In case you hadn’t heard, the biggest game in all of sports takes place this Sunday: The Super Bowl. Not only is it the title game of the National Football League, it is a cultural event unlike any other in America.
There are few things that are as ingrained into the American psyche as the Super Bowl. Every year—even months ahead of time—we know that we will: dress up and give out candy for Halloween, exchange gifts for Christmas, and get together with friends for pizza and wings for the Super Bowl. It practically is a religious holiday among die-hard fans, and even those who hate the sport still attend parties and watch “just to see the commercials.”
How big of an event is it? It is estimated that over 173 million people will tune in to the game Sunday evening—over half of the population of the United States. Consumer spending is expected to surpass $11 billion, as many as 1 in 10 workers will miss work the Monday after, and Americans will have eaten over 1.25 billion chicken wings after all is said and done.
And that’s nationwide. The impact the event has on its host city is virtually unfathomable. “There will be over 100,000 people in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl this year,” says Susan Williams, president of Indiana Sports Corporation, a non-profit lobbying group that was instrumental in bringing the event to Indianapolis. “We have been planning for this for three years. It is a huge civic engagement.”
And it is not just the sheer number of people that the city is preparing for. The cultural importance that our country places on this game, combined with the reality of living in the internet age, have indeed meant that Indianapolis has undergone a massive undertaking.
First of all, the enormity of this event means that keeping the venue safe from threats both domestic and abroad is something that the city has taken very seriously. “Fifty percent of the planning so far has been spent on safety and security,” explains Williams. “There are people here from Homeland Security, the FBI, the Secret Service—every possible public safety entity. This ranks right below a presidential visit in terms of security.”
The widespread media coverage of the Super Bowl has also presented unique challenges. There will be 5,000 credentialed media in the city, all of whom will require internet access, access to technology, and hospitality. However, Williams is full of hometown pride and believes Indy is up to the challenge: “An entire floor of the JW Marriott has been transformed into a media center,” she says. “Every single member of the media will have access to equipment, and there will be very high-level volunteers who will act as concierge to ensure that their every need is attended to. That’s why they like coming here: we’ve hosted several Final Fours and the 500 every year, and Indy knows how to deal with it.”
In addition to the special media and security preparations, the city has had to prepare with the physical realities of hosting so many people. Every downtown hotel is sold out; train tracks have been shut down; the downtown post office has been temporarily decommissioned and mail rerouted. It is estimated that visitors will spend between $100-200 million dollars in Indianapolis over the Super Bowl weekend, which is welcome news to local vendors, but presents a logistical nightmare to planners.
This is the reality of the Super Bowl in this modern age. The more cynical among us might say that such importance being placed on a simple sports game shows that our country’s priorities aren’t quite in order, and they might have a valid point.
However, according to Williams, the event will provide a lasting positive impact in Indianapolis outside of the realm of sports. “This has really brought out the best of Indianapolis,” she says. “It’s brought the community together in an incredible way.”
Over 8,000 volunteers will participate in the events surrounding the Super Bowl, which Williams believes will strengthen the community. The city will also benefit from several more physical and concrete improvements:
- Over 200 near-Eastside homes were rehabbed in preparation for the event.
- Volunteers surpassed their goal of planting 2012 trees around the community to commemorate the event.
- 46 murals have been painted around the city by both local and national artists.
- Arsenal Technical High School (an inner-city public school) will get keep the turf field and fitness center created for the New York Giants to practice in.
- Arts and music should flourish on newly-redesigned Georgia Street downtown.
So, even after this year’s celebration wraps up on Sunday—and we look ahead to the next American holiday—Super Bowl XLVI will leave its mark on Indianapolis and the country as a whole.