With the 2013-2014 football season under way, Super Bowl XLVIII – which will be played in Northern New Jersey – is now less than five months away. Cities and businesses, including those in Hudson County, are playing a game of “beat the clock” in their efforts to capitalize on the event. As the National Football League (NFL) and its sponsors spend dollars in New York, New Jersey has been left to scramble for a piece of the revenue jackpot, a challenge which municipalities here are trying to meet in different ways.
In Weehawken, Mayor Richard Turner said that his town is focusing instead on the proposed Grand Prix road race that will take place in June of 2014 on local streets. “That’s going to take a lot of our energy,” he said on Friday. “We’re going to have events for that.”
But nearby, some neighboring towns are competing to host Super Bowl themed events for early February.
“Cities like Hoboken really went big, they really went out there and tried to go after those larger corporate dollars,” said Bill LaRosa, director of the Hudson County Office of Cultural Affairs and Tourism, last week.
This isn’t easy. NFL is notoriously stingy with its brand. Each year the league designates very few parties as official Super Bowl events. This has forced local officials to shift gears as they try to find other strategies to benefit from the game.
“We’ve approached every NFL sponsor,” said Hoboken Events Coordinator Scott Katz. “They told us their first priority was doing stuff around Times Square, because that’s where the bigger Super Bowl events will be held. But even though they haven’t made a commitment to sponsoring events in Hoboken, they haven’t turned us down. They said, ‘Come back and talk to us later.’ Well, now it’s later.”
Super Bowl XLVIII is being touted as the “first regional Super Bowl,” even though that description was also used for the 2011 game, which was held in Arlington, Texas. As such, there was an assumption early on that the game would be a boon for New York City and Northern New Jersey, particularly Hudson County, which shares the Hudson River waterfront and is home to the state’s second largest city.
‘I think there are avenues for us to make money off of [the Super Bowl] and that’s how we’re going to leverage it.’ – Steven Fulop
“I think what we’re beginning to see are more efforts to work with businesses that already have a foothold in Hudson County,” said LaRosa.
A more focused approach
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who was elected in May and who took office on July 1, has only recently been involved in Super Bowl planning. Despite his administration’s late start, Fulop may have benefitted from the hindsight experience of other municipalities.
“There’s not really an opening for any Super Bowl sanctioned event, to be honest,” Fulop said. “Some places, like Hoboken, are trying to do these outdoor villages. But I didn’t want to have an event outside in the cold, that wasn’t an NFL-sanctioned event, that attracts Jets and Giants [players] from 1984. That wasn’t interesting to me and it wasn’t a good use of dollars. To be respectful, we want to either do something that is really differentiated, or we don’t want to do it. We made the decision early on that we were not going to spend taxpayer money to do anything that wasn’t an NFL-sanctioned event.”
Instead, Jersey City plans to team up with the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce to promote the local hospitality industry to people staying in and congregating at the city’s hotels.
The Hudson Reporter newspaper chain has been working with the Hudson County Super Bowl host committee and will publish the official Super Bowl week entertainment guide for residents and tourists in town for the big game. This guide will be distributed at hotels and other venues in Jersey City, Hoboken, Secaucus, and Weehawken.
Most hotels throughout Hudson County are already at capacity for Super Bowl week, La Rosa said, and the American Football Conference and National Football Conference champion teams playing in Super Bowl XLVIII are slated to stay at the Westin Hotel and the Hyatt Regency, both in Jersey City.
In addition, Fulop said the city is “in negotiations” with one of the NFL’s charity wings to perhaps do a fundraiser for local youth activities.
“They’ve put $200,000 into other communities and we’re making the argument that Jersey City is a host and we’d like to reap some of the benefits that they are spending elsewhere,” said Fulop.
The city is also partnering with the league to promote Gridiron Glory, a football and Super Bowl-related exhibition that will open at Liberty Science Center on Sept. 28. The exhibit, which runs through March 2, 2014, may provide some additional opportunities to promote local corporations, Fulop said, and the city is pursuing those options as another opportunity to profit from the Super Bowl buzz.
“I think there are avenues for us to make money off of [the Super Bowl] and that’s how we’re going to leverage it,” said Fulop.
The town of Secaucus, the Hudson County municipality closest to East Rutherford and MetLife Stadium, has also adopted a more regional approach to its plans for next year.
Last spring, Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli began laying out his vision for what he called a “Winter Blast” that would turn the center of town into a winter wonderland complete with snow and ice makers that would allow for winter fun and games like snowman-making and ice skating. Gonnelli also wanted to hold a taste of the town-type tented event elsewhere in town, possibly at Harmon Meadow.
Since then, the town has been in negotiations with three potential corporate sponsors.
“We have verbal commitments from two companies, I just don’t know how much they are going to be willing to give,” Gonnelli said last week. “I think we will have a firm commitment with numbers sometime next month. We are still in negotiations with [a third company].”
Since negotiations are still pending, Gonnelli did not want to publically disclose which companies the town is in talks with, but one company is Hudson County-based, one is a resort, the third is a hotel chain.
In a departure from Jersey City, Gonnelli said he is willing to commit limited town resources to Secaucus’ Super Bowl Week events.
“I feel confident that we’ll be able to do something,” Gonnelli stated. “How big we’ll be able to do it will depend on how much money we get and how much we’ll be able to commit.”
Hoboken: Go big or go home
Of the three Hudson County municipalities that are marketing their cities for the Super Bowl, Hoboken has made the biggest push to have NFL-sanctioned events on its home turf.
Katz said the city had once hoped to get more than $1 million in corporate dollars to have an extended NFL Huddle Zone along a closed Sinatra Drive that would have featured entertainment, events and dining opportunities along the city’s waterfront. This vision has been scaled back, as has the budget.
Katz now hopes to get around $500,000 from sponsors to host a more limited series of Super Bowl Week events on Pier A, a goal he believes is realistic.
“We’ve been in regular communication with the NFL and they have given us a little leeway in the type of sponsors we can go after. Since we’re not asking for a lot of money, I still think we will secure at least one major sponsor.”
The city now plans to have “a cauldron” of Roman numerals XLVIII ignited at the end of Pier A during the week, a week that will also feature an exhibition basketball game by the Harlen Globetrotters at Stevens and family events like ice skating and curling. Hoboken’s Pier A lineup is currently the only NFL-sanctioned event planned in Hudson County.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said the city recently posted an ad on the city’s website, HobokenNJ.org, seeking help with Super Bowl sponsorships.
Like Katz, the mayor also believes the city will be able to secure a sponsor.
“And even if we don’t, this is Hoboken, and I know we’ll be able to get the volunteers and donations we need elsewhere to make this a success,” she said.
La Rosa: ‘Things are going to happen’
LaRosa agreed that Secaucus is in “good shape” to make something happen in time for next year.
“I think anyone who doesn’t have commitments by next month will have trouble doing something in time,” he said.
While Hudson County is not organizing any game-related events of its own, La Rosa said that Hudson County Restaurant Week will coincide with Super Bowl week, which he expects to be a boon for local business.
“I think the message is that things are going to happen, albeit different than what may have been envisioned originally,” said La Rosa. “I’ve been around a long time, and we are determined that this even not turn out like the World Cup in ’94.”
That year, the Meadowlands was among several U.S. communities to host the World Cup. By some accounts the event was not profitable for many local businesses, and tourists in town for the event were disappointed by what they found in New Jersey.
“The Super Bowl is going to have a vibrancy to it that I think people will be impressed with,” said La Rosa.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.