Leisa: Hello, I’m Leisa Holland-Nelson and welcome to the 501st episode of The BusinessMakers, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. My guest today is Sallie Sargent, the CEO and president of Houston Super Bowl 51. Sallie, welcome to The Businessmakers
Sallie: Thank you, Leisa. I’m so happy to be here.
Leisa: I’m so excited that you’re here. I don’t know what I’m even gonna ask you first. So I wanna know all about Super Bowl 51.
Sallie: Well, as you well know, Super Bowl 51 is coming to Houston in 2017. We were awarded the game by the NFL in May of 2013 and we had spent about the six months prior putting our bid together and presenting to the NFL for our great victory in May of ’13.
Leisa: I would imagine that costs a lot of money. How did you put the finances together? Our show is really about entrepreneurship, and this is the ultimate in entrepreneurship.
Leisa: How did you get all of that together to go bid?
Sallie: Well the first thing you have to do is realize that the Super Bowl is one of the largest pieces of business that a destination can obtain. So certainly it was led, the charge was led by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, but it takes the whole community because everyone benefits from it. So we were fortunate that we had support from GHCBV, from Houston First, from the county, the city, and many other stakeholders that really supported our efforts to be able to bring the bid to the NFL.
Leisa: Was there a particular leader in the community or was it a group?
Sallie: Well certainly Bob McNair and the Houston Texans. You have to have the support of the team and Mr. McNair and company as you well know is a class organization, class gentleman, and so he really led the charge and he asked Secretary James Baker to be the honorary chair and then Rick Campo to be our chairman, so that was our leadership.
Leisa: It’s a very powerful group of gentlemen.
Sallie: It is indeed.
Leisa: And then they’re led by a woman, you, which is so exciting for somebody like me to be interviewing you. How did you get to this job?
Sallie: It is a lot of fun. I actually had a relationship with the CVB and they had asked me to come and oversee the bid for them. I had written a few bids for Super Bowl in the past as well as some other large scale events, and so I came in and thought I was gonna write the bid and hopefully be successful and then go on to my next position, but I’ve been fortunate that they’ve asked me to stay on and during ’13 we wrote the business plan. Rick Campo and I wrote the business plan from getting to bid to actual game in 2017 and here we are today.
Leisa: So can you tell me a little bit about the plans of getting to 2017?
Sallie: Well here we are now at 2015 and 2014 was really about securing a good portion of our private fundraising and then also building our organizational structure, and 2015 now is all about positioning and planning for us, because once you turn the corner and 2016 hits with the Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco, we are on the clock the day after that, so ’15 is a very critical year for us.
Leisa: So you’ll be booking all the sponsorships. Are you booking all the events this year?
Sallie: We won’t necessarily be booking them, but we certainly will be building our calendar of events. We will have a presence in San Francisco at Super Bowl 50, and so we will wanna be ready to go for that, and then we will also stage regional events during the calendar year of 2016 that will lead us into the ten days leading up to the Super Bowl in ’17.
Leisa: What is the suspected financial impact of the Super Bowl for Houston?
Sallie: We’ve done some preliminary estimates and also based on other cities, we believe our economic impact is about $500 million. New Orleans cited $480 million in 2013, so we think our number is pretty accurate there.
Leisa: I know we’re planning to have a ten-day run-up to the Super Bowl itself. Is that normal? Do they usually go for two weekends prior?
Sallie: They don’t. Indianapolis was really the first city in 2012 to stage what they called Super Bowl Village for ten days, and their whole motivation behind that was to fill the hotel rooms and the downtown for the weekend prior to the game and then of course for the game itself the following weekend.
Leisa: Well that’s exciting. I think it’s a terrific model that we’re following. I wanna ask you a little bit more personal stuff, a little bit, because I’m gonna guess that when you were growing up you never dreamed you would be running a Super Bowl, or maybe you did. What was your path to this kind of success?
Sallie: Well it’s interesting, I actually started in college football with the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona, and I started the year that the Fiesta Bowl was the first college Bowl game to have a corporate sponsor. So I really learned from the ground up from the sponsorship side of the equation and then how the Bowl game is not just a football game, it’s a series of events and it’s really all about the community and engaging the community and staging something that the community is very proud of.
Leisa: So what do you think is the most important takeaway someone has when they attend one of these Bowl games?
Sallie: Oh gosh, a takeaway? Well I think something I would want our community to know is that it’s not just about staging an event. It’s why do we really wanna have a Super Bowl in the first place, and I believe there are three reasons. One is the economic impact as you cited. The second is the media impressions that our city will see as a result of all of the coverage. About 3 billion media impressions for the city of Houston, and then of course what does the community end up with as a result of it? And we have pledged $4 million to go back into the community as a result of Super Bowl 51.
Leisa: Plus I think we’ll have incredibly improved infrastructure.
Sallie: Absolutely we will.
Leisa: More hotel rooms. I mean there’s all kinds of economic opportunities coming with the Super Bowl that my guess they’ll be some sort of long tail for.
Sallie: There are, and you know so many of these projects that are underway right now were scheduled prior to us getting the Super Bowl awarded, but it’s certainly to our advantage that these new hotels are coming online. Certainly traffic and road infrastructure is a key concern to everyone just in everyday life here in Houston, but certainly with the Super Bowl we wanna make sure that our guests and out-of-towners have a good experience from that standpoint too. So that’s a critical component for us to look at.
Leisa: Well I’m very excited that the Super Bowl is coming and I’ve got one question that I bet every listener we have will have, and that is can regular old people be involved in the Super Bowl committees and in getting the Super Bowl going here in Houston? Are there opportunities?
Sallie: Absolutely. We need an army to really stage this event. We have a core group of a staff, but as you can imagine there are a lot of areas that need a lot of expertise. So when I talk about transportation we will have committees that help us focus on what our operational needs are, what events to stage, how to stage them, how to market our city the best. So we look for a big volunteer force that will also be ambassadors to our city, in the airports, on the streets and so forth, as well as the committees themselves. We’ll have about 20 committees when it’s all said and done.
Leisa: So there’s lots of opportunities.
Sallie: There certainly are.
Leisa: So where do you go to find them? How will we find out about them? Is there a website or will it be in the Chronicle or Business Journal or how will that happen?
Sallie: Well for starters today it’s HOUSuperBowl.com and we are also very focused on utilizing social media as a big component to our communication. So Twitter, Facebook, all of those things, HOU Super Bowl, and yes, we will certainly have hopefully good news stories and information about how to get involved in the Chronicle, the Business Journal, certainly Culture Map, all of the outlets that will help us get the word out. You bet.
Leisa: So one last question because I have a little bit of knowledge. I know that the NFL as part of their Super Bowl practice works with small businesses in each community. Can you tell us a little about that effort? ‘Cause I know that would be very important to our listeners.
Sallie: Absolutely. There’s a program, it’s an initiative that the NFL started about 15 years ago called Business Connect, and it actually does what the name says. It connects small businesses in our community with the NFL and with their vendors and contractors so that the local community has a way to hopefully do business with those folks when they’re here in town.
Leisa: Okay, Sallie. I’ve got a crazy question for you. What do you think would happen if the Texans were playing in the Super Bowl?
Sallie: Oh wow. Well you know our whole theme for our bid was Texas loves football, lives for football as a matter of fact.
Leisa: Well we do.
Sallie: We do, but you know there has never been a host team that has hosted the Super Bowl in almost 49 years now of Super Bowls, so it would be a first. Might change things a little bit from an economic impact standpoint, but it would be a first.
Leisa: We’d have to get the Houstonians to spend a lot of money.
Sallie: That’s right, which they’re good at.
Leisa: Yes, definitely. We all know that the ten days of the Super Bowl itself has to be a pressure packed period for our city, and security has to be like at the top of mind. What are you guys planning for that time?
Sallie: Well as you can imagine, we interface with all the public safety units here in the Houston area, but the NFL also deals on a federal level. Super Bowl the game itself is actually a level one Homeland Security event, so you can imagine –
Leisa: No flyovers.
Sallie: – there are a lot of aspects of security and safety that come into play. So we learn from these cities in front of us, so we will embed our opps and logistics folks into the Arizona Super Bowl that’s coming up here in just another few weeks. We’ll do the same thing in San Francisco, and we have a lot of ongoing dialogue and meetings with public safety officials to really help us prepare and plan because you don’t have a plan until you have a plan B.
Leisa: I have one more question. How often does a city want a Super Bowl again? Do they always want it to come back or is that unusual?
Sallie: Oh my goodness. As I stated earlier, it’s the largest piece of business any one city can book, and so you do want it to come back, and Houston is in a very good spot to be considered as part of the rotation if you will. Houston has great venues, the stadium itself, Energy Park as a whole, and I think the support of the community, the NFL really takes that into consideration and they like Houston an awful lot.
Leisa: Thank you very much. This concludes our interview with Sallie Sargent, CEO and president of Houston Super Bowl 51. This is The BusinessMakers show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.
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