Signs point you clearly and emphatically to the various Super Bowl media areas at the Mall of America, the massive shopping complex in Bloomington that this week is doubling as a hub for all things related to the big game on Sunday.
There is the media center: a sea of connected tables, power strips and cables. There is the media lounge and press conference areas, where player and coach interviews will be conducted: self explanatory. All of this is fairly distant from the public eye, behind doors on the second floor.
But if you up one level to the third floor of Mall of America, by the food court — sorry, Culinary on North as the more upscale quick options are now referred to as a group — suddenly you find a massive mingling area informally known as “radio row.”
When I look up, Shake Shack is about a first down away from me. Directly behind me is Moose Mountain Adventure Golf.
Here you find national radio, local radio and everything in-between. And the Star Tribune, of course. None of us are explicitly wearing signs that say it, but we might as well have placards on our tables next to our company names that read: “Desperately seeking content.”
As someone covering a Super Bowl for the first time, this spectacle is all new. Upon arrival before 9 a.m. Monday, things are already warming up – not full-throttle, which we will achieve later in the week as Super Bowl gets closer, but the vibe is clear.
Potential radio and podcast guests are mingling around, almost all of them with something to sell or pitch. Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Tippett, a former Patriots star, is being interviewed by a bunch of radio stations. He’s moving deftly from spot to spot, all on behalf of a national jewelry company.
A flier on my table when I arrive is pitching an interview with Minneapolis native Joe Laurinaitis, Road Warrior Animal of pro wrestling fame (um, yes please, that was an easy booking). Within 20 minutes, I’ve been pitched another interview with someone else with a book to sell.
Almost the entire area is surrounded by a half-wall that serves as the “fan gallery” where people strolling through the mall — or here specifically for Super Bowl-related activities — can observe radio row.
Vikings fans, still stung by the NFC Championship Game loss to the Eagles and recognizing this week would have been entirely different had that outcome been reversed, are nevertheless part of the crowd. There’s a boy in a Harrison Smith jersey, plus two older fans showing their eras of fandom by wearing Steve Jordan and Fran Tarkenton jerseys.
The out-of-town media marvels at the scale and size of the Mall of America, sprinkling in some jokes about the Minnesota weather in the process. (Hint: It’s cold here, and it’s only going to get colder as the week goes on). The phrase, “I’m trying to gather my bearings” is used frequently.
A significant percentage of everyone working already looks tired and/or stressed out, seemingly forgetting two important things: One, this is going to be a long week and we need to pace ourselves. Two, this is all about a game. Shouldn’t it be fun?
Even through all the craziness, I sure hope so.