Sunday, February 26, 2012

Beads vs. Football Next Year In New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans, which prides itself on its ability to handle huge sports and cultural events, may get its biggest test next year when the Super Bowl arrives in the middle of Carnival.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, falls on Feb. 12, 2013, with parades traditionally about two weeks before that date.

With the Super Bowl scheduled Feb. 3 at the Superdome, officials are scrambling to reschedule parades so they won't interfere with the big game. Mayor Mitch Landrieu said that means 11 parades will take place a weekend earlier so the focus stays on football.

The plan is not popular with the carnival krewes -- private organizations that stage parades. But hospitality officials in New Orleans and on the nearby Mississippi Gulf Coast hope the move will help accommodate both crowds.

"I don't think it's a matter of it being difficult as much as a matter of us being prepared," said Kelly Schulz, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. "And we are going to be prepared."

Hosting the Super Bowl is a lot more than staging a football game these days.

There is the NFL Experience, an indoor theme park that set a record for attendance in Indianapolis this year, a Fan Jam and NFL Honors, a red-carpet event with televised awards given to the season's outstanding performers.

Planning for the main event has been extensive, said Jay Cicero, executive director of the Super Bowl XLVII Host Committee, dealing with everything from logistics to security.

"We have a lot of advantages over other cities when it comes to dealing with big events," Cicero said. "We have so much experience doing it, and we have been doing very solid planning."

Greater New Orleans also has 38,000 hotel rooms, with 20,000 of them in the downtown area. The NFL will take most of those, booking them at a rate that is "very good for the hotels and for the area," Cicero said. Those rooms will be locked down for the Super Bowl for four days from Jan. 31, 2013, until Monday, Feb 4. The rooms will house NFL staff, team owners and the teams, coaches and families, as well as the league's corporate sponsors and others they invite.

There will also be 5,500 credentialed media that will fill one hotel.

Martin Driskell, general manager of the Hotel Intercontinental, acknowledged moving the first weekend of carnival parades back a week is an inconvenience for the krewes. But it will not be a setback for hotels.

"The first weekend of Mardi Gras does not fill the hotels," Driskell said. "Even on the second weekend, (the Krewe of) Muses doesn't completely fill the hotels, our peaks are Friday and Saturday, with Sunday slightly less. So having that NFL booking in the middle of all of it is great."

The mixture of events will also benefit the surrounding area, pushing revelers and sports fans into parishes around the city and on the Gulf Coast.

"Absolutely, whenever New Orleans has a big event we have one too," said Beau Rivage Casino and Hotel spokeswoman Mary Cracchiolo Spain. "The Super Bowl is a great chance to spotlight the Gulf Coast and all we have here. We think it's going to be very exciting."

Krewes have already begun moving their parade balls to earlier dates, said Robert Bray, general manager of the New Orleans Marriott and area general manager for the city's five Marriott hotels.

"I think there is a great cooperation on everyone's part," Bray said. "Mardi Gras is here every year and we've become good at handling it and its crowds. Now we're squeezing Super Bowl in the middle and that will just put us more in the public eye."

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