Super Bowl will feature even more firsts this time

Most of those attending the game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will arrive by train or bus. For security reasons, parking at the Meadowlands complex is limited.
Most of those attending the game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will arrive by train or bus. For security reasons, parking at the Meadowlands complex is limited. (CHARLIE RIEDEL / Associated Press)
Posted: February 03, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Super Bowl, a game that comes annually bedecked with superlatives and firsts, has new ones attached to it this year:

America's biggest sporting event will be bigger than ever. More Americans are expected to watch it on TV than the 164 million who did last year, and that was half the country. The commercials they will watch will be the most expensive ever - $4 million for 30 seconds. The game will also be watched in 198 countries this year, up from 185 in 2013. That's virtually the whole world.

At the stadium, more news media and behind-the-scenes helpers have been credentialed - 20,000 - than ever before.

The game at North Jersey's Meadowlands between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos is the first in an outdoors stadium in the frigid Northeast and will be played in the coldest conditions ever (though the worst weather fears will not be realized: The forecast for the game calls for temperatures in the high 30s and no snow). It's the first cohosted by two states, New Jersey and New York.

And, uniquely, most of the spectators streaming into MetLife Stadium will arrive by train or bus - in a security measure, parking is limited. Call it the Mass Transit Bowl.

They are paying, on average, $2,683 per ticket, the most ever.

And it seems a sure bet that more chicken wings will be gobbled up than the 1.23 billion the National Chicken Council said were consumed by Americans viewing last year's game, with 79 million pounds of guacamole.

Super Bowl XLVIII, like those before it, will unite - and divide - friends, neighbors, and the nation. It will tug at the emotions of grown men and thrill troops in war zones and sailors at sea.

"It's one of the very few events that brings together 100 million viewers, somewhat similar with the World Cup in Europe," said Jerry Wind, professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

And thanks to social media, Wind said, "one is not only glued to the TV, but also at the same time on a laptop, iPad, or smartphone and communicating with friends about the game. It's become more of a social event - a physical and virtual event."

The league's top-ranked offense, that of the AFC's Broncos, will square off against the best defense, that of the NFC's Seahawks. Each team finished the regular season with a 13-3 record.

"With the matchup itself, and definitely how the game unfolds, we're anticipating upsetting another record [in viewership]," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "We're only competing against ourselves when it comes to doing this event."

Even a hiccup hasn't been as serious as it was last year: Ticket prices in the secondary market slid about 13 percent late last week in part because of the chilly conditions. At the same time last year, prices dropped more than 19 percent for the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

"Kudos for the NFL for creating this incredible brand that people want to touch and feel and that drives such excitement that people want to be part of," said Jim Kirkos, CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber, whose team assisted in the 2009 bid to land the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium.

Cohosts New Jersey and New York have vied for bragging rights and tourism dollars.

Leading to game day, New York City had Super Bowl fever, with 14 blocks on Broadway being unofficially renamed Super Bowl Boulevard. Eight North Jersey towns, meanwhile, hosted their own lower-budget events.

While Sunday's game is historical in its own right, past events have helped shape it. Security is said to be at unprecedented levels at an event not far from the epicenter of 9/11. Helping will be Philadelphia counterterrorism officers, who have been assisting the New Jersey State Police.

"It's a great opportunity for both departments to get some training and at the same time fulfill a much-needed function," said Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan, head of homeland security for the Philadelphia police.

Largely because of 9/11, security has been beefed up around the stadium and its perimeter pushed back, cutting parking spaces from 28,000 to 13,000.

"With that many fewer parking spaces, the question was how to get people there," said Alice McGillion, spokeswoman for the Super Bowl Host Committee, "so the NFL and the Super Bowl Host Committee arranged a very elaborate system to get people there by bus and train."

Between 10,000 and 12,000 people are expected to board trains to the stadium from Secaucus Junction, a rail hub linking New York and North Jersey.

Even hotels across the street from the stadium are providing patrons shuttles to the game.

Brian Levinson, 35, of Blue Bell, took a train with his brother late Saturday from 30th Street Station to Penn Station in New York, where he planned to stay overnight. On Sunday, he'll board a bus to the stadium and then a bus back to Philly that night.

A die-hard Eagles fan, and football fan in general, Levinson said that going to a Super Bowl "is something everyone should experience at least once." Sunday's Super Bowl will be his second.

Advertisers have dished out a lot of money for the privilege of airing their messages at a time when they are practically guaranteed a giant captive audience.

"Even for those that are not into football, this is the Super Bowl of advertising," said Wind at Wharton. "There is a buildup of excitement and suspense as to what's going to be shown."

Despite the hefty price tag for a 30-second spot, long-form ads with narrative themes - such as Chrysler's two-minute advertisements last year that included an ode to the American farmer on behalf of Dodge Ram trucks - are to appear again on Sunday.

The game, at halftime, will be an invaluable showcase for singer Bruno Mars, who not long ago was a struggling songwriter.

Betting on the game is expected to be off the charts in Las Vegas as well - topping the $98.9 million that was wagered in Nevada on last year's game.

In New Jersey, sports betting is illegal, but several Atlantic City casinos have featured promotions and sweepstakes tied to the game. Resorts gave away a pair of Super Bowl tickets, while Bally's, Caesars, Showboat, and Harrah's Resort offered events with Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Marcus Allen and others.

North Jersey brimmed with excitement last week as shops and restaurants prepared for what they hoped would be a very busy weekend.

"We want people to come eat and drink, spend money and have a good time," said Nick Italiano, 28, owner and manager of Park Tavern, a bar and restaurant in East Rutherford that sits about a mile and a half from MetLife Stadium.

Italiano stocked up on food and alcohol. Park Tavern and the restaurant next to it are hosting the East Rutherford Tailgate Party on Sunday afternoon as an alternative to Super Bowl Boulevard and the other mega-events in New York.

East Rutherford's security, public-safety, and emergency services trained in Indianapolis and New Orleans the last two years in preparation for the Super Bowl using the township's funds.

"I want people to say at the end, 'You know, this went smoothly, and they know how to party in North Jersey,' " Mayor James Cassella said.

Despite his township's hosting the Super Bowl, Cassella didn't have a ticket - until last week, when he was presented a pair by Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who invited him to join him in his suite.

"I really believe New Jersey has a certain image that is created and perpetuated by shows like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and Jersey Shore," Cassella said. "I hope that image is removed after they spend some time here."

With the rising costs of travel and tickets, Kirkos said the Super Bowl has priced out the average fan and become very corporate and for the wealthy.

Still, at least 100,000 football enthusiasts were expected to descend on the New York/North Jersey region this weekend even without Super Bowl tickets.

"They will go to extremes to be close to it," Kirkos said. "It's embedded in the culture of people. Although there's not a lot of access to the average folk . . . they want to feel it."

If, as expected, the weather cooperates Sunday, it will give NFL team owners in other cold cities, such as Philadelphia, incentive to lobby to host the Super Bowl, though NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seemed noncommittal on such aspirations Friday.

Weather is only one criterion, he said, and "making sure we do these things the right way" is the league's priority, he said.

The NFL requires potential host cities without domed stadiums to record temperatures of at least 50 degrees in the month before the event. The winning New Jersey-New York bid was the exception, but a Philadelphia Eagles executive said last week that if all goes well at MetLife Stadium, the Eagles will put in a future bid.

Many will tune in to see whether Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning - three years after a neck injury sidelined him for a season and after being traded by Indianapolis to Denver - will solidify his legacy with a second Super Bowl ring.

"When we got Peyton, we thought the team had a good chance to get to the playoffs and Super Bowl," said Denver resident Jim Havenner. "But what he's done the last couple years has absolutely exceeded our expectations."

Havenner, 43, an account executive for a tech company, flew to New Jersey last Sunday a week after attending the AFC championship game in Denver. He paid $1,600 for a Super Bowl ticket.

"Win or lose, I am going to enjoy the experience. But deep down, I know I don't want to lose," he said Thursday from the Hilton-Meadowlands. "It's been a long time."

Denver last won back-to-back Super Bowls on the arm of No. 7, John Elway, in 1998 and 1999. Elway is now the Broncos' top executive. A loss on Sunday would be a record fifth in seven appearances.

For Seattle, it's only the young team's second Super Bowl appearance. It lost Super Bowl XL in 2006 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team is led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, who pursued football over a professional baseball career, and star running back Marshawn Lynch, nicknamed "Beast Mode."

"With our defense and secondary, I have every confidence in our team," said Vicki Harris, 61, a Seattle homemaker and lifelong Seahawks fan. She got a surprise gift that included airfare, hotel, and a ticket from her husband and son last week.

"There will be a '12th man' there," she said, referring to what Seattle fans are known as because of their loudness in their home stadium. "There are a lot of us coming. It won't be like back home, but I'll make enough noise."

Mark Fornito, 46, of Pennsauken, suffered a brain injury in a car accident 15 years ago that left him disabled. But he, too, will be rooting hard from Bryson's Pub in Pennsauken and wearing a new Seahawks jersey from Dick's Sporting Goods in Cherry Hill.

He said that former Seattle wide receiver Steve Largent was his all-time favorite player and that watching him got him hooked on the team. "The Super Bowl is like a big party," said Fornito, whose bedroom is decked out in Seahawks gear. "I'm psyched."

Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. on Fox.

856-779-3928 @SuzParmley

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