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By KYLE PARKS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2001
For a week, workers have been assembling 17 huge tents that executives and their guests will use for pregame and postgame festivities on Super Bowl Sunday. The largest tent measures 100-by-360 feet and will hold more than 1,500 people. Inside, the carpeted, climate-controlled structures will have everything from big-screen TVs to props such as a giant ship's mast.
All around the 800,000-square-foot corporate hospitality area -- roughly the size of Clearwater Mall -- the National Football League is turning a former parking lot into a pseudo-beach. There will be 10-foot-tall macaw statues, 25-foot-tall lifeguard chairs and a sand castle. In all, trucks have brought in a staggering 900 tons of sand.
"It's a bit like building a city," said Deborah Wardrop, who's in charge of the project for the National Football League. "We've gone from drawings to detailed mockups to this."
A tent -- and all the food, entertainment and decorations inside -- can cost a company as much as $750,000 for its one day of use. The NFL won't say who will have tents this year, but in the past such companies as Coca-Cola, Ford and Prudential have hosted key execs and big-ticket clients in tents.
The largest, called the Stadium Club, is shared by companies that don't want an entire tent: Tickets for that are $500 per person, and that doesn't include a ticket to get into the game.
The growth of the hospitality area shows how the Super Bowl has become an overwhelmingly corporate event. Consider that when the game was last in Tampa, in 1991, there were just nine corporate tents. Wardrop's job is a year-round gig as she signs up companies, finds contractors and schedules the intense construction period.
Most of the tents have been assembled over the past week, so in coming days the focus will turn to furnishing them and completing the beach motif outside.
"We have two weeks to build this, which seems a luxury after having only one week last year," Wardrop said as she cruised the area in a golf cart Thursday. The time frame shifts between one and two weeks each year depending on the timing of the NFL's playoff games.
The construction has had its share of hassles, though. It rained the first day the trucks arrived, though Wardrop has been blessed with sunshine since then. When the banners arrived for the tents, about 30 didn't have the proper Super Bowl logos, so they had to be replaced. And the NFL had to pave a number of driveways through the area to make it easier for vehicles to get around.
There's a lot the general public will never know about the tent area, though. The NFL keeps many details under wraps because big corporate sponsors often don't want shareholders or customers to know how much they're spending. Corporate officials defend the spending, saying the schmoozing can help them land deals that more than pay for the tents.
"One big thing they are paying for is privacy," Wardrop said. "We don't even let people from one tent go into another. How would it look if one beer company had its biggest client in its tent, only to see the client walk down the road to visit a competitor's tent?"
The decor in the tents will range from basic to exotic. Some of the smaller 50-person tents may simply have nice furniture, while the biggest will be decorated with fancy spotlights and elaborate decorations.
Wardrop's crew picked a pirate theme for one NFL sponsor whose guests are staying in Orlando until game day: The idea is to give them a taste of Gasparilla even though they won't be in town for the parade.
But the aesthetics aren't always planned to match the game site. Last year, when the corporate area was inside Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center, the theme was " '60s, '70s, '80s," with lava lamps, old Crock Pots and other relics, along with plenty of pro football memorabilia.
The spending doesn't stop with the decor. A staff of 500 will be on hand Super Bowl Sunday, serving such entrees as Lower Keys Conch Chowder, prime rib and salmon. Companies also can pay for menu upgrades, adding upscale brands of liquor or such treats as Maryland crab cakes ($475 per 50 guests) or leg of lamb ($250). They can even bring in a cart to make fresh popcorn for $6.50 per person.
Several tents will have higher-priced music acts such as the Spinners and the Classic Rock All-Stars, a band that includes Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, former members of the Eagles. Other tents will have local bands or DJs.
It's all part of the priciest event in the sports world. For the largest companies, a four-day Super Bowl trip can cost as much as $10,000 per person, so if a company brings 150 guests, the cost would be about $1.5-million.
For all that money, they want to see something special, which Wardrop is determined to give them. Her office these days is in a trailer in the middle of the tent city; phone messages stack up as she attends to details both large and small.
So what will the theme be for next year's bash in New Orleans? "I don't want to even think about that yet," she said.
- Contact Kyle Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.
What it takes to make execs happy
Here are some of the items that will go into the corporate hospitality village at the Super Bowl:
2 tons of pier post pilings
900 tons of sand
8,000 feet of fence
19,000 feet of ceiling fabric
100,000 square feet of asphalt
250,000 square feet of tented areas
30,000 inches of Cuban sandwiches
5,000 pounds of salad
4,400 pounds of beef
500 gallons of chowder
4,000 chicken breasts
288 man hours of on-site construction
Source: National Football League
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