When Super Bowl LIII comes to Atlanta, it brings with it a week of opportunities for University of Georgia students to learn management skills and gain behind-the-scenes experience.
That’s because they will be supervising staff at the Super Bowl Experience, an annual event that takes place in the Super Bowl host city the week before the NFL’s big game. This year’s Super Bowl Experience takes place Jan. 26-Feb. 3 in the Georgia World Congress Center, and UGA students, along with students from other metro Atlanta colleges, will help run the show as guests kick their own field goals, throw touchdown passes, try on football equipment or take photos with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“It’s absolutely massive in terms of attendance,” said Sarah Palmer, a senior sport management major from Newnan who will be supervising the children’s area at this year’s Super Bowl Experience.
Palmer is one of about 25 UGA students hired to manage hourly workers at dozens of activity stations throughout the event. “You definitely gain management experience and you learn to deal with all kinds of people and make them feel welcome,” she said. “Not everyone gets to go to the Super Bowl, but you can get a ticket to experience what it’s like—that’s what we’re trying to do, is make sure everyone has a great experience.”
Which is exactly why the Super Bowl Experience began, said UGA graduate Lance Dennis, who produces the event for the NFL. Dennis was in the students’ shoes 26 years ago when, as a recent graduate from UGA, he landed the same kind of management job at the second-ever Super Bowl Experience.
While the activities and size of the event have changed over time, the premise remains the same today. It’s a way to give back to the city that hosts the Super Bowl, Dennis said. Along with hiring around 4,000 temporary workers to fill the shifts at the various activities, the event also requires managers who can oversee staffing in the particular areas. This is where the students come in.
“It takes 450 to 500 workers per shift, so I go each year and try to hire 75 to 80 college students who are getting their degrees in sport management or sport marketing. I pay them to come and work as managers, and they manage that force of temp workers,” said Dennis, who visits local colleges and gives guest lectures as part of the recruitment effort. “It gives them event and management experience. These crowds are massive; it’s like a game all day.”
Kacey Caudill, a junior sport management major from Sparta, North Carolina, said the massiveness of the event is one of the aspects that drew her to apply for a position. It combines experience in personnel, customer service and event promotion—just a few of the many directions sport management majors can go after graduation.
“When I got into sport management, I didn’t realize there were so many careers I could go into,” said Caudill. “And it will definitely help us make some more connections in the industry.”
And when it comes time to apply for jobs, Dennis said having an NFL event on your resume will often jump out at potential employers. “They’re going to ask you about that experience, and I tell the students it gives you a chance to talk about something you’re passionate about. That could be the building block that gets you in,” he said.
“I tell students to get involved in every opportunity they can. You never know what that will become down the road,” added Dennis. “I started out doing exactly what they’re doing. This has allowed me to travel and see places I’ve never been.”
That’s already true for Palmer, whose job as a camp counselor in Coweta County initially connected her with Dennis; he directs the county’s recreation programs during the rest of the year, when he’s not planning the next Super Bowl Experience. Since then, Palmer has managed children’s areas at two Super Bowl Experiences—in Houston and Minneapolis—and has also worked in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine.
Her fellow student, senior sport management major Rusty Gay from Waynesboro, said he is looking forward to what doors the experience can open for him.
“It’s like the highest point in sports. Most sporting events are about customer service and this is the top-of-the-line for customer services,” he said. “I’ve learned by being behind the scenes at UGA baseball games, but nothing is as big as the Super Bowl.”