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Project Planning: AFC Championship vs Super Bowl

Some of the biggest events in the world take place with the NFL Playoffs, the crowning jewel of which is the Super Bowl.

The impact of the Super Bowl can be immense. Over 70,000 people will attend the game in person, and the television audience reaches over 200 million. As a result, planning for the Super bowl begins years in advance, and starts with site selection.

This year’s Super Bowl will be at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. In 2024, it will be in Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada, and in 2025, at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

After site selection is complete, Super Bowl preparations begin, taking into consideration infrastructure such as roads and hotels. Glendale hosted the Super Bowl previously, and now has more hotels closer to the stadium. A week-long set of activities must also be planned. The stadium has to be prepped, including for the half-time show.

So, the Super Bowl takes years of planning.

The teams in the Super Bowl are the winners of the AFC and NFC Championships. There is an established process for where games are played for the championships, but in 2023, the AFC Championship Game could be held at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium if the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs advance to the game. This change was made as the Bills-Bengals game was suspended due to Damar Hamlin’s injury. Instead of potentially replaying or resuming the game, the decision was made to cancel this game, rather than extend the regular season and delay the playoffs.

Removing this game impacted the potential location of playoff games. Depending on the results, the game would have been played at the home stadium of the team with the best record. Instead, the NFL decided that the game would be played at a neutral site.

Despite the most careful planning, project managers often have to deal with unexpected events.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the KTAR News article, Glendale-Hosted Super Bowl Has Been Years in The Making, by Luke Forstner, January 13, 2023; the AZ Family article, Plan Ahead for These Incredible Super Bowl Events Coming to The Valley, by Dani Birzer, January 14, 2023; the CBS Sports article, Detailing Potential Neutral-Site AFC Championship Game Between Chiefs and Bills: Could This Be the Future?, by Jonathan Jones, January 15, 2023; and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the differences between planning for the Super Bowl and the neutral site AFC Championship Game?

Guidance: Both would utilize project management techniques for planning. However, the biggest difference is the amount of time for planning.

The Super Bowl planning begins years in advance. The AFC Championship game only has days to plan the event. Additionally, the Super Bowl will take place. The neutral site AFC Championship game may or may not take place depending on who wins the games leading up to it. Also, the AFC Championship doesn’t have to include planning for all the pregame activities that go with the Super Bowl.

2. What factors go into selecting the location for the Super Bowl?

Guidance: In the past, weather was one of the key factors. Only warm weather locations were considered. However, this requirement has been dropped, and cold weather locations are possibilities today. Part of the change comes from the increased number of domed stadiums. Other factors include quality of the stadium—number of luxury boxes, number of seats, quality of the field.

The city itself is another factor. What does it offer in terms of hotels, restaurants, and other activities? Are their sufficient airlines available for the city? How is the infrastructure—road, airports, etc. Finally, what financial considerations are available to entice the NFL to select the city?

3. What factors lead to locating the neutral site AFC Championship Game in Atlanta?

Guidance: The city chosen obviously needs to have the ability to host the game. Does it have an NFL caliber stadium? Can the city handle the influx of fans?

Next, the location needs to have the date available at the stadium. For example, Ford Field in Detroit wasn’t available due to renovations, and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis wasn’t available due to a national volleyball tournament.

Another factor is the quality of the stadium. For example, how many luxury suites, what type of field—turf or natural grass?

Another factor is making it a truly neutral site. Distance could be used as a proxy for neutrality—trying to make it equal distance from each team’s home. Atlanta satisfies this criterion.

Additionally, how willing is the stadium/city to host the event? One factor that complicates this decision is most of the stadiums are owned by local governments. The local government might want the extra revenue that is generated for the city from the extra game and the fans that will attend. How much revenue will be shared? This includes money from the gate, concessions, and parking. Government-owned stadiums might be more generous on the split due to the economic impact on the city.

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