NFL’s Katie Keenan sets the stage for LA’s first Super Bowl in almost 30 years

Super Bowl LVI in 2022 marks Katie Keenan’s first championship game for the National Football League since taking up her new role in July as senior manager of event operations for the professional sports organization. She held this position after working in several divisions of the NFL during nine previous Super Bowls over nearly 10 years, which allowed her to develop a working understanding of what goes into hosting the biggest event. of the year of the organization. But this presents several new challenges.

If it wasn’t difficult enough to coordinate the event at a brand new facility, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Keenan also has to do it in a second year in which Covid-19 protocols have become a integral aspect of operational logistics. Plus, she’s managing all of this on an accelerated schedule; Most Super Bowls are scheduled over the years, but SoFi Stadium has only been open since September 2020.

Keenan approached his responsibilities as a matter of scaling, examining how a site works during a regular season game or concert and tailoring it to the expanded Super Bowl needs. For example, she indicated that for a normal game, they might have to coordinate access for eight broadcast trucks, from accreditation to technical support; for the Super Bowl, it’s 50 to 100.

New playground

The differences between installations can be significant, forcing their team to rewrite processes that elsewhere might follow standard execution. At the SoFi stadium, the first six levels of the facility were designed underground and are accessible via a vehicle ramp, as opposed to a traditional loading dock. Therefore, the broadcast elements should be staged in one area and the halftime show pieces in another so that the ground crew can get them in and out within the allotted time.

To complicate matters further, Keenan’s event operations team and the in-house team at SoFi Stadium are always learning the specifics of the facility.

“This stadium, being new and having no fans last season, has put us in a place where we are still learning a lot as the stadium continues to operate and have events,” she said.

The facility only hosted its first major event with spectators, “Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World”, only in May, after the pandemic forced the cancellation of a series of 2020 concert dates. programmed by artists like Taylor Swift and Guns N ‘Roses. Before that, even the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, the two teams that call SoFi Stadium home, trained and played their 2020-2021 seasons “behind closed doors,” the league’s term for games. played without fans.

Describing the Super Bowl planning process as one that typically takes two years or more to complete, Keenan said the lack of that shared “muscle memory” among the teams she coordinates forces everyone who is hosting the Big Game to adapt to a steep learning curve. .

“I would bet any stadium operator would say the first or two years of opening a building are the hardest,” she said. “You can be as good as anyone at the planning and the design – and the stadium is very well designed – but you never really know how it’s going to work until it starts to come to life. “

Prepare for play time

Keenan said the NFL’s Covid protocols between Super Bowls 2021 and 2022 will be dramatically different due to developments in knowledge about the virus and ways to fight infection, but they are still based on local guidelines. health and safety.

Following the SoFi Stadium vaccine verification process adopted in October, the NFL not only implemented these practices among staff arriving from other states, but also plans to use the fully mobile ticketing for the first time to communicate directly with ticket holders, making sure they know what to expect. .

Perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle Keenan needs to put together is the network of partnerships the NFL is forging with local businesses to help produce the Super Bowl, from signage and catering to portable restrooms and local transportation. The league must finalize contracts months before the game, as well as distribute and coordinate credentials, security access, and logistics information based on the products or services provided. Keenan said the NFL is qualifying more than 20,000 people to support the Super Bowl, a significant number of whom are from local communities.

One benefit she and her team can enjoy is the stadium’s proximity to the league’s West Coast headquarters, which opened in September in the same Inglewood, Hollywood Park-based entertainment complex that SoFi Stadium calls his home.

“It’s definitely handy for me to be able to show up there, especially in a year where we’re still learning,” she said.
There is still a long way to go before game day in February. Keenan said this year’s Super Bowl campus – including space for all support staff and services outside of stadium staff – occupies nearly 2 million square feet of space. It’s a “massive group effort,” she added, to produce the six-hour event, even though many aspects of it are business as usual for her team.

“It’s obviously bigger, and there’s more stuff, but stadium operations during an NFL game, that’s ultimately what the Super Bowl is,” she said. “You add a gig and a whole bunch of hospitality and all these other media elements, but at the end of the day it’s a football game, and we all worked really hard and have a ton of local support to make it happen. smooth running on Super Bowl Sunday.

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