- Posted by Action Catalyst
- On April 27, 2016
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- branding, Business, customer experiences, customer service, entertainment, football, leadership, NFL, promotion, success
Jim Steeg, former Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the San Diego (now L.A.) Chargers (from 2004 to 2010) and leader of the NFL’s Special Events Department (1979–2004) is known as the man who branded the Super Bowl, as under his leadership, the Super Bowl expanded from a simple championship football game into a week-long extravaganza. Learn about the thing that got Michael Jackson to agree to the halftime show, getting Diana Ross, Paul McCartney, why the calendar placement of the Super Bowl makes a huge difference for ticket sales, and the bright idea to wire bathrooms for sound.
Jim Steeg is a noted sports business, stadium, and events consultant, advising companies on a variety of subjects, including business ventures, strategic planning, technology, media and community relations, marketing programs and events plans for sports leagues, organizations, conferences, teams and events; stadium operations; fan enhancement; stadium physical structure, and organizational structure. He presently runs Steeg Sports Management and Media Consulting.
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(Transcribed using A.I. / May include errors):
Host: You are about to hear from the man who branded the Super Bowl. Jim Steeg in his 26 seasons in charge of the NFL special Events department specifically. The Super Bowl changed the whole dynamics of this event from a, a football game to a four day extravaganza. And Steeg is considered to basically be the individual who grew the Super Bowl into what is today’s probably the greatest one day sporting event in the world.
He handled everything. I am talking site selection. The stadium practice site preparation, the buildout pregame halftime shows the national Anthem performers, the, the fan accommodations, corporate hospitality, the broadcasting of the tv, telecom, transportation, security, logo design, decorations, signage, I mean, everything you can think of related to the Super Bowl ultimately fell under this man’s purview and get this, this is pretty amazing.
When he first started the Super Bowl did $5 million. That’s what the event generated the first year, and when he was done, it produced over $250 million. So here to talk to us about Super Bowl branding, please welcome Jim Steeg. So Jim, what was it like in the early days? Could you speak to that for us? Just a little.
Jim Steeg: Well, first Super Bowl I went to was Super Bowl 10 when I had just started to work for the Dolphins, and I sat in the corner of the end zone in the upper deck, and it, it was, you know, it was the, the biggest game in professional football at that point in time. It probably wasn’t even. As big as things that we had in Miami.
You know, the Orange Bowl or the Rose Bowl or things like that. It was a, it was a football game that was isolated. It was a championship game. There were some things that were added to it. You know, little halftime shows were there. We were probably competing with the halftime show, trying to get as good as the Orange Bowl halftime show in those.
But it was all. You know, the game. So the focus was on making sure it was the best possible experience. Now was the intent and the planning of Pete Rozel, you know, then the commissioner and the one who was involved, certainly when it started back in 1967. Said he wanted it to make it something that was kind of melded the entertainment business together with the sports business.
So we’d spent a lot of times in the first 13 years going back and forth between Miami and Los Angeles. Miami you could say is New York South. Los Angeles is Los Angeles. So you know whether it’s the thinking of the Jackie Gleason Show or whatever you had in la. And so it was a lot of it, but it was a football game and you were trying to make it the biggest football game that.
It really developed from them through a variety. I’d like to say they were all well, well thought out, measured plans, the thing that made the game so great and, and part of what changed it was going from Miami to Los Angeles. New Orleans thrown in there. You were in the same places. And once we started going to Tampa and Detroit and San Diego and, you know, Houston and run down the list, each one of those brought something new to the equation that you could make the game even better and grow the game. And that’s, that’s part of what was all about.
Host: So what did you do with that vision? What were some of like the initial steps that you took?
Jim Steeg: Well, like I say, some of ’em are by chance and some of ’em were, were thought out. But I think the first big change we had from an entertainment standpoint was when we went to Detroit and we talked about the national anthem the previous year, been sung by Helen O’Connell, who I’m sure is on your hit parade.
I’m not sure how many people remember Helen O’Connell. I went to Pete and we said, well, you know, we’re going to Detroit. Let’s, let’s step it up a little bit. Let’s try something. We, there’s only one person that could sing the answer to Detroit, and it was Diana. And his response to me was, yeah, go ahead kid. Give it a shot. You got no chance. Went and called on her. And absolutely she did it. That evolved the anthem now from being okay, just somebody to now all of a sudden being a star, uh, you know, a celebrity of major note. Fits out there, you know, the Billy Joels and Barry Manilows and, you know, run down the list of those people that were chart toppers.
But I mean, I think that that shows the, the change in how that took place. Then our pre-game shows had been, we left the halftime show to be entertainment. The pre-game shows were kind of about the local community, but, and we put bands in those, the, the local marching band, you know, when we were in Tampa in 84, we had Florida and Florida state bands get together for the first time.
Well, we end up in 85 where at. And the one thing we knew we couldn’t do is have the Stanford Band be involved in the game. Then if we went across the street and got cow, that would be heresy. So we created the halftime uh, pregame show out of that, and then the halftime show evolved because they weren’t our partners at the time.
But Fox ambushed us. In 1992 with a show they called In Living Color, which went live during the halftime show and went right opposite us trying to steal part of that audience. And we sat down the next year saying, we can’t let this happen again. And so we went after what we thought was the biggest name entertainment at the time, which was Michael Jackson.
So that was the beginning of the change in the halftime show. So some of it happens by chance, some of it happens by being well thought out, uh, there to try to bring all that together and then we become. A destination that everybody feels that they’ve gotta be because it’s now a three or four day stay that people come down. I can’t tell you the number of people that go to the Super Bowl and don’t go to the game.
Host: Basically, you found a way to raise the profile. You, you, you, you brought in these people. So when you, when you’re approaching like Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, did you have the money for that? Because that’s before the Super Bowl was what it is now?
Jim Steeg: No, they did it for free. We, we paid it for. Or things like that. But the major thing we got across to him and, and it bred upon itself was you start talking about the exposure. I mean, you know, Sandy Gallen, who was Michael Jackson’s manager, couldn’t tell you if a football was pumped or stuff, you know? No idea what we were talking about. And so you go there and, and that’s, you get this false sense when you’re dealing. The Super Bowl and the NFL is that everybody knows about the Super Bowl and everybody knows about the nfl, and then you find out that there are. A number of people that don’t know, and that was the case we had with Sandy Gown and with Michael Jackson.
They didn’t know what it was. So like any kind of business approach, you’re selling yourself with something and you go in and you make a presentation. Say, let me tell you what this is. Let me tell you what the TV ratings are. Let me tell you what the type of crowd it is. Let me tell you who’s in the crowd.
Let me tell you where this is gonna be. B. Internationally, and really in the case of Michael, that was the thing that made it work was when we told them, well, this is gonna be broadcast in 180 different countries live. And you could see his eyes right up and say, you mean this is gonna be broadcast in places I’ll never give a concert?
And we went absolutely. And, and that was kind of the thing that put it over the edge with him. But it’s like all those things, all these people that you’re talking to, to get ’em involved. And, and I saw this so many times with entertainers that they just think, you know, I’ve, I’ve played stadiums, you know, I’ve played whatever it is.
Uh, this is nothing. And you get ’em, you get ’em out there and they get in the middle of the field or they start doing it, go, this is a little bit different than what I’ve ever done before. I think now the way it’s. People wanna be a part of it because they, they realize that that is a very, very special moment in their careers.
You know, I, I look at McCartney as an example, you know, the, the no bigger star probably than there is him wanting to be involved in the Super Bowl. Him wanting to do the halftime show because he knew a, it was something that hadn’t been done in his career, but he wanted the experience of it. But even a guy like that comes out there and he’s got a little bit of the jitters as he’s getting ready to go out.
One of the things that made the Super Bowl stand out in a lot of ways was where it sat in the calendar year. It fit perfectly into the kind of the corporate environment. Uh, it was at the end of the calendar year, or it was the end of the fourth quarter or whatever that was. So it gave the perfect opportunity.
For the incentive type programs, you know, best salesman for Ford Motor Company gets to go to the Super Bowl and you know, they used to bring back in the 1970s, early 1980s, they’d bring 1700, you know, dealers in. You know, and we sold ’em that number of tickets or Chrysler brought 700 in that type of thing.
And, and so it became a, a corporate happening where people were at that got rewarded. They were the best of their company. They were coming and being part of it. And then we started to really cultivate the corporate community. I won’t say we were the first, but we were darn close to it to really start the idea of having the corporate hospitality village.
Outside the stadium. Where on game day, you’re not just coming in for a four hour experience in a game, but you’re there for the three hours before and an hour after. So now it’s an eight hour experience. And they’re doing their own entertaining in that name entertainers or name celebrities in there that are part of that.
So they brought things to the game that we didn’t necessarily have to bring. Now we had our own tailgate party, which sounded like a nice little thing, but it was an intimate affair for about eight, 10,000 people. But it’s still left six sevens of the crowd on the outside looking in. So I, I think that they’re what you tried to do with a lot of these things, and part of our.
Was to get other people to bring things to us that we didn’t have the wherewithal or the money or the, to be able to pull off initially. So, uh, we had a golf tournament that was sponsored by Warner Lambert forever and ever. And then after a while, we took it all. They had set the seeds and they didn’t want to do it for one year, and then we took it over and then it became something that’s generating, you know, a ton of money off of that.
Or the taste of the nfl, which is a event that was originally put on through the host committee in Minnesota and now has been held for 25 years at the Super Bowl, you know, and it’s generated probably a million dollars a year for feeding the homeless, but it also created its own event, brought in its own celebs.
You know, that type of thing. So you’re really trying to get them to feel like they’re part of it and you, you let them, you sanction them for a better word, which, and the way we did it meant that you still had to abide by, not ambushing our sponsors, but it grew the event and they grew, they helped grow it also.
Host: How does the Super Bowl make money? And what were the different revenue streams that you develop?
Jim Steeg: Well, I think the revenues, they’re, they’re very diverse and they’re simple at the beginning. First of all, it’s ticket sales. You know, they hate to say ticket prices in 79. Were 20, 20 bucks a ticket. A little bit different. Your control. We, we took control over those things that. We thought we helped generate around the stadium, you know, the concessions, the merchandise, the parking, things like that, that we could drive revenue, not just by us taking control over ’em, but making the product line better.
So if you’re dealing with, you know, an Aramark or a center plate, or whoever that’s doing your concessions, they’re bringing in the best of their people and their business. That they’ve got to do. So you develop products that you’re gonna have that may be higher priced, but they’re also higher quality. You know, from a merchandise standpoint, it’s not just selling like it was 30 years ago, you know, hats and t-shirts. Right Now you’re really trying to develop product lines, things you can take on consignment that. $150, you know, satin jackets or, or something like that. And, you know, you look back the, the whole product line, for example, of.
Winners merchandise started with something we did at the Super Bowl in Tampa in 84. Nobody had ever done winners merchandise. Now I now, you can’t get away from any championship without them throwing a hat on somebody. So trying to develop that, trying to make also the experience better. So we, we did a lot of things for the fans that were coming that would let them voluntarily spend money rather than pulling out of their.
So at the concession stands and know this is hard to think of these days, but you put sound and television sets in the concession stands. So when they got up to go to the concession stand Mm. It’s not, you don’t miss the game. Yeah, yeah. I know what the war is now. Or you did that, you put sound in the bathrooms, you know, there’s nothing worse than the side and you gotta go to the bathroom and here in the war going, oh my God, what just happened?
Uh, I think that those things we’re trying to get it. Television obviously is part of that, that, I guess going back to merchandise, the product line also changed from what you could do and where you could sell it. It wasn’t just something that was at the game or it’s the fact that you’re filling a Super Bowl party and you, you’re not just worried about getting the guacamole and the chips, but can you get the Super Bowl napkins or the, you know, whatever it is to do that party.
So you really try to think about how people. Like I said, television was important and obviously the way each one of the networks take over. I mean, we joke when Fox first took over, we thought that the pregame show probably started in September. We’ve got a five or six hour pregame show. The advertising rates have gone crazy since that, well, I guess Apple was the first company to ever do a commercial solely designed for the Super Bowl way back in 1984.
So I mean, Everybody uses that to unveil their new commercials. Now you’ve even got companies that it’s a hundred percent of their advertising. See, the television was part of it. Uh, you know, merchandising, concessions, tickets, making experiences. We, we did, um, we decided that we didn’t wanna look greedy. That was really important to us, that people would always think of the NFL and always do think of the NFL is chasing the almighty buck. I’m not saying that we don’t, but we took the NFL experience, which was. A creation unfortunately came out of a hair-brained idea I had because I was, I’m a, I collect baseball and football cards.
And when that was hit its craze in the late eighties, early nineties, I decided, well, let’s do a card show at the Super Bowl. Everybody thought, well, why would you do that? And I said, well, who’s gonna what? More people you got run around with disposable money. Than that. There’s people that are going there and who would buy a 52 mantle card, then somebody that would sell out cash that was at the Super Bowl, that type of stuff.
So, uh, we did that and then we did it the first time in New Orleans and had 40,000 people go. That was more than the National Card Show did. So the next year we said, well, let’s expand upon this. Why don’t we create an experience that all, you know, can take care of people on game day, give them something to do if they’re not going to one of the corporate parties or the NFL tailgate party or something, let’s create something around that.
But let’s kind of create a, an experience for them and we called an NFL Town Square at the time. And it was, it was designed like a shopping mall. You know, had a movie theater in the middle, obviously NFL films stuff. One End was a merchandise store. The other end was the card show. We filled in everything in between with all the knickknack type stuff going on, and we, we, our budget for the thing was like $275,000 and we drew 73,000 people to it, and the next year we rebranded it the NFL Experience. And at that point in time, it’s become a staple by every event. I think that’s out there. I, I’m not even sure you can go to a regular baseball game or football game without having something that’s a fan experience element to it. You certainly can’t go to the Final Four or those type of events and be All Star Game and NHL All Star game without that being there.
Host: You guys were so far ahead of your time.
Jim Steeg: Well thank you. I, I mean, I think the key to always looking at this is, two parts of this is, well, three parts. The people that are coming to the game are coming to the game you wanna give them, and probably 80% of the people that are coming to the game, it’s a once in a lifetime moment.
And so you want them to walk away. I, you know, as Rozelle used to say, I can’t guarantee you that this game is gonna be 20 and 19, decided by a last. Miss Field goal, in all likelihood, there’ll be some games that are 55 to nine. It, it really made me think of how do you make sure you do that for everybody coming there and what they see out of their prism is probably different than what somebody else sees out of their prism.
The goal always was to get three people sitting and coach on the way back from the game. And one of ’em said, that was the greatest experience I had. I sat on the 50 yard line and I saw blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And he says, what? What the hell are you talking about? That was a great experience I had, you know, I got to go to this over here.
I went to this event, I went back event, I sat in the corner of the end zone. The other guy says, what? What are you talking about? I sat in the bar, you know, at the Fountain Blue Hotel and watched the game with, you know, a whole bunch of people. That was a greatest experience in my life. You don’t know what it is that colors anybody’s experience and what you want is when they leave to be able to talk about it.
And I think the other part that really is important is you, you come into a community and you are the one of the biggest businesses in that community for that year. And you need to do everything that you have to do there. And the NFL experience gave us that opportunity. You know, now it draws 200,000 people to the event. I mean, it’s crazy. I don’t, it’s obviously more than what you’ve got coming into town, so it’s a chance for all the local people to experience and touch the Super Bowl if they can’t go to the game, and that’s gonna be their memory of what’s gonna come away with it. So. Mm-hmm. , I think all those things are, are part of what’s there.
And then, and then you talked about the charitable side of it. That was really a key to it. We took the gate proceeds from the NFL experience and said, okay, we’re gonna pay for this with sponsor. Everything going to Gate is gonna go back into a charity. And what we did was we established a thing called NFL Youth Education Town, which was a, basically we build a bricks and mortar place in every city, uh, for kids to have as a, an adjunct, you know, for recreation and also education.
So you’re really trying to make. The feel and the reach of this thing so much more than just, you know, the one guy sitting at the 50 yard line, right? Um, it’s gotta be some kid that’s never gonna get to go to the game. But you know, he got to go to the NFL experience and there was Troy Aikman signing an autograph.
A form or something he’ll always remember. Or it’s a youth clinic being held where, uh, you know, Warren Moon is teaching him how to throw a football, you know, that type of stuff. It’s really trying to talk about it. It’s extending the brand. And I think the one thing I, I learned is that you don’t have to pull money out of people.
You often get it given to you if you do the right thing. I mean, it’s amazing how sponsors come to you wanna sponsor things if they see it being done in the right way. That’s amazing.
Host: Well, Jim, it’s such a cool and nostalgic experience to just hear from you just telling the stories.
Jim Steeg: I have a passion for this. Obviously. I lived it. There’s no way, there’s no way you can get away from it. I used to try to hide it when my kids were growing up. They’ve always been, the town was, well there’s somebody here that works for the NFL in our town. You know, I go, I wonder who that guy is, cause they’re old basket for tickets or something.
It, it was part of my life and, and I’m, I’m very proud and I’m very proud of all the people that worked with us on it. And there’s so many, you know, literally at the end of the day, the thing that’s amazing is you probably have, you may have as many as 10,000 people reported to you in some way, shape, or form. So it’s a massive undertaking, but it’s a heck of a model. It’s got everything you ever think you’ve got in the business and then some.
Host: It has been an extraordinary experience to so many of us around the world. So we, we really appreciate you and, and we wish you all the best.
Jim Steeg: Well, somebody asked me what my goal in life was, is create memories for people and hopefully we did that.