Corporate America Drives Super Bowl Action

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The Super Bowl game Sunday between the New York Giants and New England Patriots is just one part of a week full of events. Thousand of corporate executives are in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl — both the game and some big-league schmoozing.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

Now, if you're listening to me right now, you either hate football or you're in your car on the way to a Super Bowl party, because, let's face it, Super Bowl Sunday is a holy day for many of us. But the actual game is just a small part of a weeklong series of corporate events and parties. And it turns out a lot of serious business is done around the Super Bowl.

Curt Nickisch of member station WBUR crashed some corporate parties in Indianapolis to find out more.

CURT NICKISCH, BYLINE: Complimentary Super Bowl tickets are just the cherry on top of a week of perks. Scott Voeller has a room on the house at the Bud Light Hotel, a downtown hotel Anheuser-Busch bought out for the week. Food spreads, an open bar day in and day out, and VIP passes to concerts and exclusive parties. He's at the Playboy one right now.

SCOTT VOELLER: People think that this is just a - how you doing, Frank - you know, just kind of a junket, a kind of a boondoggle and all that, but I don't feel that way.

NICKISCH: Voeller is an executive at MGM, the casino resort company, which happens to sell a lot of beer. And as a playmate escorts a hip-hop artist past him, he explains he's here on business - to network. Case in point: two years ago, the Super Bowl in Miami. Voeller says that's where the idea for a deal between MGM and Anheuser-Busch's beer called Landshark was born.

VOELLER: Literally standing poolside. And my rep came up and introduced me to the brand manager for Landshark. We started a conversation. He was telling me some of his objectives. And I said: You know what, I think we might have a fit here with one of our brands, and here's what I think we could do. That's literally how it happened.

NICKISCH: Now MGM's Mandalay Bay Resort Casino has a Landshark-branded pool.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: What I am getting for you, so we have two of your game day tickets.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Two tailgate parties for you. Everything is heated, so you don't have to bundle up too much.

NICKISCH: At PepsiCo's hospitality suite this morning, a worker handed out bundles of passes to clients. Last night, this place was thumping. Guests lounged on white leather sofas and played the latest football video games. Now it's decked out with a brunch spread.

ANDY HARKNESS: This is my 14th Super Bowl.

NICKISCH: That's Andy Harkness, an executive at SDI Marketing. His ad agency does work for PepsiCo and usually gets more than 60 Super Bowl tickets to give to clients. Harkness says it's still hard to decide who gets on the list.

HARKNESS: If one big customer finds out about it - were they invited - you know, then the guy down the street wants to know why he wasn't invited.

NICKISCH: Forget managing expectations - who pays for all this? Sarah Robb O'Hagan is the president and chief marketing officer of Gatorade.

SARAH ROBB O'HAGAN: You know, it's a significant investment in our yearly business plan, for sure.

NICKISCH: Gatorade is not just catering to clients at the Super Bowl. It set up a sleek sports science demonstration center to show them the amount of work that goes into its products.

O'HAGAN: For one of our new potential retail partners to be able to see all of that in one place, you know, then go and see it all come to life on the field with the Super Bowl, it's a pretty cool, you know, connect-the-dots.

NICKISCH: A connect-the-dots that can lead to connect-the-deals, and that's why these Super Bowl tickets are worth so much to companies. Still, Robb O'Hagan says it won't be a bunch of suits at the game.

O'HAGAN: There's a lot of business that's done at the Super Bowl, but there aren't many people sitting in that stadium who aren't really excited to watch that game.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NICKISCH: Tomorrow, the hospitality tents come down. The Bud Light Hotel will go back to being a Hampton Inn. And next week, Gatorade will hold its first meeting to start reserving hotel rooms for Super Bowl XLVII. For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch in Indianapolis.

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