All Super Bowl, all the time
Jim Steeg offers a glimpse behind the scenes and talks about the bay area's chances for another Super Bowl.
|[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
Jim Steeg, in charge of the Super Bowl for 22 years, says the game has changed since the area hosted it 10 years ago.
By KYLE PARKS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 16, 2001
TAMPA -- Everybody wants a piece of Jim Steeg, it seems. After all, he's the man who runs the Super Bowl.
Consider what Saturday was like for Steeg, the National Football League's senior vice president for special events.
When he arrived at his temporary office at the Tampa Marriott Waterside hotel at 8:30 a.m., there were 30 e-mails waiting.
Soon, the phone would start ringing. These days, everyone from ticket-seeking movie star agents to contractors putting in temporary seats at Raymond James Stadium is calling him.
And in his "spare" time, Steeg is dealing with the local media, which see the Jan. 28 game as the biggest thing to hit the Tampa Bay area since, well, 1991, the last time the Super Bowl was in town.
"This isn't the same game it was 10 years ago," said Steeg, 50, who has been in charge of the Super Bowl for 22 years. "Everything has exploded. The media interest, the corporate involvement, the things we do with the local communities."
As a production crew from MTV waited in the hallway -- the network is producing the halftime show -- Steeg talked about logistical nightmares, the bay area's chances for landing another Super Bowl and how he pulls off one of the sports management world's toughest juggling acts.
When Steeg joined the NFL in 1979 after serving as business manager of the Miami Dolphins, the Super Bowl was in many ways just another football game. That changed in the 1990s, as corporate America and the entertainment world turned it into one of America's biggest parties.
Right now, the league is building an 800,000-square-foot corporate tent area next to the stadium that's roughly the size of Clearwater Mall. Nearby will be the NFL Experience, a football mini-theme park that will draw thousands of people.
This one-month construction job is planned like a military operation. For instance, trucks entering the area must go clockwise so they won't create traffic jams.
But Steeg's job goes far beyond the site. The game will attract 3,300 members of the media, compared to 338 for Super Bowl I. His staff, which will grow to 200 by next week, also has to make sure the league's sponsors and its network, CBS, are taken care of.
So Steeg, a direct sort who carries no airs, knows he has to figure out who he's going to make happy.
A ticket stub from the last Super Bowl game in Tampa.
"First off, we're not in the celebrity business," he said. "When an agent calls, I say, "Don't you know someone at the network or with one of the corporate sponsors? Try them.' "
The Super Bowl probably draws more celebrities than any other sporting event, though. One of the many things he's in charge of is placing executives and celebrities in luxury suites. Among them: super-agent Michael Ovitz and actors Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson. Among the other stars expected in town: actor Denzel Washington, boxer Evander Holyfield and music stars Ricky Martin, Sting, Aerosmith and the Backstreet Boys.
"Those people are on their own in terms of security, where they stay, whatever," Steeg said. "Our stars are the 90 guys on the field."
Perhaps, but Steeg's other priority is to please the people who matter to the NFL, and this is now a corporate event. Companies such as Coca-Cola, Motorola, Ford and Prudential have been known to spend as much as $750,000 for a tent. So when a CEO calls, it matters.
Steeg makes certain to leave some details, such as the setup of luxury suites, loose enough to accommodate executives who expect to put their mark on the event. "Some CEOs are going to want to say, "They didn't do such-and-such until I called them, ' " Steeg said.
Around the stadium, Steeg's biggest worries are traffic and crowd control. He estimates that as many as 115,000 people could be in the area on game day.
The breakdown: 72,000 fans with tickets; 15,000 people related to the game, from media to stadium workers to halftime performers, and as many as 25,000 people or more who just show up to be a part of the atmosphere.
Steeg hopes to keep those people farther from the stadium this year with tighter controls on the parking lot entrances.
As for parking, "everyone keeps telling me it will be fine, but I just don't know," he said. A big help: The NFL has made deals to use lots at the nearby Tampa Bay Center mall and the Tampa Bay Park office facility.
Steeg has been in town for a week, and now his schedule has moved from counting days to counting hours. By game day, it will be in minutes. Consider the 22-minute halftime. All 4,000 participants must get on the field in five minutes and leave in five.
Keeping up with all the details is a mind-bending challenge, but colleagues say that may be Steeg's greatest gift.
"He has a photographic memory, and he'll stump me by telling me about some restaurant we went to years ago," said Barbara Casey, director of community and media relations for the Tampa Sports Authority. "And he's known for being fair, and that has built great loyalty among his people."
Steeg's special events staff is normally 16 people. Though the Super Bowl takes about 80 percent of its time, it also handles such events as the Pro Bowl, Hall of Fame ceremonies, the draft and the league's quarterback challenge.
Steeg has honed negotiating skills that keep many behind-the-scenes disputes from getting out of hand. But he can also be tough, and he's known for usually getting his way.
As one example, Steeg worked all sides of the fence as CBS, the NFL and the Bucs pondered whether the stadium's pirate ship should stay for the game. (It's staying, and some of CBS's announcers will work from its mock hull.)
"I have learned so much from him," said Michael Kelly, 30, who runs the bay area's Super Bowl XXXV Task Force. "While I'm just worried about this site, he's also constantly talking to people from future sites."
The game goes to New Orleans next year and then to San Diego. Steeg spent a lot of time last year helping eventual winners Houston (2004), Jacksonville (2005) and Detroit (2006) prepare their bids.
The keys to Jacksonville getting the game? It will put about a dozen cruise ships on the St. Johns River to add luxury accommodations for the game, and Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver did a sales job on the other owners.
This is the Tampa Bay area's third Super Bowl -- Steeg also ran the others, in 1984 and 1991 -- so it could be expected to try for another in 2008 or 2009. But with its recent decisions, the league has made it clear there's no set rotation of cities.
"For a city to get another game, you have to have a well-run game, but an awful lot of it is political," Steeg said. "Malcolm Glazer will have to convince the owners that Tampa should get the game again. You know, the league chose Jacksonville over Miami . . . who would have predicted that?"
Steeg sees major differences in media coverage in each city, depending on the size of the market.
"In Atlanta last year we were a story, but they had just had the Olympics," he said. "But here . . . oh man. The local TV crews are bombarding the stadium every time the grass grows another half-inch."
As for dealing with the visiting teams and fans, the challenge is to manage expectations about getting around a spread-out region. Steeg says Tampa Bay isn't that bad, even though some sportswriters groused about the commutes between venues for college basketball's Final Four in St. Petersburg in 1999.
"This year, everyone wants to be in downtown Tampa, which is where they think all the action will be," he said. "They want to fall out of bed and be right there. But we've said, "You might be playing golf and tennis at Saddlebrook or Innisbrook, not just walking down Bourbon Street.' This is a different type of area.
"I get a kick out of people who commute to work in Manhattan complaining about the distances they have to go to here."
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