By Bodog Sports, Casino and Poker Founder and CEO Calvin Ayre
What happens when 100,000-plus fans, media and business people, and one online gambling operation invade a city with only 15,000 hotel rooms and limited infrastructure for this unofficial national holiday Pandemonium. While the NFL and the city of Jacksonville cannot be blamed for the weather, the chaos surrounding Super Bowl XXXIX, might force the NFL to restrict their biggest event to cities capable of pulling it off. But maybe my own frustrations from last week's time spent in Jacksonville are best left for later.
Let's take it from the top. It all started out with a great offer from Hawaiian Tropic asking us to be the lead sponsor of the 2005 Miss Super Football Hawaiian Tropic International Pageant & VIP Party. In the past Bodog has stayed away from doing any high profile Super Bowl parties simply because of how much competition there is for this one particular event. This year alone, there were competing parties every night, including events hosted by Maxim, Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs, and Playboy. This also does not take into consideration the countless other Super Bowl parties happening all over the US, and in fact the world. That's a lot of competition!
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But, when a respected and high-energy brand such as Hawaiian Tropic comes knocking with a history of hosting quality events during Super Bowl, I knew it would be a good fit. We only had a few weeks' notice to host the big event, mind you, but Bodog is always ready to move fast. We had lots of stock printed material sitting ready for any event, we had clothing created specifically for our Bodog Girls, and we had a SWAT team ready to descend on Jacksonville within days.
Day one was a learning experience. I was staying in Miami Beach for a few days prior and during the five-hour drive up to Jacksonville. I quickly noticed just how taxing it was going to be for us to work this event. After driving five hours (it really should have been six but for the amazing driving of Kiko our cameraman/race car driver) we had to drive north for another 45 minutes to our resort at the Amelia Island Plantation (www.aipfl.com). And by "we" I mean three members of Team Bodog, including the two winners of Bodog Girl Search 2005 (www.bodoggirl.com), and one team member whose job it was to work on the big party. However, the temperature seldom reached higher than the freezing point at night (and not much warmer in the day), so it felt a little like we were staying in Siberia, not Florida. But I digress.
On day two the transportation didn't improve, it just got more expensive. Our ride consisted of a well-traveled 1990's vintage van and another forty-five minutes into Jacksonville's core. Still, the flat rate of $160 for a ride into town seemed, well, a bit much. Once there, we spent most of the day in the NFL Media Center and did countless interviews. I was surprised to learn that the national press was more interested in interviewing the winners of my model search than me (five to one in favor of the girls), but with the press being all male... well, it made sense. It was also a great experience having all of the media in one room and being able to have such unrestricted access to them. As it turns out, this was a huge coup for Bodog. We were the only gambling operation with access to this exclusive media event, and the only such operation hosting a local Super Bowl party. In fact, it was something the NFL had decided to "crack down" on during the days leading up to the Super Bowl. In his pre-Super Bowl "state of the league" message, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the league did not want to be associated with gambling and that it was restricting any and all Las Vegas sports books from having any type of presence at the Super Bowl. So when Oscar Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas, caught wind that Bodog had somehow managed to have its "representatives passing out information at an NFL-sanctioned Super Bowl party," well... let's just say he was none too happy and complained rather loudly over the Nevada airwaves. What can we say? Bodog knows how and where to party!
Later we went to a pub and restaurant area in downtown called The Landing and met up with the Hawaiian Tropic team who was promoting our big party that Friday evening. I was very impressed with how many guys seen hanging around having a drink in the crowd who recognized Bodog when the Bodog Girls walked by, many shouting out "Hey, I have a Bodog account!"
Day three was going to be another big one for us, and by now we had a good feel for Jacksonville's rather unique transport issues so we thought it was time to head back to the resort. After standing out in the near freezing wind without coats for a good long while, we discovered that the rate to bribe a taxi to head out to our resort was going to cost us a chilling $200 dollars. This would translate into the next day's return trip costing us at least $400 and nearly two hours, depending on traffic. So when we left town the next day we decided it was smart to take all of our party stuff for that night with us. Only this time we ordered a car and driver for the rest of the day as soon as we got to town. It was $100 an hour for a minimum of 10 hours, and again we got a low-end van for this price. Once the dust settled that day, I ended up paying $1500 for local transport and had again spent hours on the road.
The good news is that we had another great day in the Media Center doing interviews and hobnobbing with celebrities and athletes. I got a chance to meet the Coors Light Twins and others, and our Bodog Girls met up with NFL great Deion Sanders.
Bodog Girl Milena met Rob Schneider. As usual the biggest attraction of the day was Joe Montana doing his interviews. A personal highlight at the NFL Media Center was meeting several of the ESPN on-air personalities.
Later on things really heated up. The 2005 Miss Super Football Hawaiian Tropic International Pageant & VIP Party started out with us having the entire Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders packing the Bodog VIP gift bags for the party. Pictured above is me with Colts cheerleader captain Lisa Perry and the rest of the Colts Cheerleaders packing our gift bags.
The Bodog Girls were smoking hot and in my opinion they stole the show. The Hawaiian Tropic girls were also pretty hot though, and as a bonus I got to get my picture taken with Charity, the winner of the competition.
Milena also got her picture taken with Ron Rice, the Founder of Hawaiian Tropic. There were tons of celebrities at the party and it was a pretty high-energy crowd. Former NFL player Ricky Waters was one of the live singers on the night, and of course there was the bikini contest. Following the party we all had to head home to avoid getting stranded in downtown Jacksonville.
The next morning I woke up early and decided to pack my bags and head out of Jacksonville instead of going to the game. Though the trip had been a huge success for Bodog commercially, I had had enough of the logistical problems. I left the rest of Team Bodog to finish up the promotions we had going, including driving around in the Bodog Hummer and working the crowds at The Landing by handing out free 2005 Bodog Girl Calendars and free wager cards.
Bodog has earned a reputation for putting on world-class events; we have a huge conference we put on every year in Las Vegas (bodogconference.com) so I know the difference between a city designed for big events and one that is not. I don't hold anything against Jacksonville; they did a great job with what they had to work with and they have no control over the weather, but next year I will be glad to see the game being held in a bigger city. Bodog plans on being at next year's Super Bowl in an even bigger way. (I know that it can be pretty darn cold in Detroit come February, so I will be sure to bring plenty of warm clothes.)