Everything we saw at downtown Tampa’s Super Bowl NFL Experience
The NFL’s Super Bowl Experience at Julian B. Lane Park opens at 5 p.m. today in downtown Tampa, and you’re probably not going to be able to go because all the reservations to attend are gone. At a media preview on Thursday, an NFL spokesperson said there is no waiting list either.
Translation: don’t even try to walk up and attend.
And it’s not like you would anyway. Despite a two-week improvement in Florida’s coronavirus numbers following the post-holiday bump, the new U.K. variant of the virus is in Tampa Bay—and as the Tampa Bay Times points out, that variant believed to be [a] significantly more contagious version of the virus… [and] can lead to many more people dying.”
But for the folks brave (and lucky?) enough to get a reservation, the NFL has truly pulled out all the stops when it comes to health. The media screening included a questionnaire and temperature check, plus masks required at all times.
At the preview, the NFL’s spokesperson would not say how many people will be allowed on site at the Experience at the same time, but a PR rep for the NFL Experience said to the Times that “each of several daily sessions at Julian B. Lane could have up to 7,500 fans… ” On Thursday, the NFL spokesperson told media that the number of attendees would fluctuate and be determined by local health officials working in concert with the league. In addition to limited capacity, the event is outdoors (only possible in Tampa Bay, said the spokesperson) and complete with socially-distanced areas for consumption of concessions and every Bud Light product your liver desires.
And truth be told, the NFL Experience is a good time. The home team is playing for a Lombardi Trophy (which will be on site at the Experience, by the way) in its home stadium. For local fans, this is a once-in-a-lifetime affair. And were we not in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, I could offer a full-throated endorsement about how fun it is to kick field goals, throw footballs, run the 40-yard dash and complete obstacle courses. But the fact is that coronavirus is here, and it’s still putting people in hospitals; some of those folks are ending up in morgues and funeral homes.
So, yeah, there are thousands of reasons to feel OK about missing this one.
Plus, the Super Bowl Experience’s chronology of pro football—ironically next to the NFL’s exhibit about social justice— is missing something, anyway, in that there’s no mention of Colin Kaepernick who in 2016 staged an extremely peaceful protest against police brutality and the mistreatment of Black Americans only to lose his job.
But if you must revel—even without a ticket—there are other opportunities for you. Downtown Tampa’s entire Riverwalk is activated from Armature Works (where CBS is broadcasting) to Curtis Hixon Park, a “technology village” near the Brorein Street Bridge and Sparkman Wharf.
While Julian B. Lane is at capacity, WFLA points out that the Curt—where local DJs will play and fireworks will go off on Friday and Saturday—will be open at an undisclosed capacity on all the same days the Super Bowl Experience is open (see schedule below).
Plus, the City of Tampa—which on Thursday issued an outdoor mask mandate for event zones including Ybor City and South Howard—has said it's less focused on enforcement and more on encouragement when it comes to preventing the Super Bowl from becoming the Super Spreader Bowl.
So, to sum it up, the Super Bowl Experience looks like a fun and safe-as-it-can-be-in-a-pandemic time. You’re probably gonna miss it, but that’s OK. This is the one time when missing a once-in-a-lifetime event might save yours or someone else’s life.—Ray Roa
Super Bowl Experience hours of operation
Friday, Jan. 29 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 30 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 31 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 1 closed
Tuesday, Feb. 2 closed
Wednesday, Feb. 3 3 p.m.-10 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 4 3 p.m.-10 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 5 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 6 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 7 closed, go watch the Super Bowl safely at home| Photos by Dave Decker