For many of the people who help make the City of Minneapolis run, the most significant play of this year’s Super Bowl didn’t occur during any of the four-plus quarters the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons spent battling inside NRG Stadium in Houston.
It came the day after, during Monday’s postgame news conference, when Houston handed-off the game ball to Minneapolis, starting the countdown to Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4, 2018.
“Even though it may be a year away, for us it seems like a week, because it’s going to go so quickly,” said Minneapolis City Coordinator Spencer Cronk, who heads a multi-department steering committee focused on preparing the city to host one of the biggest sporting events in the world. The game — and the 10-day celebration around it — is expected to draw an estimated 1 million visitors to Minneapolis, Cronk said.
The city sent about 20 people to Houston, roughly half of them sworn employees from the police, fire and emergency management departments. That group was part of a much larger Twin Cities delegation that included about two-dozen members of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, five people from the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and six Meet Minneapolis employees.
“Once the game ends in Houston, the attention turns to us,” said Michael Howard, director of communications for the host committee.
Howard said the host committee, set up as a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, is tasked organizing many of the events during the week-and-a-half lead up to the big game. Those include the NFL Experience, an interactive attraction featuring games and other activities, and Super Bowl Live, an annual fan festival. The host committee is also in charge of recruiting the estimated 10,000 volunteers it takes to pull off those and other events.
When Minneapolis hosts the Super Bowl, both the game and many of the festivities around it will take place in a compact area downtown. That’s a change from Houston, where the game was played in a stadium about eight miles away from the city center. When San Francisco hosted the previous year’s Super Bowl 50, the game was actually played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, nearly an hour’s drive away.
“It’s going to be all in a smaller footprint, which we’re excited about,” Cronk said. “I think it’s going to allow people to walk around and have a great downtown experience.”
Commander Scott Gerlicher of the Minneapolis Police Department spent part of his time in Houston shadowing local law enforcement and getting a look at the behind-the-scenes security operation. After hours, Gerlicher mingled with tourists on a walk through Houston’s 12-acre Discovery Green park, host site of that city’s Super Bowl Live event, to get a fan’s perspective on security.
“This is really more valuable than just about any training I’ve been to,” he said of the first-person experience.
Gerlicher noted one big difference between the two host cities: Houston has nearly 5,000 officers on its police force, while MPD employs closer to 900, meaning Minneapolis will rely on mutual aid agreements with surrounding cities “to muster up enough law enforcement personnel.” Members of the St. Paul and Bloomington police departments and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office joined him in Houston.
Gerlicher said the department only has a “tentative budget” developed for the Super Bowl and wasn’t ready to release an estimate — “but as you might imaging, it’s pretty expensive,” he added.
Cronk said the city expects to budget in the “couple-million-dollar range” for the Super Bowl and doesn’t yet have an estimate of how much it might take in from sales tax revenue on tourist spending in bars and restaurants. He said San Francisco spent about $5 million when it hosted.
There’s another, more obvious difference between the hosts of Super Bowl LI and Super Bowl LII: the climate.
“We’re a cold city and we’re leaning into that,” Cronk said. “We’re calling this the ‘Bold North,’ and we really want to have visitors and our residents … take advantage and really embrace the cold weather and the snow.”
Kristen Montag of Meet Minneapolis, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau, said the Super Bowl is “probably the biggest opportunity we could have to get our destination out to the world.” During her visit to Houston, Montag and her Meet Minneapolis coworkers were picking up tips on “how we can enhance the visitor experience” when Minneapolis hosts, she said.
As for the stadium itself, Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the MSFA, said it’s “by and large” ready for the game.
“We were during construction having detailed conversations with the NFL all along,” Kelm-Helgen said.
U.S. Bank Stadium normally seats 66,800, but the MSFA will bring capacity up to 70,000 for the big game. MSFA is already making security upgrades after two Dakota Access Pipeline protesters managed to sneak climbing equipment into the stadium, scramble up a truss to unfurl a large banner during a Vikings-Bears game on New Years Day.