Party planning is fun, right? Making appetizers, decorating, sending out invites. Well, multiply that by about a million and you’ve got this weekend’s Super Bowl LI in Houston, Texas.

Space City is about to host the world’s biggest annual sporting event for the third time. The last time Houston hosted, the Patriots defeated the Panthers 32-29. Twelve years later, Bill Belichick and crew have yet another shot at the title, this time facing the Falcons. Of the one million anticipated attendees to the 10-day Super Bowl experience, Houston is expecting nearly 140,000 out of town visitors.

To give us a sense of the amount of preparation – and the anticipated payoff – I had a chat with A.J. Mistretta, Director of Public Relations for Visit Houston, *a PadillaCRT client*, and author of 100 Things to Do in Houston Before You Die. Here’s what A.J. had to say:

 

Q: First of all, what makes Houston such a great city to host Super Bowl LI?

A: Houston really is Sports City, USA. We’re home to five major league sports teams, and host major events from big UFC fights to Olympic qualifying trials and everything in between. Plus, we’ve got the capacity for the influx of people with 84,000 hotel rooms, more than 10,000 restaurants and nightlife options and 23 miles of light rail. And we’re experienced – we’ve done this twice before.

George R. Brown Convention Center at Avenida HoustonQ: What’s the biggest difference between Houston in 2004 (Super Bowl XXXVIII) and in 2017?

A: So much has changed—it’s really apples and oranges. If you haven’t visited Houston in the past five years let alone the past twelve, it’ll feel like a totally different city. We’ve nearly doubled our restaurant and nightlife spots. Discovery Green, a 12-acre park which is downtown’s premiere green space and entertainment destination, was just a parking lot back in 2004. This space is actually serving as party headquarters for the Super Bowl LIVE festival going on now and leading up to the game. But beyond the events and spaces outside of the actual Super Bowl, the biggest difference is the way people will be sharing their experience on social media. Back in 2004, Twitter was still two years from being invented. Facebook launched three days after Super Bowl XXXVIII. Thanks to the stadium’s namesake NRG, on Sunday, there will be free portable charging stations scattered all around the facility for fans to charge up and stay connected.

Q: What are some of the biggest changes the city has had to make to accommodate the crowd?

A: As I mentioned, we require so much more connectivity now than we did before. People weren’t walking around with Smartphones, snapping pictures and sharing things in real time on social media. So through the years and particularly ahead of this event, we’ve had to make massive upgrades to our technology infrastructure so people at the events don’t feel cut off. From an actual infrastructure perspective, many new hotels have been built in recent years, particularly Downtown and in other parts of the city center. None was built necessarily for Super Bowl, but rather the city’s growing convention and leisure travel industry. We’ve seen record growth in the number of people coming to Houston as the city’s profile as a destination grows. One thing we’ve personally been responsible for are the upgrades to the George R. Brown Convention Center and the broader district around it, now called Avenida Houston. We invested $175 million to make this a pedestrian-oriented dining and entertainment hub for visitors as well as locals. And we think it’s going to pay off for Super Bowl and well beyond.

Q: At one point, analysts expected at least one Texas team to make it all the way. Did your approach shift at all based on knowing which teams would ultimately be participating in the big game?

A: Not really. The goal was always to get two teams with fierce fan bases willing to travel to see their guys go all the way. We’ve definitely got that with Atlanta and New England. It’s important to note that not everyone who comes in actually goes to the game. Our stadium can only hold around 75,000 fans. But we expect almost double that number in out-of-town guests. So that means a lot of folks will come just for the events like Super Bowl LIVE and all the parties.

Houston SkylineQ: What’s been the greatest challenge so far in preparing for the big day?

A: There’s a lot of prep and a lot of meetings with various groups including the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee. We’ve worked hand-in-hand with the committee since we won the bid to host the game in 2013. So for us it’s been interesting to manage the day-to-day tasks of handling media and representing the city just as we prepare for this major event on the horizon. It’s a fun challenge, though!

Q: How is the city expected to benefit from hosting Super Bowl LI?

A: The biggest thing Houston gets out of this is exposure. Certainly we expect a major economic impact from hosting the game—on the order of $350 million. But more than that it’s Houston’s opportunity to shine as the amazing destination it is, filled with great art, culture, food and people. We intend to capitalize on that, to tell the Houston story through whatever means we have while the cameras are here. And we believe it will result in more people considering Houston for a trip, a conference or perhaps even a new home city.

Q: What advice would you give Minneapolis as next year’s Super Bowl host city?

A: As with any event planning experience, expect the unexpected. And start media outreach tomorrow. You’ll have some media do a bit out of outreach now, on the heels of this year’s game. But most interest will start in the two or three months leading up to the game. Still, it’s important to establish those contacts early so they’ll know to come to you when they’re ready.

 

And there you have it. If you’re heading to Houston for the Super Bowl, be sure to check out www.VisitHouston.com for itinerary ideas, as well as www.HouSuperBowl.com for information on game day logistics and travel.