Lessons Learned from Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee

Atlanta is still basking in the glow of successfully hosting Super Bowl LIII (53) but the event did not come off without considerable strategy, planning and a little bit of luck from the weather gods.
If you recall, the last time Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl was in Y2K, the year 2000. While the dreaded computer meltdown did not happen, Atlanta was crippled by two ice storms, which paralyzed parts of the city and complicated travel for visiting NFL teams and fans. Add that to the mass transportation issues the city had during the 1996 Olympics, the 2019 Atlanta Super Bowl Committee had some hard lessons to learn from, so a successful major sporting event was no certainty at the outset.

Lee Hendrickson, served as Vice President of Community Engagement and Volunteer Programs for the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee, helping to coordinate the 10,000-member volunteer program which was a key to its success. The Host committee also had to serve as a liaison between the NFL, the city of Atlanta, the Mercedes Benz stadium, public safety, and major corporate partners, including major corporate leaders in Atlanta like Coca-Cola, which was not a Super Bowl sponsor.

Typically work on a Super Bowl begins about two years out, but realistically, by the time the temporary staff was in place, the event was only 18 months out. Lee Hendrickson said there were three strategic keys to success:

1. Communicating both strategically and tactically. That included creating budgets, building staff, outlining internal and external communications strategies and importantly being intentional about empowering others to delegate key tasks. Tactical considerations included “Know Before You Go”, having an effective and easily understood transportation plan.

2. Leveraging technology, which involved scaling for demand. The Super Bowl Host Committee is involved in typically 60 media releases and events before each Super Bowl. Atlanta garnered 1 billion media impressions from Super Bowl LIII; half of those came in the two weeks before the game on February 3. An effective social media team and strategy was in place to handle the two million inbound social messages that came on game day alone.

3. Creating Culture. Considering the limited time and paid staff involved, it was important to set a tone that extends the reach of the host committee. Volunteer ambassadors needed to feel they were part of something important. The Host Committee created the Team ATL identity complete with uniforms to celebrate the city’s diversity and also offer a sense of unity. Hendrickson says culture brings your intention to life. Fortunately, native Atlantans have some natural pride and innate southern hospitality which was a good foundation to build on for engagement, to let volunteers feel they actually were making a difference and “in this together.”

The Host Committee was also able to build on the NFL’s existing initiatives in civil rights and social justice as well as youth engagement to create a sense of mission and purpose. Surveys from NFL executives, players, fans and first-time visitors to the city were uniformly positive. (with the exception of New Orleans Saints fans who felt they were cheated out of a Super Bowl appearance).

So, what happens to the host committee after a job well done? Everyone is laid off. This is a temporary assignment only. But this was a job so well done, that most of the Host Committee paid staff have already found new employment. This is typical of sports marketing in general. I came to Atlanta because of the 96 Olympics but am obviously not still working on that, but if you do a good job, someone will notice. And for the Host Committee, this will be a bright spot on their CVs and resumes for years to come.