SAN DIEGO, JAN. 29 -- Sit down five minutes in a hotel lobby and the man on the sofa next to you produces a pair of Super Bowl tickets. Two on the 30-yard line. The price: $1,500 for two. That's Super Bowl hustle.
Then there's the Super Bowl corporate hustle. What company in America is not selling -- and selling hard -- at the Super Bowl? A reporter without the moves of a running back will be swarmed by corporate reps, who pursue like defensive lineman.
Some call you. Others slide invitations under your door when you're asleep. Super Bowl week is not time to sleep for Big Business.
Miller Lite says come celebrate the naming of the NFL linemen of the year. Gillette is pushing Cleveland's Bernie Kosar as the "People's Choice" MVP. Volvo says don't forget the first NFL exhibition, next August, in Europe. It's in Sweden between the Bears and the Vikings, so Bjorn Ahlstrom, CEO of Volvo North America Corporation can say of the Vikings, "This may be their first 'real' home game."
Bob Hope may roll up to one hotel in a limo that stretches from the front door to a side door. The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes do their high kicks at high noon at the Redskins hotel (and people wonder why teams come up flat for Super Bowls). But one personality appears to be in all places at all times, and that's a corporate personality -- leaving his mark all around town is Spuds MacKenzie.
Forget the party animal, say Washington's Olde Heurich beer people. They're warming up for a "Super Bowl of Beers" tonight between the D.C. brew and Denver's Boulder Beer. "They're going mug-to-mug at Fat City," says Ed Zeidner, a publicist working for Olde Heurich.
Super Bowl week is a time for gimmicks. Back in Washington, Bird's Florist is selling "Super Bowl singing bouquets"; burgundy and gold flowers that "sing" "Hail to the Redskins." "A music box is attached," said Carl Fillichio, who works for the Kamber Group, public relations and advertising firm whose president and vice president co-own Bird's.
Super Bowl week may be fun, but big business can get serious. Companies reward their best workers with party tickets, game tickets. Favorite clients are treated.
On Sunday, at a "hospitality village" of tents outside Jack Murphy Stadium, more than 30 companies will entertain about 7,000 guests before and after the game. It will make a parking lot the place to be, at least for a few hours.
"It's to reward hard workers, to motivate for the future, to take care of clients," said Neil Scott-Barbour, president of U.S. operations for Keith Prowse & Co. (USA) Ltd., an Atlanta firm contracted by the city of San Diego to "produce" and market the tent area. A firm can rent a table in a common tent for $2,400. But a tent to hold 30 people rents for $7,500, one for 200 goes for $52,000.
As a result of such investment, invitations aren't given lightly, Scott-Barbour believes. These aren't just any old tents -- some have been brought in from as far as Germany. And while corporate tents have become familiar at major sports events, "the concept of a village," according to Scott-Barbour, "is relatively new." It will be appropriately super in size, covering nine acres.
Super Bowl XXII feels like corporate America on a picnic. "Someone has called the Super Bowl America's newest holiday," said Jim Heffernan, the NFL's director of media relations. "Anytime anybody wants to be somewhere, that's the obvious place to do something."
The NFL logo can't be missed. Ubiquitous tables of Super Bowl wares are placed strategically in hotel lobbies and shopping malls. If you can wear it or drink out of it, you can have it in either Redskins or Broncos colors. And for the indecisive, a novelty: you can purchase the half Broncos, half Redskins Super Bowl cap.
"It's become a big business," said Rusty Martin, director of club relations for NFL Properties, the league's marketing arm. "We work with manufacturers who have the capability of working quickly -- these are things with Redskins, Broncos or Super Bowl XXII on them."
Last year, customers paid about $12 million at Super Bowl time for everything from T-shirts to key chains, pennants to sweaters. NFL Properties gets a 7 1/2 to 10 percent cut of manufacturers' costs, according to Martin. For Super Bowl XXI, he said that was between $300,000 and $400,000.
Even local barber Freddie Orlando has Super Bowl items. "One day a soybeans exporter came in for a trim and bought up a whole lot of my Super Bowl stock," he said. "He wanted to give them to his Japanese customers to remember him by."
Of course, the city of San Diego has been busy selling itself. It's putting on a fireworks and laser show tonight requiring, according to one of its creators, John Steenhoven, "enough electricity to meet the needs of a small community."
Gordon C. Luce, chairman of the Great American First Savings bank, sees the blast in part as "our way of showing the nation that San Diego is a super host."