Super Schmooze XXXV
Don't think for a second that all the action will be on the field when the Super Bowl comes to Tampa on Jan. 28. Corporations spare no expense rewarding big customers and wooing potential ones with game tickets, golf outings and parties.
By KYLE PARKS
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000
For Kaye Burkhardt, the Super Bowl isn't about football. It's about money.
Burkhardt, a Dallas meeting planner, is busy setting up fun and games in the Tampa Bay area for four corporations that will be flying in guests for the Jan. 28 Super Bowl, one of the business world's biggest schmoozathons.
Companies are loath to talk about costs, but a top-of-the-line, four-day Super Bowl trip can run as much as $10,000 a person. And some companies will bring as many as 200 guests to town, which can bring their total costs to about $2-million.
For Burkhardt, the job involves everything from chartering a yacht for the Gasparilla celebration to hiring several NFL players to hang out for Sunday brunch.
But she is quick to say this is no corporate boondoggle. Years ago, many companies would simply send the chief executive and some of his buddies to the game. In today's business world of tough competition and vigilant shareholders, she says, executives use the game to reward big customers and woo potential ones.
"Let's say you have been trying to get some time with a big potential client and you just can't get in," Burkhardt said. "Try offering them four days at the Super Bowl. Suddenly you have their undivided attention.
"I was riding in the bus after one Super Bowl when an executive told me, "I have already made one deal that will pay us for this trip and 10 more,' " she said. "That's why people do this."
The last time the Super Bowl was played in Tampa, in 1991, there were nine tents in the NFL's corporate hospitality area. This year, there will be at least 20 in an upscale tent city sprawling across 800,000 square feet just south of Raymond James Stadium, an area about the size of Clearwater Mall.
Each tent can cost as much as $750,000 for one day. These climate-controlled temporary structures hold as many as 1,400 people each and can be equipped with everything from hardwood floors to big-screen TVs and custom bars.
Debbie Wordrup, who coordinates corporate relations for the NFL's special events, is planning a beach theme with a giant sand castle, guides perched on lifeguard stands and entertainment heavy on the tropical side.
Some of the companies will spend six figures just on entertainment in their tents. Last year, the Doobie Brothers rock band and country stars Brooks & Dunn were among the performers.
The NFL declines to identify this year's corporate tent participants, but at past Super Bowls they have included such big names as Coca-Cola, Ford and Prudential. Many corporate sponsors contribute millions of dollars a year to the league, part of a marketing budget that often also includes pricey commercials during the game telecast.
The National Football League controls one-fourth of the 70,000 hard-to-get tickets for the game, and many of those go to its big corporate sponsors. But the NFL's corporate tent area isn't restricted to sponsors, and other companies get their game tickets through ticket brokers and other sources.
The corporate big shots' presence will be obvious all over west-central Florida before the game. About 4,000 rooms in the Walt Disney World area are being taken by NFL sponsors who will hang out in Orlando, then come over for the game by chartered bus or limo. Another 8,000 or so rooms will be taken by corporate visitors to the Tampa Bay area.
"It's not a bad thing that many of the corporate folks will be in Orlando," said Michael Kelly, who runs the Tampa Bay Super Bowl XXXV Task Force, "simply because all the full-service luxury hotels here will be full."
Most corporate visitors will arrive Thursday night. They'll spend Friday and Saturday on activities such as playing golf, deep-sea fishing and attending Gasparilla events. Sunday is a full day at the stadium, and then it's back to the real world on Monday.
"I think people will be excited to come to Florida in January," said Dave Weisz, director of global sports and event marketing for Motorola Inc., which spends more than $1-million a year to be an NFL sponsor. "Last year in Atlanta, there were people playing golf in 30-degree weather."
Like many of the big-ticket corporate sponsors, Motorola will bring a mix of people to the game. The trip works on a number of levels for the company, from rewarding big customers to being able to offer a high-profile prize in a national consumer contest. "We don't get real fancy in what we do during the visit because we don't want anyone to feel out of place," Weisz said.
In the Tampa Bay area, restaurants and hotels are starting to book private rooms for corporate dinners and parties. Among the most unusual corporate visitors will be the Playboy.com Web site, which is scouting locations including the Florida Aquarium for a big Saturday night party.
For Burkhardt, the title "meeting planner" doesn't mean she spends her time booking Rotary Club functions at the local Holiday Inn ballroom.
She plans trips all over the country, with the emphasis on giving the rich and powerful some new, imaginative experiences.
It often involves signing up celebrities. In West Palm Beach, she hired singer James Taylor to perform for an investment group's meeting, then watched as Taylor invited a friend from the audience to join him: Jimmy Buffett.
And it always means spending large amounts of money. Last week, Burkhardt was in Augusta, Ga., scouting private homes that executives will rent during the Masters golf tournament for as much as $30,000 for a week.
Burkhardt is planning Super Bowl XXXV trips for a pharmaceutical company, a high-tech publication and two technology companies. The groups range from 20 to 100 people. Only two of the companies, a New York technology outfit called ExpressEngine and a high-tech publication called Computer Shopper, would allow their names to be used, but executives wouldn't elaborate on their plans.
Such requests for privacy aren't unusual. Companies won't tell what hotel they're staying in. They won't say whether their CEO is coming to town. And they won't even give details on how many people they're bringing.
The reason? Even though the companies say their guest lists for the game have changed, they fear backlash from investors and customers who think they're wasting money.
Burkhardt has run into that thinking firsthand. At a U.S. Open golf tournament in Pebble Beach, Calif., she saw people get upset when they weren't allowed into the Bank of America hospitality area. "People were showing their Bank of America checkbooks and saying, "We're customers. It's not fair. Let me in,' " she said.
The 30 employees at Burkhardt's company, Dallas Fan Fares Inc., book trips to such sporting events as the Final Four and the Kentucky Derby. Figuring out the itinerary for a trip to Florida is relatively easy, she said: "Everyone just wants to play golf."
Other trips have required more imagination. During a Final Four basketball tournament in snowy Minnesota, she organized a scavenger hunt for a company. Four busloads of guests had to figure out how to measure the height of the shower heads in the arena's locker room without a tape measure and persuade a goalie at a hockey practice to lend them his mask.
Burkhardt is pals with the wives of such sports figures as broadcaster Pat Summerall and the recently deposed Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight. In fact, Karen Knight has refereed some of the fun games Burkhardt has set up, once wearing a shirt designed by her husband with an eye on the back.
"He's always saying referees seem to have eyes in the back of their heads, after all," Burkhardt said.
One of her challenges right now is setting up a party with a Survivor theme for a client. The tough part is getting someone from the hit TV show to come, because some cast members reportedly are asking as much as $150,000 per appearance.
As she sets up the Super Bowl week events, Burkhardt is finding that some of her clients have no desire to see Gasparilla. "They don't understand what it's about," she said.
But the idea of Ybor City, with its party atmosphere and classic architecture, is very appealing. "Everyone tells me, "We definitely want to go there,' " she said.
While she's planning a jam-packed schedule of events, Burkhardt is careful to include some downtime. On the Friday night before the game, the ExpressEngine execs will have some time to hang out in the hotel hospitality suite with their guests, for instance.
"That is some time to talk business," Burkhardt said. "And make no mistake: That is the biggest reason they will be there."
- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.
Four days of Super Bowl schmoozing
Corporate groups coming to Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV do much more than go to the game as they entertain clients. Here's the itinerary for a group of about 40 folks who will be guests of ExpressEngine, a New York technology company:
Thursday night, Jan. 25
Arrive at Tampa International Airport.
Attend reception and dinner at hotel.
Friday, Jan. 26
Play 18 holes of golf.
Hang out in company's hotel hospitality suite.
Have dinner in Ybor City.
Saturday, Jan. 27
Watch Gasparilla festivities from chartered boat.
Play nine holes of golf in the afternoon.
Rest and have dinner at the hotel.
Sunday, Jan. 28
Have private brunch at hotel with several NFL players.
Go to NFL Experience interactive area at Raymond James Stadium.
Start the pregame partying about 3 p.m. in the corporate tent area.
Attend game, which starts about 6:20.
Monday, Jan. 29
Return to the corporate rat race.
Source: Dallas Fan Fares Inc., coordinator for the events