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ASU student workers experience Super Bowl excitement on-site

Interns help with ticket scanning, hospitality amid massive crowds in Arizona

Exterior of State Farm stadium in Glendale, Arizona, painted with a sign for Super Bowl 57.

ASU student Luis Pintor Zavaleta poses in front of State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, early on Sunday, Feb. 12, before the Super Bowl game began. He was among more than 40 students who worked at locations around the stadium as part of ASU's event management program. Photo courtesy of Luis Pintor Zavaleta

February 14, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2023 year in review.

Arizona State University students got to be in the middle of the Super Bowl excitement on Sunday, working at several locations around State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, where the game was held.

More than 40 students in ASU’s special events management program worked a 12-hour day, boarding buses at the Arizona State Fairgrounds at 7 a.m. to be taken to the stadium, where they scanned credentials, directed the crowd and served VIP guests.

It was a once-in-lifetime experience to be part of one of the biggest events in the country.

“It was incredible,” said Bekah James, a sophomore majoring in nonprofit leadership and management with certificates in cross-sector collaboration and special events management.

“It’s amazing that someone has figured out how to accommodate tens of thousands of people with food and everything,” she said.

“Every single person has the exact right credential and they’re escorting celebrities and you don’t even see it. The whole thing was phenomenal.”

The students were able to interact with thousands of fans whose excitement was at a fever pitch.

Nicholas Wise, an assistant professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, and Caila Flatt, a sophomore majoring in tourism, inside State Farm Stadium on Sunday before the Super Bowl game began. Wise led the student workers on site. Photo courtesy Nicholas Wise

“Philly fans are really dedicated,” said Caila Flatt, a sophomore majoring in tourism management, who staffed a pre-game party for friends and families of Philadelphia Eagles players.

“We passed out these candy peanut chews that are a huge thing with the team and rally towels with the team logo. It was so fun.

“I know very little about football. There might have been very famous people there but I didn’t know who they were.

“We just made sure everything went smoothly and everyone had a good time.”

Nicholas Wise, an assistant professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, led the student worker program for the Super Bowl. He was with a group of students who were scanning tickets outside the official tailgate party area.

“A bunch of people came and bought tickets last minute,” Wise said, including one family from Kansas City who bought five tickets on the spot.

“And a lot of people didn’t have tickets but just came to see how busy the stadium was. And we got to talk to a lot of people about their travels.”

As with any gigantic event, the students experienced some glitches. There was some waiting, a few miscommunications and then then the wind blew over some portable walls and tables at a VIP event the students worked.

Because most of the ASU students were still outside as the pre-game festivities got underway, they were able to see the jet flyover and fireworks. Some got to watch part of the game, which Kansas City won on a field goal in the final minute, and the Rihanna halftime show on TV in a staff area, and a few were able to watch live from the stadium concourse.

“The halftime show was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” James said.

“There were five different levitating sections of the stage and they were moving the whole time and went up to the top of the stadium.

“We watched as people carried the sections of stage onto the field and set the whole thing up in five minutes or less and at the end they picked them up in five minutes. It’s like, how is this even possible? I love event production, which is what I want to do, and I was thinking about how many times they had to practice that.”

Hands-on experience

While the students got to be part of the heavily hyped Super Bowl, there are dozens of event opportunities for them year-round, according to Erin Schneiderman, clinical assistant professor in the School of Community Resources and Development. She directs the special events management program, which is offered as a minor and a certificate through the School of Community Resources and Development.

“Due to the nature of our industry, it’s important for students to get a hands-on approach to what we’re teaching them,” she said.

Last year, she started an experiential course partnership with the Arizona Cardinals in which students worked at all the team’s home games in State Farm Stadium. About 70 students participated in the fall semester, earning an hourly wage plus three credits while working in the parking lots, with food and beverage, and even at the team’s turkey drive. The students had the option of staying on and working the Fiesta Bowl and the Super Bowl.

In addition, students worked at the Waste Management Open, which was happening in Scottsdale simultaneously with the Super Bowl.

Event management classes teach all aspects of the business, such as publicity and marketing, liquor responsibility, audiovisual and lighting, revenue generation and volunteer management.

“We see a lot of criminology students take our classes because they’re interested in how to develop security or risk-management plans for events,” said Schneiderman, who used to work for the NFL and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee.

“In our operations class, they get a blank event slate and build a plan – parking, ingress and egress, how to secure sponsors, fundraising, revenue generating.”

Besides big events, students learn about corporate and wedding planning, concerts, races and shows. During the pandemic, the event management students worked at the big vaccination center.

Morgan Beaven, who is majoring in public service and public policy with a concentration in nonprofit leadership management, was one of the students who worked with the Cardinals in the fall, which included a two-day car show.

“The Super Bowl felt like a payoff for all the hard work throughout the semester,” he said.

“It was a nice cherry on top for that.”

A few students also worked at some of the many Super Bowl-related events held the week before the game, including Taste of the NFL.

Flatt worked two shifts at the Super Bowl Experience fan festival at the Phoenix Convention Center the weekend of Feb. 4 and 5. She helped with some of the interactive games, including one for kids.

“I really want to get into sports tourism, so with the Super Bowl I got my foot in the door working large-scale events,” said Flatt, who is now a marketing intern at the Peoria Sports Complex spring training site.

“Working the Super Bowl is pretty good for your resume.”

ASU joins Super Bowl mania

A few days before the game, J.C. Tretter, president of the NFL Players Association, spoke to Wise’s tourism management class. Tretter, who played in the NFL for nine seasons, described how the union supports the players and how he, just days after being elected president, had to negotiate with the league’s owners on how to play during the pandemic.

“Once we got through how do we make a righteous decision, it was how do we pull off a contact sport in a no-contact time?” he said. The sides had to figure out how to compensate for the millions in lost revenue at the stadiums.

Tretter described the union’s internship program to the students.

“We’re looking for the soft skills required to fit in – the ability to make decisions and a work ethic to do anything,” he said.

“Our players are treated as celebrities all the time and this work is about treating them as people.”

Man in front of class speaking

NFL Players Association President J.C. Tretter spoke to ASU students at the Westward Ho in downtown Phoenix on Feb. 7. Photo by Samantha Chow/Arizona State University

Tretter’s talk was just one of several ASU Super Bowl events, which also included an NFL Black History Month event at the MIX Center in Mesa, panel discussions, concerts and watch parties.

ASU students worked the game as journalists and as backup dancers for Rihanna.

Wise said he was glad that several students got to participate in leadership positions and were able to learn so much about crowd management.

“I’m very proud of our students and they really stepped up. It was great for the sophomores and juniors to participate in this,” he said.

“The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee came calling and the students were there to deliver a very successful event.

“It reinforces experiential learning.”

Luis Pintor Zavaleta, a senior majoring in management and tourism business, said he was happy to have an impact on so many peoples’ experience at the game.

“The journey toward Super Bowl LVII was definitely an experience like no other, where one gets to be a part of something important,” he said.

“This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity brought exposure toward the sports, tourism and event management industry, as well as what happens behind the scenes to effectively execute this event.”

Beaven said he would recommend the experience to any students interested in working at next year’s Super Bowl in Las Vegas.

“I’m not super huge into sports but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say that I was present at the Super Bowl and I saw the halftime show in person,” he said.

“It was exciting to cross this off my bucket list.”

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