Welcome to #BizUnited, a new series highlighting innovative partnerships between large corporations and small businesses across America. Check back periodically for new installments.
Putting on the Super Bowl isn’t all fun and games.
Just ask the city of Minneapolis and the NFL, who have been planning for three years behind the scenes for the NFL’s annual spectacle. And with good reason. The Super Bowl, and the ten days of festivities proceeding it is expected to bring more than a million visitors to town. And with them come $340 million to the regional economy, according to Minnesota’s Host Committee.
And although the game isn’t until this Sunday, the extravaganza is well underway. With concerts and parties to throw comes billboards, multiple performance stages, a zip-line across the Mississippi River, 10,000 colorful Super Bowl themes boxes backed and stacked with gift gear, tons of food, and a lot more. Don’t forget, there’s the setup and the cleanup that is all designed to look effortless. In short, there is a lot of work to do.
That’s one reason the NFL is leaning on the local entrepreneurs to help pull it off. And through their NFL Business Connect Program, they are also working on leaving a positive economic footprint on the city long after they leave.
The program serves as a conduit for qualified, diverse and underutilized businesses to compete for contracting opportunities that will be generated by Super Bowl LII. The league is working with as many as 400 small businesses this year, putting them through pitch competitions, business development classes and other networking and educational events.
And it’s not just for show. If larger contractors want to work with the NFL on the event, they are required to work with small businesses in the program. Roughly a third of those businesses will receive contracts to work on the Super Bowl festivities. But all participants will receive valuable coaching, training, and relationships that will pay dividends long after the NFL packs up.
Free Enterprise spoke to B.J. Waymer, the head of the NFL Business Connect program, who in the midst of preparations for the big game took time to speak with us about why the NFL cares about small and diverse businesses.
When it comes to a big event like the Super Bowl, small and diverse businesses may not be the first thing that comes to mind for most people. Why are they important for the NFL?
Who knows these cities like the people and businesses that live and work there? For some, the term “small business” has a stigma to it that prevents vendors from hiring them, and we think that’s garbage. For us, it doesn’t matter if you have two employees or 200 employees, or what your background is, if you work within the scope of our business lines we want the opportunity to talk, learn and work with you.
There is so much that an event like the Super Bowl needs, and it helps us and our contractors to be able to find talent from a diverse pool. It’s the right thing to do. But it also connects businesses in a way that has a long-lasting impact even after the Super Bowl is gone. We can’t put this on without good partners working alongside us, and we want to leave a positive imprint when we are gone. It’s a win-win.
Why is it important to connect businesses together?
You need a lot of people working together to put on something like the Super Bowl. You wouldn’t believe how much goes into an event like this. The NFL has as many as 450 programs taking place this week, and every event has to be up to our standards, with great attention to detail. There are flowers that have to be delivered to meeting and parties, a bike rack around the perimeter of the stadium. There’s the need to build stages for the halftime show, all the catering and the pipe and drapes, and a million more things. All of those event production services are essential to putting on a great show. It’s a lot of work.
Why is the training and networking aspect so important?
An event like the Super Bowl doesn’t come along every day. But when it does, businesses—especially small ones—have to be ready. You may be the best widget maker in the world, but if you don’t know how to sell that product to the contractor you could miss out on that opportunity. We hold workshops on enhancing small business websites, writing capability statements.
We have pitch days where businesses have to pitch us and we give them feedback. There are networking events, where we work with host committees to connect the largest and smallest companies in that region. It’s great business for them, and it builds a strong network of businesses that we and our partners can go to in the future. We want to help train them to be able to be ready for the next big event that comes to their town.
What type of companies are you working with?
Anything you need at a huge event, there are small and diverse businesses who can deliver just as well as anyone else. We have worked with small businesses who make the best cupcakes, deliver the best flowers. We’ve worked with companies who have to deliver miles of carpeting for the stadium and the surrounding events. Whatever you can think of there are local and diverse businesses that are in those businesses.
How do you see the program growing from here?
We’ve made a commitment to communities when we bring the Super Bowl in that we will have an economic impact in that city. The one thing we are in control of is our event production.
Every year we add something. We go into a market and the lightbulbs come on. It’s a value to our vendors, it’s a value too small businesses and it helps the NFL put out a better product while having a positive impact.
Our goal is to create tremendous opportunity. Whether you get a contract or not, we hope the businesses benefit in a way that will help them build a strong business to be more competitive for the next opportunity that comes their way.