Back in February, Minneapolis, Minnesota was the host of Super Bowl 52. We previously discussed preparing for a major event like a Super Bowl in an earlier episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast.
In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & CEO Bryan Strawser and Senior Consultant Jennifer Otremba take a look back at Super Bowl 52 and discuss what worked – and what didn’t. Topics discussed include major event planning, private sector information sharing, remote work strategies, physical security, and related topics.
Bryan Strawser: I really did not like Super Bowl 52. I did not like Super Bowl 52.
Jen Otremba: No, he did not, and he’s wearing his shirt right now.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah. It’s ironic that we’re recording this today, because when I was getting dressed this morning, I did not have any in-person client meetings, so I am in jeans and a New England Patriots polo shirt. But I did not like Super Bowl 52.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. Who won the Super Bowl, Bryan?
Bryan Strawser: Not the New England Patriots.
Jen Otremba: Yeah, sad to say.
Bryan Strawser: Our podcast is not about the football game, but we are gonna talk about what we learned during Super Bowl 52, and I don’t mean during the game. What we learned in terms of being involved, for two years, in the preparedness efforts around Super Bowl 52, and what I think we all took away from that experience that would be valuable to you as you think about planning major events.
Jen Otremba: Yup, and what some of our peers learned as well, so all of us collectively, together.
Bryan Strawser: We’ll start off with the fact that you can’t argue, which is that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time.
Jen Otremba: Okay, Bryan.
Bryan Strawser: No. So, Super Bowl 52. Let me paint the picture for you if you’re not familiar with the Twin Cities. But Super Bowl 52 was held at U.S. Bank Stadium, which is the home of the Minnesota Vikings. Unlike a lot of NFL stadiums, U.S. Bank Stadium is built right in the central business district of Minneapolis. It is literally a few blocks from about 15 Fortune 500 headquarters.
Jen Otremba: Right. It was built on the same footprint as the Metrodome.
Bryan Strawser: As the Metrodome. So right downtown you have some really big Fortune 500 firms, like U.S. Bank, General Mills has a large facility there, Ameriprise Financial, Target, Wells Fargo, Valspar, and the list just kind of goes on.
Jen Otremba: On and on. Yeah, that’s right.
Bryan Strawser: On and on from there. So, it’s not like the last Super Bowl, down in … I think the last one was in Houston, or Dallas, where the stadium is out in the middle of a huge parking lot, off the side of the highway with nothing around it. This is right smack in the middle of the city, so it posed a very different risk situation for companies, because everything was right there.
The game itself, of course, was at the stadium. The stadium doesn’t have parking. It has a very limited amount of parking, so there is really no standoff distance. So, you had to block … To kind of illustrate this … You had to block city streets for quite some distance around, in order to get the kind of security perimeter to protect from blasts, and do adequate security screening and that kind of thing.
Jen Otremba: Right. In addition to that, there was events held at the Minneapolis Convention Center, which is also right downtown, on the other side of downtown.
Bryan Strawser: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Of downtown.
Jen Otremba: So, more streets had to be blocked out for that.
Bryan Strawser: That was the NFL or Super Bowl experience. They had the entire convention center. For this, they did the … Between that and the Hilton, which was the NFL hotel, which is also right downtown … They did most of the major events around the Super Bowl. All the different awards ceremonies, and dinners and stuff, were held between the convention center and that hotel.
Then down Nicollet Mall, which is kind of the central pedestrian thoroughfare … You can’t drive on Nicollet Mall. It’s literally an outdoor mall, in the sense that we think about outdoor malls … That was NFL Live. Ran for about eight blocks. Had a stage. Mind you, all this was occurring in what turned out to be a minus-10 average week, which is pretty horrible.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. It’s that time of year.
Bryan Strawser: But all of that was going on in the downtown area. And actually, Nicollet Mall was … The NFL Live experience was one of the bigger areas of concern for companies, because their headquarters are on Nicollet Mall. U.S. Bank, Target, Xcel Energy are all along Nicollet Mall. I might be missing one or two, but they all face Nicollet Mall with their principal headquarters’ locations.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. So that as a whole, just location alone, really created a lot of challenges for us in planning for these events, and protecting these companies’ assets, and keeping their employees in mind, parking in mind.
Bryan Strawser: And then, to make things even more complicated, the teams and the media center were at the Mall of America, which is in Bloomington, Minnesota, which is not downtown Minneapolis. It was 15 miles to the south. Each team had an entire hotel, then the media center was in a space that was kind of between the two hotels. Hotels are on either side of the mall, north and south side. The media center was kind of arranged around the fourth floor of the mall.
To give you perspective, there’s 8,000 media that have credentials to come to the Super Bowl, or the events around the Super Bowl, and so it’s just a really massive experience for them to manage. But that meant that the mall, and everything going on there, was subject to heightened scrutiny, and protests, and all the kind of things that went on.
Jen Otremba: The airport is also, maybe … What do you say? Five minutes from the Mall of America?
Bryan Strawser: Yeah. It’s right on top of it.
Jen Otremba: Downtown Minneapolis is maybe 10 minutes from the International Airport. So, just in the city, very, very large event, obviously. But I think compounded by the fact that it’s in such a populated area to begin with.
Bryan Strawser: Right. Without all that as background, our involvement started two years ago, when companies finally started to ask, “Gosh, what should we do about the Super Bowl? We’ve known for a year it’s coming. Now it’s starting to … We’re starting to hear things. What do we do?”
Jen Otremba: Or, “What do we need to be doing? Is there something that we should be doing, that we’re not already doing?”
Bryan Strawser: So, we had a lot of … I think we’ve talked before about major event preparation. We did all of those things. I mean, we helped companies prepare some basic planning. We talked about options like remote work, and how do you create standoff barrier. How do you create … What are the different tiers you might go through, if risks escalate during the course of Super Bowl week, or the game itself. All were pretty basic. All are things we’ve talked about on previous podcast episodes.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. So, let’s talk about what went really well.
Bryan Strawser: Communication amongst the private sector companies was great. We created … Along with the interests of about 30 companies that were downtown, big companies … We created a mailing list that was kind of for rapid response. We had some meetings, where we got together and talked through, you know, “What’s everybody thinking? What are you doing about this? What are you doing about this?”
What turned out to be interesting, that we didn’t expect through that, is we brought in the Host Committee. We brought in Minneapolis Public Works. We brought in the Minneapolis Police. And it turned out that none of these groups were talking to each other, in terms of communication to the big companies, the big employers, of what was going on. And it was pretty frustrating for the companies, because they weren’t getting information.
Jen Otremba: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: This, kind of venue coalition that we pulled together, really helped us move through that, and get information figured out, and they felt … I think everybody walked away knowing more, through the course of these conversations.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. There was information out there, but you really had to go and search for it. The Host Committee had a website that very little information was on, because it took them quite a while to finalize all of their plans.
Bryan Strawser: Right. You know, the traffic point in particular was just really difficult to manage.
Jen Otremba: And it caused a lot of angst, I think-
Bryan Strawser: It did.
Jen Otremba: … amongst the businesses. So I think even just having the Host Committee there, to say, “Hey, here’s when we will have the information out there.”
Bryan Strawser: I think that calmed a lot of folks down.
Jen Otremba: It did. I think so.
Bryan Strawser: I mean, one of the big challenges … And I think there was a lot of conversation about this … But if you’ve been in downtown Minneapolis, and if you’ve ever driven in downtown Minneapolis, there’s just not a lot of parking.
Jen Otremba: No.
Bryan Strawser: The city is actually trying to go to even having less parking than what’s there today, and you’re having parking ramps, or … What you would call a parking garage, we call a ramp here. Parking ramps are getting eliminated in favor of building new buildings, and that kind of thing.
Jen Otremba: I think their goal is to make it as miserable to drive downtown as possible. We spend a fair amount of time downtown with different clients and things like that, and it’s so miserable driving down there and parking down there these days.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah. Parking is such a challenge. That was a big topic of conversation, is, “Are you going to be taking parking?” And the Host Committee kind of dithered for a while, and then finally came back and said, “Well, yes. We are, actually. So you need to talk to your particular ramp to find out what’s going on.” And we had people that didn’t do that, and then the Tuesday or Wednesday before the game, showed up to park in a ramp which they had a contract with, and found out that the contract wasn’t valid during the remainder of Super Bowl week. So, there were a lot of those little things that just caused a lot of angst and stress. And good information, showing up front, helps alleviate that.
Jen Otremba: We did notice that in some cases, when it wasn’t shared, or it wasn’t heard, there was some issues. But that information sharing was incredibly helpful. One of the other things that we know goes well in all of these incidences … And we’ve learned this in other cases, too … Is really understanding and knowing what top risks are. Right? So, what is going on? What is happening between parking, protest activity, the discussion about alcohol on Nicollet Mall? All of those things, and knowing what that risk is, and what that means to your organization. I think that was really helpful, to talk through that with the different companies.
Bryan Strawser: I think one of the most valuable things that they did … And I know this was one of the first times this happened with scale like this … But about a week … Well actually, during the playoff games, it happened here when the Vikings were still in the mix. The Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, which was really representing private sector interests in the inter-agency communication chain, started a chat room, a live chat room, using the DHS HSIN … Homeland Security Information Network … Capability.
We tested it during the playoffs, so we could all get used to it, and then we used it through the entire week of the Super Bowl. And it was great, from the standpoint that it gave us a real-time chat room, and visual display of things that were going on. Companies could go in and ask questions about, “What’s going on with this, and what’s going on with this, or what have you heard?” Or they can report, “Hey, we just had XYZ suspicious behavior. We’ve reported it to 911. Now we’re bringing it here.” That allowed everybody to kind of talk through what was going on.
It became particularly important in the lead-up to the game itself, because as was expected, we had protestors. There were a number of protest things that were going on. There was some protest march, which the police were helping. They were allowed to do a little traffic blocking, and kind of do their thing. The police generally just kind of cooperated and helped them accomplish their goals, because they weren’t really disrupting anything, to a certain extent. But we also had protestors that blocked the trains, the light rail trains, by chaining themselves together. They had a plan for this. The police very quickly rerouted the trains, put people on buses, got them to the game. All the things that they needed to do, and then they moved in and arrested all the protestors with the fire department, cutting the chains and doing all that.
There was great communication, I think, in the chat, while this was going on. So everybody knew exactly, “Here’s what’s happening, and here’s how we’re managing this disruption. And the police are dealing with the protest situation, and we’ll explain that as it happens, not to give away, you know, kind of tactical information.”
So, I thought that they did a really good job of kind of working through that, and communicating what was going on throughout the course of the game and the week itself.
Jen Otremba: Yeah, and the ability to get on that chat long before, and sort of understand how that’s gonna work, I think was really helpful to most of us that were managing through those situations.
Bryan Strawser: Mm-hmm (affirmative). By any means, I think if I was to summarize the information sharing around the event, is that the lead-up to the Super Bowl … I don’t know if the companies hadn’t gotten together, and kind of pushed the issue, if they ever would have gotten answers to help them in the time frame they needed to make plans. I think it was good that they kind of got together as a group, on their own, with us, and we kind of pushed that issue with the city and with the Host Committee. I think that was really good, in order to gain info.
I think what the city did, through the Downtown Improvement District, in terms of communicating information during the game and the week of the Super Bowl, was brilliant. I’d like to see more of that from a public-private sector communication aspect in the future. It was really similar to what FEMA did through the Office of the Private Sector, and the NICC, the National Infrastructure Coordinating Center at DHS, with the major hurricane season, the California wildfires. Really good real-time collaboration, using a virtual collaboration platform.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. We know from previous incidents that public-private partnership is ultimately really, really important for managing all of these situations. So, it’s not just law enforcement doing it. It’s not just the companies in the area doing it. They’re working together.
Bryan Strawser: To summarize, I think that Super Bowl 52 turned out to be a pretty good event. We say that, I think, mostly because nothing happened. I felt pretty good about the plans that folks put into place. I know our individual partners … Companies that we worked with, and companies that shared their experiences with us … I thought prepared well, and helped other organizations as needed. We did have plans to get together if something occurred, to kind of coordinate across organizations and provide mutual aid where necessary. But I really think that the real-time collaboration, and the information sharing up front, is what made this event successful for folks.
Good luck in your next major event.