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.' ''