With COVID-19 changing the way nearly everything in the world of football is done, NFL officials are intent on keeping the Super Bowl on schedule.
In discussing plans with Tampa officials and media Tuesday, NFL executive vice president Peter O’Reilly said the Feb. 7 Super Bowl 55 was still on track.
“We’re very confident in our protocols and are very focused on a Super Bowl and a season that ends on Feb. 7 and starts and ends as scheduled,” O’Reilly said, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “[We’re] laser focused on Feb. 7.”
O’Reilly acknowledged that making plans during a pandemic required the league to be “flexible and adaptable,” and there are changes to reflect a new environment.
One of those will be the Super Bowl 55 Experience, which will cover 2.7 miles of the Tampa Riverwalk at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, making it the first all-outdoor venue for the free fan event. The event is usually held in a convention center or some large indoor venue.
“That’s really where the heart of this NFL theme park comes to life,” O’Reilly said. “Where fans can meet players and legends, Hall of Famers, get autographs, get their picture taken with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the trophy that all 32 clubs are looking to hoist in Tampa come Super Bowl 55 and immerse themselves in so many different activities . . . such a beautiful park.”
This will be Tampa’s fifth Super Bowl, after hosting in 1984, 1991, 2001, and 2009.
“Whether it was in 1991 during the Gulf War or 2009 during the recession, our community steps up when it needs to step up most,” host committee chairman Rob Higgins said. “And there’s no doubt, the last few months have been really challenging and our partnership with the NFL has never been stronger and we’re ready for the challenge ahead.
“If there needs to be adjustments, we’ll be ready to make them. At this point in time, there haven’t been any adjustments. We just continue to plan. And through our great partnership with the NFL, we’ll continue to stay joined at the hip with them and be ready to be as nimble as we need to be.”
While it’s hard to imagine anything being close to “normal’ at an event this year, having an outdoor space to host large events such as the Experience can only help.