Want to Host an Epic Super Bowl Weekend Party? Event Insiders Share Secrets

Super Bowl LIII is now just days away — kicking off Sunday in Atlanta, which will host VIPs on-and-off the field. While the showdown between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams is sure to inspire major events and soirees in both of those cities, the most epic (and most star-studded) bashes will take place within walking distance of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

One of those events is Sports Illustrated's "Saturday Night Lights" featuring performances by Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, DJ Irie and Dallas Austin. The Hollywood Reporter recently caught up with two of the architects of that event — Michael Heller and David Spencer of Talent Resources Sports — for an insider's look at what it takes to make a splash during an ever-competitive Super Bowl weekend.

What makes for a perfect Super Bowl party?

Spencer: The venue. What we’ve done, traditionally, is pick out-of-the-box experiences. We knew what’s worked for us in the past and the brands that we’ve worked with. Really identifying something that is completely untraditional. Something that really becomes an added value to the event, not only for the brand partners we work with, but for the guests that we accommodate, which are all celebrities and athletes. ... It’s not about sticking everybody in a room and seeing what happens, it’s more about making those introductions, strategically placing those people near each other, and really creating an environment that magic can down the road.

Heller: Another part of that is putting the right team together. This is our 10th year going back to the Super Bowl. As you know, every year, it’s somewhere different and every year we add something different to our event. Along the way, doing these events we find great people in different cities that serve different purposes for the event. Last year, we met someone who did an amazing job managing the floor. Now, he’s part of our team. Through the years, we’ve really created a traveling family of experts in different areas. Also, not only the music and the lineup, but the ambiance and the curating of the crowd. We are looking to make it a real networking event, but also a fun networking event — where it’s not too corporate and not too clubby. It’s like a hybrid of everything.

Tell me about what you're doing in Atlanta this year with Sports Illustrated?

Heller: After a year of going, we went through three different venues and came out with what we think was the best one. It’s very hard because the Super Bowl committee puts a hold on all the spaces and there is a lot waiting to get the spaces released. But this year, we could not think of a better place for Sports Illustrated to relaunch their identity at the Super Bowl after a couple years of not being there, with the College Football Hall of Fame. It's an unbelievable location and an unbelievable space and it really set a presence for the weekend. By putting Lil Wayne with Snoop Dogg, and then Dallas Austin with DJ Irie, we’re already planting the seeds for the following year, which is Miami. DJ Irie is a residency DJ and almost like the mayor of music in Miami. So, putting him with Dallas Austin — who is a real Atlanta personality that has won awards for his music curation — and Lil Wayne and Snoop together is a unique package and a unique show. 

You've been involved with many high-profile culture events, how does the Super Bowl compare? 

Spencer: The Super Bowl is one of those events, which crosses over from the sports world to mainstream pop-culture and really attracts a large number and very diverse background of attendees. You have the traditional sports fans, you have the athletes, and you have the celebrities that are interested in being at this culturally charged moment. But you also have people who normally would not be part of a sports following and would not be going to an event like this. It’s something that really appeals to a wide demographic and that’s why it’s so important to us to have an extremely large presence. It’s really an event that transcends sports. It’s the intersection of sports and entertainment and pop-culture.

What's the craziest-most shocking thing that has happened during your time working Super Bowl events?

Heller: Things happen. In Houston, we decided to take over a museum and there was a certain decibel that we had to keep the music at. Diplo was DJing and Busta Rhymes just decided to hop up and do his own thing unexpectedly. The decibel of the sound from his performance was so loud and caused some much vibration, that a statue in a case looked like it was going to fall down. In the middle of the night, we literally had to have an expert come in and make sure the artifact was handled properly. 

What are some of the obstacles that come with planning an event like this?

Heller: Last year in Minnesota, we knew it was going to be really cold and there was potential for snow. We had a gigantic outside courtyard that we were tenting. What ended up happening, as the tent was going up, the snow started coming down and that snow became ice. Last minute, we had to hire a crew —which it’s pretty much impossible to hire anyone the weekend of an event— to come and melt the snow and ice down, so we could cover the floor. At the same time, we had to get someone to take the melted ice and snow and suck it out. We ended up getting a pool pump to pump all of the water out. Thank god, literally an hour before opening, we cleared all the ice and snow out. There’s always weather. This year we’re dealing with a government that’s shut down, which makes the airports harder. There are always obstacles and you really have to tough stomach and be able to figure it out, without getting over-excited or stressed out. It’s not the end of the world, we’re throwing a party.

There's a lot of competition on Super Bowl weekend in terms of surrounding events. How do you make your event stand out?

Heller: Picking the right location, bringing the right people together, and putting the right performers together. Sports Illustrated, itself, really dominates and is such a strong partner to have. It seems like a lot of different companies and media companies have taken a step down or changed their format. For example, Playboy is not coming back this year, after having a big presence — we even did the Playboy party last year. All these parties are going to be great, but the way we curate our’s is what makes it special. Also, really making sure that people are serviced properly and that every single box is checked off. Not to name names, but last year in Minnesota, there was a big media partner that had a lot of issues, because they did not have their coat checks squared away and people’s jackets started disappearing. Every little step of the way counts to make sure we’re prepared.

Spencer: Our track record speaks for itself. We’ve been one of those groups — really the only one — that has been a staple at Super Bowl for the past 10 years consistently. We’ve had great performances that have really superseded expectations on our behalf as event producers and from the guest experience. Starting off and identifying talent before they’ve peaked — like Travis Scott or Kendrick Lamar. We’ve seen past performers go on and really reach new heights after our event. Identifying talent at an early moment, year in and year out is something we’re always excited to do.  

OK, this year's matchup pits the Rams vs. the Patriots, a pretty classic East Coast vs. West Coast game. Who are you rooting for?

Spencer: We’re rooting for a great Super Bowl. That’s what we root for. We’re agnostic when it comes to teams.

Heller: Speak to yourself, Giants!