The City of New Orleans has rolled out its heavily publicized red carpet for the throngs of visitors touching down for the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras monster — cheekily named "Super Gras" ("Super Fat") by locals on social media (and unironically by the Associated Press).
Now it's the National Football League's turn. The promised week of Super Bowl-related activities begins, with dozens of fan activities scheduled throughout downtown. The biggest is the annual NFL Experience, a "pro football theme park, and the largest of its kind anywhere in the world," says spokesman Noah Gold. The five-day event, held inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, is the NFL's 21st. It first kicked off in 1991 and visited New Orleans in 1997 and 2002, though Gold says this year's NFL Experience is "bigger than it has ever been."
The event occupies more than 850,000 square feet inside the convention center from Wednesday, Jan. 30, through Sunday, Feb. 3, when the Super Bowl begins. It'll open at the convention center's multi-million-dollar grand entrance makeover, where the Vince Lombardi trophy leads a procession through dozens of interactive fan activities, NFL Hall of Fame exhibits, food, music and 75 other installations.
It serves as a place for both kids and families — there are free autograph sessions with more than 100 NFL players, and NFL Play 60 will host youth football clinics where coaches and athletes will teach kids about proper tackling techniques and fitness. The NFL Rush Zone recreates a miniature version of NFL games.
"It's the adults who have more fun and get into it more," Gold says. "Once they're out there trying to kick a field goal, they don't realize how elated they are."
The NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame will focus largely on the host city's team — there will be New Orleans Saints memorabilia, from "old jerseys, old helmets, the evolution of the game from start to finish and what it will be like in the future," Gold says.
The NFL Experience also will host a sports memorabilia show and live auctions, celebrity football games and live broadcasts from the NFL Network.
Tickets are $25 and $20 for children 12 and under.
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at Hall H inside the convention center, the Bridgestone Media Center Fan Gallery opens as a free behind-the-scenes look at media members conducting player interviews and broadcasting live. Tickets are available hourly while supplies last.
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, inside the Superdome, Super Bowl Media Day opens to the public — hundreds of correspondents from sports networks and other media will interview players and plan coverage, while fans will receive a radio to tune in to live coverage on the NFL Network, where they can listen to player interviews around the Dome. New Orleans Saints Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles will attend. Media Day doors open at 8:30 a.m. Tickets are $25.
Along the Mississippi River, Verizon Super Bowl Boulevard will host Super Bowl Jazz Fest — a free four-day music and food festival curated by New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival honcho Quint Davis, who says the NFL will make Super Bowl Boulevard an annual tradition in other Super Bowl host cities.
From Jackson Square to Canal Street along the river, the festival will "present the culture of New Orleans to the world," Davis says. Headliners on the fest's four stages include Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Bonerama, Rebirth Brass Band and more than 40 other New Orleans artists. Super Bowl Boulevard also will host 12 "parades," and 17 restaurants will serve more than 50 dishes, including fried oysters, crab cakes, crawfish pie, and shrimp and grits. Vaucresson's Sausage Company will prepare a "Creole hot dog" for kids, Davis says.
Sponsors Chevron, Verizon, Xbox and others will open interactive fan tents, and glowing Super Bowl numerals (XLVII) will float on a 105-foot-long barge on the riverfront.
The festival is open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It closes at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3, when the Super Bowl begins.
Across the street, Jackson Square will host CBS — which dubs the historic square "Super Bowl Park" for the week. The network will broadcast a bulk of its live programming from the heart of Jackson Square, including The Talk and The Late Show With Craig Ferguson. CBS This Morning will broadcast live Thursday through Saturday, and CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley and CBS Evening News Saturday will broadcast live Friday and Saturday.
Face the Nation With Bob Schieffer will kick off the network's game-day programming at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
Of course Super Bowl attracts high-profile stars, the emcees of thousand-dollar dinners, private parties and places to be seen. At the "Bud Light Hotel" (aka the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel, which makes the switch for one week only), Rolling Stone magazine hosts a private concert with rappers Pitbull and Flo Rida, hosted by Nick Cannon, on Friday, Feb. 1. FOX Sports host Jay Glazer hosts Moves Magazine's sixth annual Super Bowl party at Metropolitan on Wednesday, Jan. 30, and Justin Timberlake, Mark Cuban and Questlove host the DirecTV Super Saturday Night, a star-studded, invite-only event (and Timberlake's first concert in five years) on Saturday, Feb. 2.
Meanhwile, television networks VH1 and CMT host live concerts from the Sugar Mill; fans can register for tickets. Train headlines VH1's "Best Super Bowl Concert Ever," hosted by Michael Strahan and Carrie Keagan, on Friday, Feb. 1. Journey and Rascal Flatts headline CMT's Crossroads at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2. Fans can register for tickets at www.1iota.com.
NFL Honors hosts its second annual live primetime award show at the Mahalia Jackson Theater Saturday, Feb. 2. The event salutes the league's top players and coaches and the best games and plays of the 2012-2013 season. Alec Baldwin hosts, and New Orleans' Soul Rebels Brass Band will serve as the house band. The two-hour show will air nationally from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. that night.