From Indy to Austin: How to use a massive sporting event to promote your city

What Austin can learn from a major sporting event to draw maximum attendance and admiration, capitalize on branding, and do it all over again for 10+ years

This year’s big American sporting event, the Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, Indiana, is complete. For most of us 110-million+ viewers watching from home, it was a football spectacle that lasted a few hours with some epic commercials between plays. However, for the Indianapolis Host Committee, the Super Bowl presentation was a ten-day affair attended by at least 250,000 people. There were more than enough free events to draw in fans and keep them coming back for more – downtown hosted over 100 public and private events beginning January 27, including the NFL Experience and Super Bowl Village. There were also super-exclusive and VIP events, flush with celebrities, rock stars, and Playboy bunnies.

It wasn’t only the city of Indianapolis having all the fun – there were more than a dozen “Super Celebration Sites,” cities around the state who were hosting their own parties, concerts, and football fan interactive events. Indiana’s racing heritage wasn’t forgotten – in fact, the Indy car experience was integrated into the football fan features. There were 33 “Super Cars,” which were Indy cars adorned in football team livery which proved popular for NFL fans.


Super Bowl Village, a three-block “interactive festival of football,” was packed to the brim with ten times more people than expected. Fans could ride a zipline over the bustling crowd, watch concerts, peek in on live ESPN radio broadcasts, play video games, and of course grab a bite to eat. It was an excellent branding opportunity for companies that were on site, as there were three live streaming webcams and a tight integration with Twitter and Facebook.

The NFL Experience was produced by the National Football League, and is described by its promoters as “a pro football interactive theme park that offers participatory games, displays, entertainment attractions, kids’ football clinics, free autograph sessions and the largest football memorabilia show ever.” It was held in the Indiana Convention Center’s 500,000 square-foot space.


Other high-profile parties were the Audi Forum party held at the penthouse of the Conrad hotel, GQ’s Party by Lacoste, and Playboy’s “Carnival Mystique” at what was known as the “Bud Light Hotel.” Formerly the Hampton Inn, the entire property was completely “themed out” for much of the week – a marketing move that has cemented the Bud Light brand as front and center for Super Bowl attendees. Because of their affiliation with the NFL for the season, Bud Light was able to take over a hotel “in the thick of Super Bowl action.” The hotel was completely outfitted in the beer’s branding – from the logo on pillows, breath mints, and shampoo to a completely made-over lounge area. The hotel also hosted multiple nights of parties and big-name concerts (Pitbull, 50 Cent, Barenaked Ladies). According to an Indianapolis Department of Public Safety tweet, cab vouchers for $25 were distributed by local establishments and at the Bud Light Hotel ’s “Responsible Drinking” booth.

The Host Committee is responsible for arranging or coordinating many of these events. In fact, here is their description in detail:

The purpose of the Host Committee, as defined by the NFL, is to centralize the planning and execution of the 2012 Super Bowl through one entity to ensure coordination of all efforts and community resources. An effective Host Committee will serve as an extension to the National Football League in the local community, as the city’s ambassador to incoming Super Bowl fans, guests, and corporations, and as a manager of local resources such as city services, event venues, accommodations, and thousands of volunteers. There are currently 32 staff members and 3 legacy project members on the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee. In addition to these duties, we are committed to providing the local, national and international media access to the latest news, images and video assets for press usage.

Aside from the logistical issues that come along with hosting more people than expected – close to one million total downtown crowd numbers for the week – the Host Committee appeared to be well-prepared for this event. Forbes noted that the goal was to be “the most social” Super Bowl in history, with a strong integration of Twitter, Facebook, Google +, etc. and a company outsourced to study and interact with users of these outlets. Brad Carlson, vice president of marketing for the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, said they “realized the need for unprecedented communication to make the resources work –enough restaurant tables, parking spaces, entertainment options, for example.” The SBHC prepared for an onslaught of tweets, status updates, and posts across the internet, and attempted to help the media savvy prepare themselves for what turned out to be “human gridlock” with their Know Before You Go guide to travel options.

We’ll see how the crowd reacts to their experience in Indianapolis and across the state of Indiana come Monday morning. Until then, Austin’s travel industry and Circuit of the Americas organizers will continue to study and make proactive decisions about how Austin’s race will be perceived by the rest of the world. The Super Bowl is big, but Formula One is truly worldwide – its own economy – it will be the Super Bowl, amplified by 120 countries. As we’ve seen with this high-profile football game, a massive sporting event doesn’t last for one day, in one city. It can be a week-long, statewide festival. As a native Texan, I can tell you that Texans do know how to throw a party. We’ve got South by Southwest, Austin City Limits, and University of Texas home football games as practice.

Are we ready? Leave your comments and thoughts about major event promotion in the comments below.

“We said at the beginning of all this that we wanted to make the Village into something like ‘Times Square meets the Super Bowl’ and I think we did it,” said Mark Miles, president of the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee.

Miles went as far as predicting the total downtown crowd numbers for the week leading up to, and including, game day. “We’re within striking distance of one million people,” Miles said Saturday. “I think we’re going to do it.”


Photo Credits:

Super Bowl XLVI numerals by emma.kate

Super Bowl XLVI Fan Experience in Indianapolis by kennethkonica

Indycars in NFL team livery by staciestaciestacie



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