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Orlando takes role of Super Bowl east

The big game's corporate sponsors are taking advantage of the proximity to Tampa without the super-hyped atmosphere.

By SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001


ORLANDO -- Its boosters call it an extension of the epicenter, a mere 70-mile blip down Interstate 4 from its western cousin blessed as Super Bowl host.

Judging from the hundreds who have piled into Orlando for the weekend of the big game, the theory may hold true. Airlines have added extra flights, hotels are expected to be near capacity, dozens of private buses have been hired to shuttle Orlando visitors to Tampa and hotels are festooned with Super Bowl signs, their doors frosted with Super Bowl logos.

"This weekend clearly demonstrates the connectivity of the Central Florida region," said Danielle Courtenay, a spokeswoman for the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Yet somewhere between Tampa's end and Orlando's beginning, the brash glitz and unrestrained hype that define Super Bowl Week give way to corporate couth and tasseled loafers.

Orlando may be booked, but it has not cut loose.

In the Marriott Orlando World Center, one of the biggest hubs of Super Bowl attendees in Orlando, corporate workers in polo shirts and blazers back-slapped and traded business cards in the lobby Thursday night. At the hotel's sports bar, Champions, a couple dozen patrons downed glasses of Miller beer, an NFL sponsor, but nary a Giants or Ravens cap was in sight.

Orlando was the NFL's choice for its corporate sponsors and employees when media outlets grabbed first dibs on Tampa's choicest hotels. An NFL official worried recently that people staying there would feel sidelined, but if they did they didn't show it.

"It's absolutely not a put-out to be in Orlando," said Robert Fox, an NFL market researcher who flew in from Philadelphia with his wife, Colleen, a nurse. "There are more business opportunities."

With so many in town seeking business deals and not beads, a country club ethos is pervasive. Parties planned for the weekend are private affairs. Organizers talk about them in hushed tones, when they discuss them at all.

"I prefer to not be quoted," said Bill Etling, a spokesman for Anheuser-Busch when asked about the whereabouts of his company's parties. "These people are here for business."

Even the biggest fetes, like the NFL Alumni Awards banquet on Saturday night, are being treated as state secrets.

"I wouldn't want to divulge information like that," said Lou Raiola, the event's producer, when asked who would be in attendance.

His colleague, Peter Moorcroft, though, was happy to discourse on his glee about being in Orlando. "Last year in Atlanta it was an absolute zoo with literally 1,000 journalists jammed elbow to elbow, trying to hunt down a player to interview," said Moorhead as he oversaw the hoisting of a 20-foot vinyl Super Bowl logo in a ballroom of the Hyatt Grand Cypress Hotel. "This year, frankly, is a lot more pleasant."

The sober atmosphere was not for everyone.

"They're pretending this is the center, but it's fake," said Chris McGovern, an unabashed Giants fan from Carmel, N.Y., who is staying in Tampa but was in Orlando Wednesday to visit a friend. "They are trying to make it more of a draw by trotting out a few players, but they are not fooling me."

Steven Schnitzer, 41, a leather-jacket clad restaurant owner from Miami, was staying in Orlando with his sister, a sports marketer from San Francisco whose business needs dictated an Orlando stay. Schnitzer said Orlando's buttoned-up crowd was fine for Thursday night, but come Friday he would be hungry for Tampa's frenzy.

"I'm sure once I get there," he said, "it will be rocking."

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