As the Vice President of Operations and Logistics for the Super Bowl, Kyle Chank knows what it means to create a winning experience. With more than 111 million views last Super Bowl, the football phenomenom has evolved from a weekend affair to a massive weeklong festival with 10 built-in days of non-stop events.
Fans walk by the NFL Experience at Super Bowl 51. Part of the 10-day football fanatic week leading up to the Super Bowl.
Photo cred: Bob Levey, Getty Images.
LET'S SET THE SCENE
You may have remembered my interview with the NFL's Director of Event Ops, Katie Keenan in which she mentioned that the NFL has over 40,000 credentials the week of the Super Bowl and another 40,000 for gameday. It's no small feat putting on one hell of a show.
In my interview with Kyle, I really wanted to focus on a few key ideas:
- His story of how he has come up through the ranks.
- The process of building out such a major event.
- The biggest operations and logistics challenges he faces and has faced in his role.
- How they structure their team for success.
- The individual commitment it takes to successfully produce a Super Bowl nowadays.
- His career advice and more.
Part of being the Super Bowl VP of Operations and Logistics is escorting former President George H. W. Bush and the First Lady for the Houston Super Bowl LI coin toss. Photo courtesy of Kyle Chank.
SOME SUPER STATS
- Economic impact from 2016 Super Bowl (Houston): $347,000,000
- Airport traffic increase during Super Bowl week: 200%
- Private planes parked: 1,100
- Largest sanctioned Super Bowl event: Super Bowl Live with 100,000 patrons
- Second largest event: NFL Experience with 30,000 patrons
Take a glimpse into what it takes to tranform a city into every football fan's Super Bowl daydream. In Kyle's words, "...compare it to a combination of Disneyland, mixed with Wrigley Field during the World Series and Christmas day all in one."
Mind if we just jump in?
No. Go ahead.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Palm Springs, California, in a small area called La Quinta. Famous for Coachella.
Palm Springs also has a lot of events, so I grew up going to golf tournaments, tennis tournaments, and minor league baseball games. That's how I found the love of the sports industry.
So, what was 15 year old Kyle like?
Back then, I wanted to be in journalism school, but my five year goal was to be on the radio. My family always said I had a face for radio, then I quickly learned that not only is it a dying industry, it just wasn't for me.
At that age, what's hanging on your wall in your room?
Probably every Lakers and Chargers photo you can find.
Fast forward to today, if your friends were a little tipsy, how would they describe you?
Probably the most outgoing person they know, which is quite the opposite. I'd have to be tipsy to get that way. I'm very much mellow-mannered until we have a couple of drinks in us.
If you were a piece of event equipment, what would you be and why?
Probably a credential because I always tell people to be confident. I tell them, “You could own the stadium if you have a credential and if you know how to use it the right way.”
Kyle and his best bud at Super Bowl 50. It's all about the credentials. Courtesy of Super Bowl VP Of Operations Kyle Chank.
So if you could work on any event in the world, what would it be?
Probably the Olympics. I actually had the chance to work in Rio, but I turned it down. I'm not an international soul, but the Olympics are the pinnacle of it. I will be following 2024 Olympics Announcement very closely, come here in September.
You and me both brother. BTW - you should take a look at the series I did with the LA2024 Team. They offer some incredible insight into the bid process.
I definitely will. Thank you.
So, I know you're only 25, but man - you have to be like 80 in Super Bowl years?
Hah! Definitely. This will be my fourth Super Bowl here in Minnesota.
What were the biggest operational challenges for you in each Super Bowl that you worked on?
When I worked on my first Super Bowl in Phoenix four years ago it was crazy. The city wasn't used to hosting massive events like it is now and it used to shut down after hours. We basically turned the downtown Phoenix parking lot into a Super Bowl hub. So teaching city people and contractors to break out of their element was the toughest challenge.
The University of Phoenix stadium made a perfect venue for Super Bowl XLIX. Twenty-one vertical slots gives fans glimpses of the desert horizon. Photo cred: ABC News
It's almost the exact opposite in San Francisco. You get a complete culture shock up there. San Francisco city folks and contractors have this mindset of, “Hey, we do this every day." But the Super Bowl is not an every day thing. The line I hated the most there was, “We've done this before,” or, “We do this all the time,” and we have to take the approach that it's a different set of guidelines.
The biggest challenge in Houston was that the city is very connected. We had events on top of each other downtown. It was packed. They advertise to a million people over 10 days, and they're basically coming to one city center. Location in Houston was a big challenge.
Map Cred: NFL
Photo Cred: Bob Andres AJC.com
How about now?
It's similar, the location is tricky, but one thing that I'm getting used to out here is the cold, being from Southern California. Not prepared for that yet! So I'd say it's a tie between location and whether everything we plan for could get thrown out the window if a blizzard hits four days before the Super Bowl.
Rendering: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee
You've moved to a new city every year for this Super Bowl job. Do you think you'll be moving to a new city for the next 10, 15, 20 years?
My plan has shifted multiple times. I've always wanted to set a five-year goal and my goal five years ago wasn't to be in Minneapolis, so it's definitely changing.
I love what I do, but I also have re-imagined the five-year plan because I didn't even know this opportunity existed back then. The career path would probably be a couple Olympics or World Cup events some day.
How would you describe your role today? What is your area of responsibility on this particular Super Bowl?
It's evolved, but as for the standard for every Super Bowl, we provide bid requirements. I'm looking at a binder of probably 400 pages of bid requirements that we have to ensure are met. If I nail the bid requirement 100%, technically the job is done, but we also have to produce a 10-day fan festival. Once the bid requirements are met, we focus on the 10-day festival including security to production management and credentialing and parking.
Giving the Super Bowl transportation low-down on the "Know Before You Go" segment with Fox 26 Houston. Photo cred: Fox 26 Houston.
We support the local community all year long. We have a legacy team that work their butts off to give over $4 million each year back to the community. Each legacy team has a different approach; this year they’re giving the money back to the entire state of Minnesota over 52 weeks.
When you took the job, what were your first three priorities that you wanted to accomplish?
One of my first priorites was to integrate new ideas for the Super Bowl. You know, be really innovative in my position. When I started four years ago, traffic and event plans didn't have Uber. Now we've revolutionized the experience to where you can get in and out of the stadium in five to 10 minutes depending on what type of vehicle you're waiting on.
The second priority is safety. It is hours and hours and hours of planning. We make sure we update our communication operations plans and standard operating procedures.
Chank spearheaded a designated Uber pick-up point near the NFL Experience in downtown Houston for Super Bowl LI. Photo cred: David Phillip, AP Photo.
Then the third priority is building the morale of the team when I joined. We have a couple of people on staff that have done this before, but most of them haven't done a Super Bowl or an event of this magnitude. I remember what it's like being the new guy so team morale is very important up here.
And then most importantly, have fun and take a step back every now and then and say, “Hey, you're working on one of the largest events in the world, if not the single largest day event.” Creating a positive atmosphere for everyone is critical.
How are you structuring your team to accomplish everything?
That's a really good question. I've seen host committees with 40 staff members. Last year I think we got up to about 45, and this year we're right around 25 now, and everyone's like, “You only have 25 people?” and they are dumbfounded. We bring in external event professionals that have done this before, and you trust them to go to meetings and make decisions.
Super Bowl Host Committee Team Shot
It's tough to find somebody to come in here and do this for a year or two. You almost take a whole new career path, but one year of Super Bowl work is about two to three years in the real world, so you have to make decisions faster. One day feels like a week and you have to empower people to make decisions. We're all on the same team. No one cares about getting credit. The credit comes after the event's all wrapped up and we all celebrate.
The Super Bowl XLIX Arizona ops team. Courtesy of Kyle Chank.
If you could automate any aspect of the production process, what would it be?
I'd definitely automate requests. Whether it's credentials or tickets or how many vehicles are coming in. Right now I could text you and say, “Chris, I need two tickets,” but then you could also get a phone call saying, “Hey, I need two tickets,” and then your boss could email you saying, “Hey, I need two tickets.” Now you have various requests coming at you in all directions. Automating request forms would be amazing, and that's coming from many years of having to be the one that answers all of our requests.
I just might know a guy for you for you.
Where is the line drawn between you guys and the NFL and other stakeholders?
It’s an NFL event, so we set the stage and then we hand the ball off to their team of 15 to 20 people. They run the show on the stadium side. We handle a lot of the city ordinances, getting everything passed through council on the legislative side, and then we also hire our own contractors to produce our event as well.
How many different events outside of the Super Bowl are sanctioned?
I think the more staggering number are the ones that aren’t sanctioned. There’s about 150 un-sanctioned events on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Super Bowl week. The sanctioned events that the NFL and post committee run are about 10 to 15.
Are you responsible for any type of post-event report?
Yeah. We do an economic impact report and that’s the main aspect of what we as a host committee do. We take on a lot of slack for building this huge event and creating almost a city of sorts. To be frank, some people hate the Super Bowl. Some folks don’t like sports and don’t understand why their grandma can’t go grocery shopping on their normal day. Part of the economic impact report states, “Look, we brought an extra $400,000,000 into this city. We provided 50,000 people with 400 hours of extra work which is equivalent to $50,000 of a normal salary for the entire year.” It’s those types of numbers that say, “Hey, these guys are here for the right reasons.”
Economic impact highlights from Super Bowl Houston. Courtesy of Kyle Chank.
The number in San Francisco was staggering. Twenty-five percent of all funds goes back into the community, and other years it’s anywhere from four to $8,000,000. That's straight back to the charities. We have a whole team dedicated to that. I definitely don’t want to take credit and say I had anything to do with it, but it’s just great to know that the company you work for does that type of stuff.
Do you have any specific routines that help you be productive every day?
I like to run. Honestly back in high school and college, you couldn’t have paid me to run a mile and now I run hours and hours a day just to clear my mind. After you work from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., a 2:30 in the morning run is the only thing that’ll get you going. I’m also very simplistic. I could eat peanut butter and jelly and hard boiled eggs every day if I had to. Sometimes in the event life that’s all you get.
What would you say is the number one leadership lesson you’ve picked up over the years?
One of my bosses taught me no task is too little or too big to handle. She taught me that in college which led me to the Super Bowl. She didn’t care who got the job done, and I echo that statement here all the time. We don’t take credit for anything. We honor people when they do a good job, but it doesn’t matter who did it as long as it gets done. It may be someone on a manager level stepping up and doing it or maybe the executive level stepping down. I swallow my pride and will stand on the corner with an old wayfinding sign to get people to the arena. We throw title out the window.
Do you have any parting wisdom for folks in the event world?
This might be a typical answer, but get in any way you can. I’ve turned down jobs and I wouldn’t be sitting here today if I accepted other jobs. Sometimes it’s tough to break into the event industry and forego the steady 401(k) job with eight to five hours calling your name, but take the unpaid internship. Take the lower pay. Go and have drinks with someone that you’ve been wanting to talk to and buy the beer for them. Even if you can’t afford the beer, make sure you put it on your tab. Those things really stand out. I can think of 10 or 15 people in my life that have stood out to me like that. That’s how I’ve gotten to this path, so it must have worked a little bit.
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