston, it was the Octagon and Leigh Steinberg parties. But the coveted tickets are to the Maxim and Playboy parties.
2) The pregame and halftme shows are studies in high tech event planning. Some student should write a paper on how these events with the event are produced and staged. The equipment and machinery involved is not the run-of-the-mill.
3) The Houston stadium was subdivided into even more exclusive stadium club areas. In the future, I'll make sure the stadium club tickets are part of my tools of Super Bowl success.
4) The NFL Tailgate Party was hard to get a ticket for, and I understand there were "copies" of the passes floating around. I hope this problem is licked in future Super Bowls.
5) Houston didn't seem to have enough banners around town. I know this is small, but what impressed me about San Diego and Atlanta was the extent that the city was "branded" in Super Bowl logos and colors, even in the hotels.

The Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake Controversy

The game was great, and I'll get to that in a moment, but the topic on America's collective mind was the Super Bowl Halftime Show. For people at the stadium, like myself, I really didn't have any idea what was going on. I was in section 129, row HH, seat 22, flanked by Rachel and my friend, Jennifer Carr. Our seats faced the Panther's 20 yard line about 30 rows up from the field. Because of this, it was hard to

The halftime show featured three stages and ramps connecting them. The main stage was at the Patriots' 45 yard line. There was one stage on the Panthers' 20. That's the one where Kid Rock held court. The main stage was where Janet Jackson sang with Justin Timberlake. Our seats offered the view below:
Thus, when the lights went down, one needed binoculars to see the pair and that "deed" but you could see that they were dancing very close. On television, all you saw was this:

I really enjoyed the halftime show. It was more than Janet and Justin, featuring Nelly, Kid Rock, and P Diddy. What was most interesting to me was the crowd's divided reaction to Nelly's famous song with the lyrics "It's getting hot in here, so take your clothes off." The audience nearest to Nelly was singing and waving their hands. The ticket holders in the end zone just plain looked, without much reaction. It was weird.

As for the act and the PR aftermath, while the FCC's investigation casts a negative light on the event, I really think the NFL benefited from this in an unusual way.

The league's television contract, at $18 billion the richest in sports history, is due for renegotiation in about a year. There have been claims by the networks that they lose money by telecasting NFL games.

Declines in rating for the Super Bowl have made headlines in recent years. Thus, the very value of the league's product has been attacked in an effort to develop a climate leading to a less expensive NFL TV contract after this one expires.

Three developments worked to make that strategy a failure, in my view. First, ratings for the game last year were amoung the highest in NFL history because of the Oakland - Tampa matchup. Second, sports has been merging with entertainment in such a way that I believed this Super Bowl would be the first where the team competition really didn't matter as much as the total viewing package.

Last season, each week was an ESPN treat, with players doing crazy things to make sure the camera was on them. That feeds an overall public drive to see what is going to happen next, and the Super Bowl presents the biggest stage for that to happen. Cable television and the merging of music into football telecasts, in a way that I don't think even the late NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle anticipated, has made the Super Bowl "appointment television" for an entire Sunday.

The third development was the involvement of MTV. Enlisting MTV to produce not just the halftime show, but various pregame TV programs on CBS, was a master stroke of genius.

Someone decided to use the premier cable TV institution to draw teenagers and college students, who buy all kinds of clothes and devices shown on TV commercials -- and drink beer. Someone reasoned that MTV could help elevate the Super Bowl to pop-culture entertainment status, on a par with the Oscars and the Grammy Awards.

Say what you will about the halftime show, but my bet is that Super Bowl TV ratings will be even higher next year, and the NFL will eventually realize an even larger TV contract.

The game itself just made everything so much the better. It was a thing of beauty and the best Super Bowl ever played, in my opinion.

But the Super Bowl of 2004 should be the subject of study by every sports marketing student in the world.

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