Lunchtime in the Crystal Court was even busier than usual Wednesday. People crowded the floor and lined up along the skyway railings, smartphones raised to the sky to snap quick pics.
Whether that was because of ESPN’s star-studded live shows on location or the apparently free food remains to be seen.
“I’ve seen it set up in advance, and I also got my check from TCF Bank and saw there was a free hot dog,” said Arin Arpinar, who works for Hennepin County in the 701 Building. “And then we saw that they were actually broadcasting.”
So with a free meal and free entertainment, Arpinar’s IDS Center lunch break was a break from the usual. He was among a throng of people staked out behind ESPN’s stage at 12:30 p.m. for “NFL Live,” which was the sixth of eight live broadcasts across ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Radio on Wednesday for the network’s kickoff of daily Super Bowl coverage.
The crowd was much thinner earlier for “SportsCenter,” but the diversity was the same. Fans decked out in their football team’s garb interspersed with working men and women dressed in business attire. But both groups were more than enthusiastic about cheering and waving at the starts of segments for their 15 seconds of fame in the background of a shot.
ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman and coordinating director Mike Feinberg worked together to scout the Crystal Court and Mall of America as the network’s locations two years ago. Markman called the IDS Center one of the most unique venues in which ESPN has set up shop. Feinberg said it was “ideal” for its central location, high foot traffic and indoor area to keep the broadcasters and the viewers out of the cold.
“This is very unique for us, at least for the Super Bowl, because we’re very exposed in a good way,” Feinberg said. “We’re very public-facing. Usually, we’re covered on three sides, and people can only see us from one direction. Now, we’re 360. Even from above, people can see us. … That’s what we want. We want the fan engagement, and we want people to watch the shows and get involved because it creates energy.”
“SportsCenter” host Mike Greenberg arrived just Tuesday night for his 22nd Super Bowl but said the convenience of the IDS Center location, with ESPN setting up temporary offices in the basement, already has impressed him. That and how nice Minnesotans are.
“We do a hit that’s seven or eight minutes long, and then I’ve got about 20 minutes before the next one. So during that, yeah, I’ll be chatting back and forth with people who’ve come out, and they’re taking pictures primarily with the football players and stuff like that,” said Greenberg, who took a few selfies with fans himself. “So I think everyone’s having a great time.”
Kevin McGillis, who works for Korn Ferry in City Center, accompanied Arpinar and said it was cool that random skyway travelers could watch the broadcasts on a workday. Arpinar, though, wasn’t as easily impressed.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “Nothing too crazy. I’ve seen this type of thing before, I guess. So I’m not, like, blown away or anything. It’s kind of average.”
From the ESPN perspective, though, “it doesn’t get much better than this,” as Feinberg said.
That’s especially true considering that for the only other Minnesota Super Bowl in 1992, ESPN was stationed inside the Hyatt Regency with the only backdrop a banner welcoming the game and the network to town. Compare that to Wednesday’s horde of enthusiastic, or at least curious, viewers.
“We’re not shy about this. We believe we kind of wrote the playbook, if you will, for how to cover the Super Bowl,” Markman said. “No [network] does it as well as we do it. There’s no question.”