Not So Super Bowl

What Minnesota can learn from the mistakes of New Jersey.

Andrew Zimmern
Photo by Steve Henke

A Biggest Loser TV host in Minneapolis, when unable to get into Bar La Grassa last year, went to social media to complain and got skewered. Many famous faces go to Facebook and Twitter daily to kvetch about their personal travel problems. I have gotten caught up in my share of that short-form essaying too, so it was with certainty that I promised myself I wouldn’t publicly complain about the experience I had at the recent Super Bowl. I didn’t even make it to the opening kickoff.

Getting to enjoy an NYC weekend, attend some cool parties, and hang with a mega-gaggle of stars, as a run-up to sitting at the game itself, is an immense privilege. I had to pinch myself a dozen times that day. And yet the hospitality experience of the game itself was so awful, and stood in such stark contrast to the rest of the weekend, that I was shocked.

There are some pretty interesting local implications and concerns as well, since the Major League Baseball All-Star Game comes here in July. Plus the new Vikings stadium will open in a few years and we are already trying to woo a Super Bowl for the Twin Cities. Mega-events at both facilities are the gravy we need to help promote everything that’s great about Minnesota. Our state has invested heavily with our tax dollars in both stadiums, and these types of national events create convention and visitor business that can provide incredible economic growth for our cities and our state. An average home game for the Vikings draws tens of thousands of visitors from all over the state and country to Minneapolis. Same with the Wild, Wolves, and Twins when they are competitive. Since we want to take care of guests so they in turn want to come back to Minnesota, I offer this cautionary tale.

Transportation was awful, even though New Jersey Transit had four years to prepare for this. Plus, this is a stadium that regularly sells out, so they are used to the numbers of fans attending games. I have attended many regular-season games at MetLife Stadium. It usually takes about 45 minutes from my hotel to my seat using public transport. It took three hours to get out to and into the game. Last year in New Orleans it took 45 minutes, most of which was spent in security lines; they know how to host a Bowl. Thousands of this year’s fans were stuck on train platforms in Secaucus with no guardrails; thankfully no one was hurt. Going home from the stadium was even worse. Fans were told to stay in seats long after the game ended because there weren’t enough trains to take us back to Manhattan.

Inside wasn’t much better. When you remember that 80,000 fans is normal for sold-out games at MetLife, you’d assume that it would be just like any other game, right? Wrong. No food or beverage sold by seat vendors, except for $20 instant hot chocolate, meant crushing lines inside. Hot dog and beer sales in the seats, like at a normal game, would have solved the problem. Before kickoff they had run out of cups. Garbage cans overflowed. If I were Verizon, I would have been livid that waste spilled and tracked all around my in-stadium promotional integration. I waited 45 minutes to order at a hot dog/hamburger kiosk. I gave my order, paying $22 for a precooked generic patty on a bun. It took 32 minutes after that to actually get my lukewarm sandwich. This story repeated over and over. It turns out that fans seated around me waited even longer in beer lines only to be told cups were gone or tap lines had emptied. On the bright side, pretzel sales boomed.

Sure, I got a nice seat and can afford it, but for most Super Bowl attendees this is the experience of a lifetime, for which they save for years. Mid-level seats cost about $1,600; hotels and airfares were at premiums. The vast majority of fans at the game weren’t corporate guests in suites or movie stars on the sidelines. NYC has more to offer visitors than any other city in the world, so it can take the PR punch and roll with it. Cities like ours can’t. The guest experience in our town needs to be complete in every sense of the word. Why invite people to come to our house if we aren’t prepared to be responsible for their happiness? I am a fan, and in Minnesota I am also in the business of selling food at our stadiums. If I need to personally stand and flip goat burgers, I will. And as we welcome sports fans to our world-class facilities over the coming years, I hope everyone else doing business feels the same way.