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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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.