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It's Game Time

Here’s a peek inside the Super Bowl huddle with Courtyard by Marriott and the NFL.

Friday, February 01, 2013
Jeff Heilman
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It’s game time this Sunday in the Big Easy as the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens square off in Super Bowl 47. For New Orleans, hosting its record-tying (along with Miami) 10th Super Bowl, it’s the latest major happening in an 18-month run that has seen the BCS national championship game, men's Final Four and other events come to town.

With an anticipated 150,000 people evenly divided between those attending the game and those experiencing the fanfare outside the Superdome and in the city—along with the estimated million-plus revelers coming for Mardi Gras on either side of the Super Bowl, or “Super Gras” as locals have dubbed it—the city’s hospitality and tourism front-liners will have their hands full.

The planning commences right after a city is awarded the Super Bowl, and like a master strategist at the chalkboard, the NFL takes charge of diagramming the X’s and O’s of marketing communications, advertising, promotion, travel logistics and myriad other considerations for its partners, sponsors and other co-participants.

Meeting the Super Bowl’s considerable lodging requirements, naturally, is integral to the planning matrix. For Courtyard by Marriott, now in the second year of a multi-year deal as the official hotel sponsor of the NFL, readying for the Super Bowl, along with leveraging other program components, has been a dream match-up.

When Glendale, Az. hosted the Super Bowl in 2008, Janis Milham was general manager for the nearby Scottsdale Marriott at McDowell Mountains. “My experience then was about being visible and present around the clock to attend to our customers,” Milham says. “They came expecting to be entertained, and that’s what we had to deliver.” This time around, she is looking after guests from the brand level, as vice president and global brand manager for Courtyard by Marriott.

Based in Marriott’s Bethesda, Md. headquarters and in the role since 2010, Milham, who began her career with the company as resident manager of the San Francisco Marriott in 1995, says the strength of the relationship starts with the made-to-measure alignment of the brands.

“Our engagement is based substantially on finding that our current and target customers identify closely with sports, and most of all, with professional football,” she explains. “They truly care about the NFL on an emotional level, and this goes far in elevating both brands.” From the outset, the partnership has been a valuable learning experience. “The NFL is extremely protective of their brand,” Milham continues. “We have learned much from them in our co-branding relationship.”

With over 900 hotels in 38 countries, Courtyard by Marriott, celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2013, has activated this relationship at its 800-plus U.S. and Canadian properties with a multi-faceted program that includes weekday (Monday and Thursday) football nights, happy hours with co-sponsor Bud Light, co-branded keycards with the NFL, instant win scratch-off cards, and other fan-friendly items.

“We are especially proud of our season-long Greatness on the Road promotion, which recognizes an NFL player each week along with a road warrior drawn from our participating business guests,” Milham says. As the ultimate reward for loyal customers, one of these weekly winners wins a trip to New Orleans, where they attend the second-annual NFL Honors show the night before the game, and the Super Bowl itself.

Commenced last September and ending with the Super Bowl, Greatness on the Road also includes a sweepstakes, via Facebook, Twitter and regular mail, with multiple award categories including the grand prize of two tickets to all eight of the winner's team's away games for the 2013 NFL season, plus airfare, accommodations, transportation and spending money.

For the Super Bowl itself, the planning began in kickoff meetings with the NFL. “We sat down with league representatives to learn about their priorities, objectives and other requirements, which we then communicated to property leaders and general managers in the New Orleans market,” Milham says. “In addition to logistical considerations, the emphasis is on creating a special experience for our guests.”

Certain to be memorable is the exclusive tailgate party that Courtyard by Marriott is hosting on Sunday to launch its 30th anniversary celebrations. Some 350 guests, including Marriott senior executives, NFL players and loyal customers, will gather at the New Orleans’ Contemporary Arts Center. The entertainment will include Roots of Music, the acclaimed music education program for at-risk children who perform as a full marching band.

Tailgates are also planned for guests at two of the brand’s three downtown properties, including the 140-room New Orleans Downtown Near the French Quarter. Like Milham, the property’s general manager Stephen Borecki, who began his Marriott career in San Diego, has past Super Bowl experience. “I was hired as restaurant manager of the full-service New Orleans Marriott (team hotel for San Francisco this time around) just three weeks before the 2002 Super Bowl,” says Borecki. “Then as now, the build-up of anticipation and energy around the city was incredible, but with a long tradition of hosting major events, the hotel and its staff were prepared and ready.”

Opened in 1995 and featuring a classic wraparound balcony on the second floor, his present property sits along a major Mardi Gras parade route and is within walking distance of the Superdome. Managing the front and back ends of Mardi Gras with the Super Bowl right in the middle may seem an outsized challenge, but after months of careful planning, including building awareness of the event at the property, Borecki and his team are ready for game time. “We are hosting representatives from eight NFL teams, who will occupy 90 percent of our rooms,” he says. “Working closely with the New Orleans CVB and our brand and sales leaders, we have seen to everything from inventory and staffing levels to signage and promotional items.” After all the conference calls, walk-throughs and morning stand-ups, Borecki says that the only thing left to chance is the weather (the hotel has umbrellas and ponchos at the ready.

“All guests are issued a wristband for movements in and out of the hotel, which are checked by a special detail from local law enforcement,” continues Borecki, who also praises the preparedness of his long-tenured staff. “This is about delivering a fun, safe experience for our guests, and we are ready to go.”

Like Marriott, the NFL intensively studies its customer base, and where its hotel sponsor is concerned, the results are most positive. “From statistics provided by the NFL, we know that our co-branding relationship has influenced factors such as consideration, likelihood to recommend, and loyalty for the brand, as well as ad effectiveness,” Milham says. “It is truly a winning combination.”

Milham and her team are already planning for New York City in 2014—the first outdoor Super Bowl of the modern era. “From creating the NFL Experience along Broadway to opening three new properties in Manhattan between now and then, the excitement is already building,” she says. “It promises to be a unique event.”
Jeff Heilman
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division
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