Friday, November 24, 2006

Corporate partyers gear up for Super Bowl XLI

Miami caterer Barton Weiss has a game plan for Super Bowl:

Call in two dozen banquet workers from New York, offer a temporary 20 percent raise to his 500 regular employees and shut down an entire division of his company to avoid being overwhelmed by the hectic weekend.

''I don't think there's anything that's ever hit this city that has taken up every single party space -- every nook and cranny,'' said Weiss, president of Barton G catering, one of the region's largest party planners. ``Everybody's resources are tapped.''

As the playoffs approach, corporate entertainment budgets are fueling Super Bowl fever in South Florida. Even small companies expect to spend six figures bringing clients and top executives to the Feb. 4 championship in Dolphin Stadium, prompting a scramble for both facilities and staff.

A Davie limousine company hired Mike Rolewicz's Jacksonville firm, On Call Staffing, to recruit 300 temporary chauffeurs during Super Bowl weekend. He plans four job fairs near the Miami International Airport to find the drivers, along with three dozen greeters to escort clients to waiting cars.

''It's a logistical challenge, I'll put it that way,'' said Rolewicz. ``There's nothing on the scale and scope of Super Bowl. Nothing.''

Each year, the National Football League championship serves as perhaps the largest single event on corporate America's social calendar. The 21 official sponsors, including Burger King, Pepsi and Visa, plot big-game weekends, while countless others plan their own Super Bowl getaways.

Meanwhile, companies behind other major brands -- such as Maxim and Sports Illustrated magazines -- throw lavish soirees that can attract as many stars as the Super Bowl itself. (It was during Jacksonville's Super Bowl XXXIX that Senate hopeful Harold Ford attended a Playboy party that later prompted the 2006 campaign's most notorious television ad.)

But organizers say South Florida is whipping up more demand for Super Bowl parties than usual. Disappointing Super Bowl cities in the past two years -- Jacksonville, with its small hotel inventory, and frigid Detroit -- prompted some companies to stay home. So organizers expect pent-up demand for South Florida's Super Bowl XLI, on top of the usual boost warm-weather host cities usually enjoy.

''Generally, we have about 30 more parties than the other Super Bowl cities,'' said John Webb, the sports tourism director for Broward County, who is also in charge of finding venues for local Super Bowl organizers. Webb said his latest list shows 104 events -- ``And we don't know about all of them.''

Barton G's has several South Beach parties during the Super Bowl, including a Sports Illustrated bash for 600 people at the Fifth nightclub. But so many other parties will be underway that Weiss considers parking all but impossible for his staff. Instead, Weiss will run buses back and forth from Barton G's Miami headquarters.

In fact, Weiss thinks traffic will be so bad that he ordered Barton G's logistics division not to accept any business during Super Bowl weekend.

''I don't think South Beach is ever like this,'' he said.

Event planners say companies have started to pull back on the lavish spending that defined Wall Street soirees in the roaring 1990s. But Super Bowl junkets still don't come cheap, with scalpers quoting $2,000 and up for tickets alone.

''You're not doing it for under $5,000 a person. And you could do $50,000 a person, depending on who your entertainment is going to be,'' said Gael Sandoval, director of business development for Star Trax Corporate Events in Southfield, Mich.

Past and present NFL stars play a large role in the festivities. Event planners say they're hiring well-known football players to play in corporate golf outings and host ''chalk talks,'' the pregame briefings that are a staple of most Super Bowl itineraries.

Dan Vazquez, president of All Over Miami, said he expects three NFL players for a Saturday night chalk talk for 600 people at Hollywood's Westin Diplomat. Along with gridiron commentary, partyers will digest sushi served on ''human tables'' built around women dressed as mermaids.


The next afternoon, Hollywood's Park Sports Club at the Seminole Hard Rock will open its doors to 900 people from various companies for another chalk talk. Some firms are paying extra for VIP rooms with their own Xbox consoles hooked up to the bar's giant television screens so they can challenge other suites in John Madden's popular NFL video game.

Sales director Wally Vincenty said PrimeSport out of Los Angeles paid $60,000 to take over the Park for the pregame party.

Other restaurants and party sites still are waiting for the kind of top dollars they think Super Bowl's corporate merriment will bring. Eugene Rodriguez, owner of Miami's Ice Palace, said the chic banquet hall is available Super Bowl weekend despite offers to rent it from Playboy, Reebok and Sports Illustrated.

''At the end of the day, the numbers weren't there,'' he said.
Sandoval said she's had trouble finding a table for 20 executives because a number of restaurants say they're hoping to rent out their dining rooms for an entire night. ''Haven't found a reservation yet,'' she said.

Some are holding out for a final read on Super Bowl XLI's demand -- a measure that won't be fully known until after Jan. 21, the last day of the NFL playoffs. Though most firms plot out their Super Bowl spending months in advance, some wait to see who will actually be playing.
'I can't tell you how many corporate planners will say: `Well, my numbers might change,' '' said Sharyn Outtrim, vice president of hospitality of PrimeSport. ' `Our CEO is a such-and-such fan.' ''

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Seahawks Bucking Post Super Bowl Blues Trend

Had the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks spent the offseason immersed in NFL history, they could have buckled up for the bumpy ride they've had so far.

Not since the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV - a victory that put former grocery store clerk Kurt Warner on cereal boxes - has the NFC champion even made it to the NFL playoffs the next season.

The Giants (2000), Rams ('01), Bucs ('02), Panthers ('03) and Eagles ('04) all watched the next postseason from their sofas.

The 5-3 Seahawks cling to a one-game lead over the Rams in the West. But what they have in their favor is a comparatively easy schedule, with the biggest challenges a road game at Denver and a home game against the Chargers.

The Seahawks also will get MVP halfback Shaun Alexander (foot) and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (knee) back from their injuries and should lock up the weak division and perhaps even home-field advantage for the playoffs. Still, they should've understood it wouldn't be as easy as everyone expected. A look at the NFC at the season's midpoint:

Best Team

The Bears: It retrospect, it was ludicrous to even compare this group to the immortal 1985 team that went 15-1 on the way to the Super Bowl XX title.

Rex Grossman is no Jim McMahon. Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones combined don't match the sweetness of Walter Payton. Tommie Harris is a dozen pizzas shy of William Perry. Only the similarities of Brian Urlacher and Mike Singletary merit conversation.

Still, it's hard to argue with a 7-1 team that ranks second in the NFL in scoring and first in total defense, outscoring its opponents by 134 points.

Most Disappointing Team

The Lions: The good news is they've won two of three. Still, this team was capable of so much more than 2-6 and the discontent will triple if they don't sweep the 49ers, Cardinals and Dolphins before heading to Foxborough, Mass., Dec. 3.

New coach Rod Marinelli, the former defensive line coach of the Bucs, was expected to change the culture of a lazy team, but it's still ranked 26th in defense.

Jon Kitna has thrown as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns. And not even Roy Williams' emergence as a game-breaking receiver (44 catches) has can compensate for the disappointment of receivers Charles Rogers (released) and Mike Williams, their first-round picks in 2003 and 2005.

Don't Count Them Out

The Panthers: A popular preseason choice to win the Super Bowl, they're treading water at 4-4 and blew a 14-point first-quarter lead to the Cowboys two weeks ago.

Still, with home wins the next two weeks over the Bucs and Rams, they might build enough momentum to challenge the Saints and Falcons for at least a wild card. And if that happens a struggling defense, led by sack-master Julius Peppers (eight), will get a second chance to prove itself.

First Half MVP

Tiki Barber: Where would the Giants be without their indestructible halfback? He says this is his final season and what a way to go out: Barber leads the NFL in rushing (830) and first downs (60); his 185-yard game in Atlanta Oct. 15 is the league's best; he has five 100-yard performances; he is first in the NFC in yards from scrimmage (1,112).

Last week against the Texans, he joined Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk as the only players with 9,000 rushing and 5,000 receiving yards.

First Half Disappointment

Terrell Owens: Perhaps it's wrong to categorize the petulant Cowboys receiver as a disappointment since those who've watched him destroy the 49ers and Eagles anticipated he'd wear Dallas down, too.

Still, this distinction is for those who picked the Cowboys to win the Super Bowl; those foolish enough to believe Owens could fine tune his basic instinct to self-serve for the greater good of team.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has no one to blame but himself for the lingering injuries, drug overdoses, sideline arguments, dropped passes, meeting-room naps and end zone histrionics.

Top Rookie

Mark Anderson: Raise your hand if you knew that the Bears rookie defensive end, a fifth-round pick from Alabama, would have 71/2 sacks, just a half-sack short Giants Pro Bowl ends Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan combined?

If sacks don't thrill you, Saints rookies Reggie Bush and Marques Colston, a seventh-round pick out of Hofstra, might. They have combined for 90 receptions and only Roy Williams has more receiving yards than Colston in the NFC.

Best Free Agent

Drew Brees: The Saints needed a lot of things after last season's disastrous road through Hurricane Katrina to Baton Rouge, La., and San Antonio. But what they needed most was a quarterback to bring them some stability.

Displaced in San Diego by Philip Rivers, Brees has led the Saints to the NFL's third-ranked passing offense. Brees has completed an NFC-best 65.5 percent, thrown for 2,206 yards, 14 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Worst Free Agent

Edgerrin James: For $30 million over four years the pitiful Cardinals figured they'd bought themselves the final piece to their puzzle. But where is James?

The four-time Pro Bowl selection, the two-time NFL rushing leader who gained 9,226 rushing yards and scored 56 touchdowns in seven seasons with the Colts, has just 518 yards and three touchdowns in Arizona. He's averaging only 2.8 yards and doesn't have a carry longer than 14.

Best Coaching Job

Sean Payton: One of the most unfortunate aspects of Jim Fassel's firing as offensive coordinator in Baltimore in October was that Payton, who Fassel deposed as offensive coordinator with the Giants in 2003, didn't get a chance to get the last laugh when the teams played on Oct. 29. The Saints didn't win that one, but they're 6-2 and lead the NFC South.

Worst Coaching Job

Dennis Green: Somewhere on a set at ESPN or the NFL Network a seat is being kept warm for the re-entry of Green into the world of second-guessing. Green (12-28 in 21/2 seasons) has been abysmal in the desert. The Cards are in a new stadium but the same old rut.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

US Online Gambling Ban

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bears lead Super Bowl contenders

If you had the Chicago Bears among your Super Bowl favorites at the start of the season, raise your hand.

OK, seems like everybody put his hand up. But really, people. The Bears went into the 2006 campaign with a Wild Card-level over/under of 9.5 regular-season victories. Yet here they are at 7-0 straight up, 5-2 against the spread and on top of the Super Bowl odds list at +300. Looks like we need to do a little midseason re-evaluation of the big faves on the futures market.

The Bears did surprisingly well last year to finish 11-5 SU and 9-5-2 ATS, even with rookie Kyle Orton at quarterback for almost the entire season. Rex Grossman came back from his preseason ankle injury to play effectively in the last month; however, many people were critical of coach Lovie Smith for sticking with Grossman as his starting pivot in 2006 instead of handing the job to former Pro-Bowler Brian Griese.

NFL Sports Betting

Forget that. Grossman is on the verge of elite status in the NFL; he’s fourth in the league at the halfway mark with 13 touchdown passes, and his QB rating of 89.6 puts him in the same neighborhood as Drew Brees and Eli Manning. So this is what Grossman can do when he’s healthy. Combine his steady hand on the tiller with one of the best defenses and special teams units in the NFL, and you have your brand new Super Bowl favorites. Did we mention the Bears have the weakest schedule in the NFL this year? The .445 winning percentage their opponents posted in 2005 certainly doesn’t hurt Chicago’s chances.

The Indianapolis Colts (+450) are the only other undefeated team in the league at 7-0 SU and 5-2 ATS. But they’ve taken a back seat to the Bears on the futures market – as they should. Indy might have one of the best quarterbacks of all-time in Peyton Manning, but the Colts’ defense is ranked 28th out of 32 teams, according to the advanced metrics supplied by Football Outsiders. The run defense is especially awful – 167.9 yards allowed per game, the worst in the league.

Bet the Super Bowl

Yet the Colts keep winning. Manning leads the nation with an otherworldly 107.9 QB rating, throwing just two picks after seven games. Rookie running back Joseph Addai is proving to be more than just an adequate replacement for Edgerrin James; even better, the tandem between the shifty Addai and the powerful Dominic Rhodes makes both players more valuable. That frees Manning to do his thing. If only he could play both sides of the ball.

Also getting short Super Bowl odds are the New England Patriots (+600) and the New York Giants (+950). The Giants are compelling dark horses; their defense is starting to perform to expectations, and the rest of the tough NFC East is slipping. Could we see Eli Manning defeat his older brother at the Super Bowl? The mind boggles.