Super Bowl LVI: “All Plans in Place” for Game, Red Carpet Events Despite COVID-19 Surge

Los Angeles sports and tourism insiders gathered to talk up plans for Feb. 13's game amid community health concerns: "We have the world's best stadium and we can host a healthy and safe event."

SoFi Stadium opened the gates at Entry 3 on Thursday morning for a panel that featured key Super Bowl LVI stakeholders offering an update on the state of affairs for the big game with 30 days to go before kickoff on Feb. 13.

There was no shortage of optimism flowing from the stage despite an uninvited guest whose shadow continues to hang over the festivities — seemingly ominous enough that none of the panelists mentioned COVID-19 by name. Instead, they doubled down on keywords like “health and safety” and “protocols” as moderator Camryn Irwin led a discussion that covered everything from expectations and preparations to fan culture and community impact.

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It was the NFL’s Katie Keenan, senior director of event operations, who leaned directly into the topic to clear the air of lingering doubts about whether the game would happen at all amid an omicron surge. “Just to start and clarify, all of our plans for the Super Bowl and Super Bowl week remain fully in place for a month from today,” she said during the 25-minute session. “Along with everyone here onstage, we’re working with the local L.A. County Health Department to make sure that all of our events are executed safely and within all the guidelines that have been established.”

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Keenan was seated on the panel — positioned at an angle that offered a perfect view of the Infinity Screen and the debut of SBLVI branding radiating across 70,000 square feet and 80 million pixels — with Adam Burke, president and CEO at Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board; Kathryn Schloessman, president and CEO at Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission (LASEC); Jason Gannon, managing director at SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park; Kevin Demoff, chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Rams; and A.G. Spanos, president of business operations for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Her comments followed reports that the NFL was considering moving the game to AT&T Stadium in Texas, though a league spokesperson quickly shot down those rumors by saying that the NFL always explores contingency plans. Also generating heat was the fact that last Wednesday, L.A. County’s Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer called for a pause on all “nonessential gatherings” due to the area’s rising (and record-breaking) daily case count. On Sunday, the department reported 43,883 new cases, 53 additional deaths and more than 4,500 patients currently hospitalized.

It’s easy to see why there’s a lot at stake. Pandemic aside, the Super Bowl is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to Los Angeles, which is hosting its first Super Bowl in three decades and its first-ever at Inglewood’s new crown jewel, the $5 billion, state-of-the-art SoFi Stadium. Plans for the game and all of the ancillary events that come with it have been in the works for more than two years. Furthermore, Super Bowl host cities can receive an economic boost estimated anywhere between $300 million-$500 million, and Burke quoted an analysis by saying that this year’s game is expected to generate anywhere from $230 million to $475 million of economic impact.

“We’ve never had a Super Bowl in a facility like SoFi Stadium,” explained Schloessman. “We have the world’s best stadium and we can host a healthy and safe event. I think everyone is going to be excited.”

Burke called it a “palpable” excitement that can be felt among Angelenos, notable for its timing. “Super Bowl LVI is really going to be a watershed moment as we write our comeback story here in L.A. from the pandemic,” he said. “It’s been a tough couple of years, but we know that, no matter what, we are all going to come together as a community and get through it.”

Speaking of, SoFi stadium, which can seat upwards of 70,000, is expected to be filled with no capacity restrictions imposed as of right now. Per SoFi’s website, protocols include proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test (24 hours for an antigen test and within 48 hours for a PCR test) along with photo I.D. and masking at all times, except when eating or drinking. That convergence is expected to include Hollywood stars and insiders on Super Bowl weekend, which typically delivers a strong showing for bold-faced names, no matter the host city. But because Super Bowl LVI is happening in Hollywood’s backyard, the support could be unprecedented. The Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show is set to feature many local legends in the pairing of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and Mary J. Blige.

The city is ready, per Burke. “L.A. is always red carpet ready,” he added. “We’re perennially hosting these iconic events in sports and entertainment, so obviously health and safety is a priority, but we’re very accustomed to hosting these global events.”

Though The Hollywood Reporter has heard rumblings that a handful of smaller events have been scrapped due to the surge, many other high-profile events are moving forward with some COVID-19-safe adjustments. David Spencer, co-CEO and founder of Talent Resources Sports, is helping to steer events for Bloomberg and Sports Illustrated. He says that, like the rest of the world, his team has been keeping a very close eye on COVID-19 and adjusting plans accordingly. “We’re amplifying our security to make sure everyone is properly screened and all the necessary protocols set forth by L.A. County are followed,” explained Spencer of the outdoor events. “We have yet to incur any type of fallout, fallback or withdrawal. Los Angeles is too big of a market for a lot of the players and the brands not to have a presence.”

On Location, the standout live experiences company, has a full slate scheduled. In addition to NFL Honors, exclusive Fan Houses and pregame parties around SoFi (with catering from Wolfgang Puck), the company is producing the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest. The three-night event, held at Arena, features A-list music acts like Halsey and Machine Gun Kelly (Thursday), Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani with Mickey Guyton (Friday), and Green Day and Miley Cyrus (Saturday).

On Location president Paul Caine said “demand for tickets has been really strong” thus far. “And we’re seeing really strong demand for the game itself,” he added. “We’ve seen it all year long, even with the ups and downs of the world. There’s been an incredible demand. There’s a lot of desire out there [for audiences] to be at live events and to be engaged with experiences.”

He pointed out that in the live events business, there is always the potential for plans to swing in opposite directions. “With any event under any circumstance, we’re always going to be prepared for the worst but at the same time, we have every reason to feel optimistic about the future,” he explained. “At On Location, we’re all about the experience and offering an experience like no other provider. We want you to enjoy what the NFL is bringing to the market in a completely immersive way. For all those reasons and with the partners we have, we feel that this particular Super Bowl in L.A. is going to be a success.”

Bullseye Event Group is also moving forward with its annual “Players Tailgate,” which will be held this year in a parking lot at Hollywood Park Casino, adjacent to SoFi. Instead of being hosted inside a tent as it normally has been, event producers have shifted to an open-air format that is considered to be more COVID-19 safe because it allows for better ventilation and social distancing. Handwashing and sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the event, which will again feature star chef Guy Fieri. “The Players Tailgate is our marquee event, and we’re excited about the commitment our chefs, working staff, the players and celebrities are all delivering to be able to bring the event safely back and continue the important charity work and the joy the Players Tailgate delivers each year,” Bullseye Event Group CEO Kyle Kinnett said.

The coming days are expected to deliver a rush of event announcements and the revelation of the two teams that will compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy as playoff games are scheduled for Jan. 22, 23 and 30. No matter what happens on SoFi’s field, Spanos suggested there will be plenty of action in the suites and stands. “Between our two teams [the Rams and the Chargers], there were probably more celebrities features on that board than any other stadium in the NFL,” Spanos explained. “I think that’s going to be a big part of what drives the excitement for the Super Bowl, all the other celebrities and entertainment people coming in and being a part of it.”