Even since the last time Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl in 2000, the event has grown considerably, turning into a 10-day series of festivities that draw combined crowds of up to 1 million people.
Popular attractions surrounding the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston included an out-of-this-world experience: a virtual-reality ride to Mars. And the 2018 Super Bowl festivities in Minneapolis included zip-line rides across the Mississippi River.
Plans and preparations are being made for the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta, with the NFL looking for yet-undetermined “wow factors.” The game will be played Feb. 3 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but festivities downtown will begin at least 10 days before that.
Peter O’Reilly, NFL senior vice president of events, oversees the Super Bowl for the league. He discussed plans for the Atlanta game in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Q: What kind of issues were addressed during four days of Super Bowl meetings in Atlanta last week?
A: A lot of time was spent by our team, our vendors, looking at all the main venues. We spent time in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in the Georgia World Congress Center and on the surrounding campus in Centennial Olympic Park. In terms of our core event venues, we are feeling in pretty good shape and really spent a lot of time on how this is all going to work. … We continue to feel good about the progress. What we love about the way this lays out is how compact (the area) is where we’ll do our major fan events. So that does energize us for sure with where we are, less than 300 days away.
Q: Based on other big sports events here, one would expect Super Bowl Live (a free 10-day outdoor festival with concerts and other activities) to be held in Centennial Olympic Park, Super Bowl Experience (an interactive indoor theme park) in the World Congress Center and media day (now known as Super Bowl Opening Night) in Philips Arena. Is that the plan?
A: We’re not announcing anything officially yet, but certainly that is a (foot)print that works well for that. ... We’re working on firming it all up.
Q: Will there be some sort of distinctive attraction as part of the Atlanta festivities, along the lines of Houston’s “journey to Mars” and Minnesota’s zip lines across the Mississippi River?
A: There will be. We are still working through with Brett (Daniels, chief operating officer of the Atlanta host committee) and his team on what those will be. To me, creating those type of wow factors, if you will, is great for fans, and we want to put in that local element that is memorable around the game. There’s no locked-in plan for that, but there are some concepts.
Q: When will a decision be finalized and announced on such attractions?
A: We’ll probably spend more time on it through the summer and look to announce by the fall. Our team last week was really looking at and weighing the where and what of those wow factors. ... Putting some of those wow factors to shape in the months ahead, that is the fun part.
Q: You knew to plan for a cold-weather Super Bowl in Minnesota, but how challenging is it to prepare for a winter event in Atlanta, where the weather can vary dramatically (and an ice storm marred the 2000 Super Bowl festivities)?
A: Even when the Atlanta committee was presenting (the city’s 2019 bid) to the owners, they were clear that was a focal point of their planning --- to be prepared for whatever the weather. … For us, we’ll be prepared for whichever way it goes … for indoor-outdoor scenarios.
Q: When will you determine the game’s halftime performer?
A: That has typically been closer to the game, more into the fall as we start to pin that down. It has been as late as the Thanksgiving window.
Q: What do you think of Mercedes-Benz Stadium as a venue for the game itself?
A: It’s fabulous. … It’s got the elements that allow us to put on a great Super Bowl show in there. And think about the work now being done on the ‘backyard’ side of the stadium (the Home Depot Backyard, a 13-acre green space/tailgating area). We’ll come down to see that in action this fall. We’ve been fortunate last season at U.S Bank Stadium and now at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to be in iconic world-class facilities for the Super Bowl. This is our biggest stage, and we want it to shine.
Q: Were lessons learned from some of the problems at the College Football Playoff Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, particularly regarding ingress and egress?
A: Obviously we know the Falcons and the stadium (staff) are looking closely at that, making specific changes to mitigate those issues. We have confidence in that. Certainly the Super Bowl is a different type of environment even than the College Football Championship or Final Four in terms of some of the protocols we have. We certainly watched that and saw the reports from our teams down on site and are working closely with the building, as we do with every Super Bowl. It’s one of the reasons we do have a policy in place that we don’t play a Super Bowl until the second year in a new building, just to have a building learn and evolve through its first year and second year.
Q: Would the NFL consider playing the Super Bowl with the Mercedes-Benz Stadium roof open, provided it is working as designed by then and the weather is good?
A: We would want to work closely with the team and the building, but certainly would consider it if the weather is good.
Q: Do you keep up with the status of the continuing work on the roof?
A: It was open when I was in the building a few weeks ago. We will be there as we head into games in the fall, and we will be watching that. I know they are confident on their end that it will be working well.
Q: All in all, is preparation for Atlanta’s Super Bowl where it needs to be at this point?
A: I think we’re in a good place. I feel really confident in the core venues and the downtown footprint, and our team feels very confident with where we are planning-wise. Now, it’s how do we make sure we are innovating and making this an incredibly special Super Bowl that highlights Atlanta in a powerful way.