This Southern California team actually made it to the Super Bowl
The Super Bowl partying began in January for Sean Connolly and will run well past Sunday’s game, which he probably won’t have time to watch.
Connolly heads one L.A.-area team (sorry, Rams fans) that didn’t fumble away its chances to play at Super Bowl LII: Kreate Inc. of El Segundo, which is orchestrating all the official National Football League celebrations surrounding the championship matchup at Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium.
For the record:
6:25 p.m. Feb. 2, 2018An earlier version of this article didn’t include Redbird Capital as one of the owners of On Location Experiences.
It’s a massive undertaking, more like planning a military exercise than overseeing a bunch of parties and entertainment, which are key elements of the NFL-sanctioned luxury ticket packages.
“On game day alone, we have six different pre-game parties that we’re doing, everything from the host committee’s pre-game tailgate to ‘52 Live’ at the Armory to two stadium parties for 1,000 people each,” Connolly said.
Starting with the opening ceremony on Jan. 26, Connolly and Kreate “are executive producing all of them.”
“We’re entertaining 23,000 people on game day. We’re anticipating upward of a million people coming through here over a period of 10 days,” he said.
Kreate’s most visible undertaking is “Super Bowl Live,” a 10-day free festival in downtown Minneapolis that is billed as an “interactive theme park,” with a temporary ski slope, live entertainment and a giant ice sculpture spelling out “Super Bowl LII” for the obligatory selfie.
That Connolly was speaking two weeks ago while waiting to board a flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Atlanta speaks volumes about the way big sports events are handled these days.
Connolly was mixing his Super Bowl LII work with planning a USGA golf event in New York before heading off for his fifth trip to Atlanta, in preparation for Super Bowl LIII. The clients are all major sports governing organizations, which have been working up a sweat in recent years to keep a tighter rein on ticketing and fan events.
Kreate’s current sports whirlwind can be traced a few years back to when the NFL began to realize it was losing control of its biggest event of the year with rival ticket brokers and entertainment operations luring away profits.
The league in 2015 spun off its hospitality operation into an affiliate called On Location Experiences in partnership with Redbird Capital, Bruin Sports Capital, 32 Equity and the Carlyle Group. A year later, On Location Experiences had amassed a one-stop shop by acquiring Kreate, Nomadic Entertainment and Anthony Travel, the country’s largest collegiate sports travel-management company.
The idea was to create a “full-service experiential events company best equipped to provide memorable and exclusive fan experiences,” On Location Experiences Chief Executive John Collins said at the time.
By controlling the supply of ticket packages, the NFL has been able to keep prices high and give fans certainty that the tickets they buy actually come with seats.
Many of the packages have sold out; they started at $3,260 a person and got more expensive as the food, entertainment, lodging and seat quality improved. One EBay seller has listed for resale a four-ticket Platinum Package, which comes with accommodations in a house 10 minutes from the stadium, at $145,000.
Kreate’s regular workforce of 35 employees mostly haven’t seen the home office for the better part of a month.
“I am working with lighting vendors, production companies,” Connolly said, “the staffing, the security, the janitorial, the good, the bad and the ugly. We’re doing it all.”
Connolly said the hiring goes far beyond entertainers such as Grammy winners Kelly Clarkson and Sheila E. to encompass a local support crew of about 90 people. To keep the cups filled and the beverages flowing, “we had to get a permit for having alcohol served on the streets.”
He’s no stranger to big events. The company Connolly founded in 2008 after a long run of employment at a California firm called Party Planners West has a client’s list that includes the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Assn., Major League Baseball, the U.S. Tennis Assn., Walt Disney Co., Sony Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox.
Connolly said his love for event planning goes all the way back to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, when his mother was a volunteer for the Olympic Committee; Connolly worked as a volunteer while attending USC, earning $100 a day, “which was a ton of money for a college student back then.”
The work has taken him around the world, but the Super Bowl is beyond comparison, he said. This is his second, and the planning began more than a year ago.
“The Super Bowl is just so massive,” Connolly said. “It takes over an entire city. Some of the other events are pretty big, but there’s nothing like working a Super Bowl.”
Connolly has been in Minnesota long enough to sound like a local about the weather, which is famously frosty this time of year.
“It got up to 25 degrees today,” Connolly said. “Must be a warm front coming in.”
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