Big Game, Big Transformation: How Minneapolis Became Super Bowl City

February 13, 2018

Mike Wohlitz

Mike Wohlitz is the Senior Vice President of Event Services at Freeman, where he is part of a dedicated, talented team that helps design, plan and deliver immersive experiences to create meaningful connections for their clients’ most important audiences.

Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s hard to miss the hype around the biggest football championship of the year. And this year’s coverage has been particularly interesting with a spotlight on first-time host, Minneapolis. Unlike previous metropolises like Houston and San Francisco, Minneapolis/St. Paul had some hurdles, including fewer traditional event space options and frosty conditions. But the Twin Cities capitalized on its “Bold North” strengths to become the ultimate Super Bowl hub with a wide lineup of memorable experiences in and outside the big game. The bonus for a smaller market like Minneapolis? The city could truly capitalize on the fervor in every corner of town, including places that may not be top of mind.

As marketers, we understand how planning an event begins with a blank event canvas that evolves into colorful experiences attendees will enjoy and remember.

But what happens when it’s an entire city that may or may not be shrouded in snow?

Here are a few ways Minneapolis transformed to welcome fans, promote the big game, and celebrate its own winter wonderland that visitors wouldn’t soon forget. Add these inspiring insights to your brand experience playbook.

Think outside the venue box

Depending on the location, marketers often need to get creative when planning events since obvious spaces may be unavailable. Whether you’re planning a regional conference or a 10-day festival around a huge sporting event, it’s a good idea to look beyond standard venues. Attendees appreciate a change of scenery, particularly when it’s unexpected. Switching location gears can also uncover surprise advantages.

Minneapolis can relate

When thinking about the biggest football championship of the year, the last thing that may come to mind is a mall. But the Mall of America offered ample space to accommodate a vast media epicenter for week-long press coverage. Granted, the Mall of America is the MVP of American shopping centers, boasting 4.2 million square feet of space with attractions including a theme park, aquarium and even a wedding chapel. But it was a big left turn from previous media centers that were typically held in convention centers, out of the public eye. And that presented a first for Super Bowl fans: a chance to witness the action live and up close.

Dedicated Freeman teams huddled for months to plan and build out the headquarters for hundreds of television and radio outlets to conduct business surrounded by curious shoppers and excited fans. For television and cable stations, we converted unfinished retail space into secured press auditoriums, work stations and meeting areas along with miles of cables for power and internet. To create “Radio Row,” our teams overhauled and powered up a space that was originally a food court to accommodate hundreds of seating areas for live radio crews doing ‘round-the-clock shows as fans peered nearby.

Sponsors and partners can sometimes lend unique options when it comes to venues. Minneapolis-headquartered Target allowed public access to its employee-only Target Plaza Commons for the first time ever during the 10-day festivities. The temporarily rebranded “Bullseye Lodge” offered a warm respite for fans with Minnesota-themed activities, games and special merchandise. Other unlikely venues booked during game week included a vacant department store, a curling rink, churches and a funeral home.

Venture into the great outdoors

Tackling events, we log countless hours inside convention centers, meeting rooms and banquet halls. To mix things up and improve our health, consider taking your plans outside. Today’s workforce spends more than nine hours a day sitting, which is more than most of us sleep each night! And it’s not doing us any favors.

Studies show that getting outside for recreation and business improves focus, generates creativity and reduces stress. Plus, attendees value a chance to mingle with colleagues in new environments even when it involves a brisk breeze (but if temps dip extremely high or low, be sure to alert your audiences to dress accordingly!).

Despite being one of the coldest cities in America, the Bold North embraced its chilly climate and created a number of incredible outdoor experiences – some involving sponsors and some not – within a winter wonderland that allowed visitors to enjoy the climate while taking part in activities that make the city special. Mindful of dipping temps and thin-blooded crowds, organizers balanced the experience with plentiful respites from the elements.

The 10-day Super Bowl LIVE festival held on the outdoor Nicollet Mall featured an ice rink sponsored by Hyundai – interested skaters were asked to fill out a survey about the brand before hitting the ice and were rewarded post-skate with a life-sized snow globe for a snowy photo opp. Ford got in on the action with complimentary sleigh rides through downtown in the Built Ford Touch Sleigh Ride experience. Audiences seeking bigger thrills could fly over the Mississippi River and into the skyline on The Bold North Zip Line presented by two local businesses XOOX, a lifestyle backpack brand and Treasure Island Resort & Casino. This high-flying experience was so unique it sold out several days before the game.

Additional outdoor attractions included the Minnesota Institute of Art’s ice maze featuring photos of a recent exhibition, life-size ice sculptures scattered around the plaza and a first-ever Polar Plunge. Would-be plungers waited in freezing temps before making the icy leap, which raised almost $200,000 for Special Olympics Minnesota.

Weave in local flavor

Just as embracing the wintery mix of your locale can offer something uncommon for visitors to experience, so can incorporating home-grown elements such as food, music, goods and more. Enriching your event with attributes that make the location unlike any other place gives the event itself something memorable for attendees to enjoy together. As they’re learning more about your offerings, they’re also experiencing the city and what it has to offer.

The Twin Cities went all out by highlighting their state and city pride across town, which added to the experience. To highlight the Minneapolis sound, organizers enlisted Minnesota music legends Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who worked with Prince (beloved Minneapolis native), to curate week-long free concerts featuring national and local Minnesota acts, including a special night dedicated to Prince. A Prince pop-up tribute exhibit was also available for visitors to get a peek of rare Prince artifacts, costumes and celebrated moments from the musician’s brilliant career.

The Taste of the NFL included locally inspired eats from the Minnesota state fair, local food trucks, and plenty of native brats and beer. Even local coffee roaster Caribou Coffee created limited edition “Bold North” coffee to sell in-store and around event locations. Finally, the North Local Pop Up Market featured a wide line of local vendors selling goods especially for visiting fans, including winter weather gear, fur-lined clogs and Minnesota-themed gifts.

Score big with digital

Whether you’re creating an in-booth experience for attendees during a local trade show or developing an NFL fan experience for visitors from around the globe, digital scores big points. The high-tech devices and enhancements available today allow us to create even richer experiences that happen face-to-face in real-time with options for sharing far and wide.

On the two weekends leading up to the game, Verizon offered free VR and AR activities for kids at the Mall of America inside the Verizon Innovating Learning Labs. The VR lab allowed kids to see the White House, Grand Canyon and Eiffel Tower in one sitting with a special take-home headset to continue exploring from home. The AR lab let kids learn about how games like Pokémon Go work by jumping into the world of digital integration where they created their own environments, as well as the human brain and the solar system.

Adults get just as big a thrill (and maybe even more so!) out of digital fun as kids do and the NFL Fan Experience counted on that with multiple applications courtesy of our Helios Interactive team (a Freeman Company):

  • Championship Rings display: While waiting in line to see the rings, fans can scroll through interactive touchscreens to view high-res images of the rings before viewing the real thing.
  • The Ticket Configurator: This personalized digital photo experience allows fans to utilize all past Super Bowl ticket art to create a custom image with their own photo to share on social media.
  • Memorabilia LED Showcase: 22 digital displays will be placed around the experience featuring transparent, touchscreens to showcase memorabilia behind compelling digital footage.
  • HOF Bust Creator: A photo shoot experience that captures fan photos in 3D with a bronze overlay to create a branded, personalized Hall of Fame-like digital bust to share on social media.

The game is obviously a huge draw for fans who came to Minneapolis but it’s only part of the entire Super Bowl experience that extends beyond the stadium. Host cities like Minneapolis recognize the opportunity to create memorable and engaging moments surrounding the championship. By creating immersive, sensory-rich experiences for visitors, organizers (along with sponsors and local businesses) create moments that become positive impressions that live on past the game’s final score.

So, what’s the post-game report from Minneapolis beyond a big Eagles victory? Experience wins.


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