ESPN Party: A night for them, a day for you

What it is: ESPN the Magazine's Next Big Weekend 2009, a two-day party constructed around a 22,000-square-foot quad-saddle tent in the middle of downtown Tampa. On Friday night, it's the ESPN the Magazine Next VIP Gala, featuring some of the biggest stars in sports and entertainment. On Saturday, the Worldwide Leader brings the party to the fans with the ESPN the Magazine Next Day Tailgate. This is ESPN's fifth year hosting a Super Bowl party, and this year it'll be one of the biggest of the weekend. They've been scouting locations since last March — and on Monday, they'll head to Miami to start scouting locations for next year's game.

When and where: The Friday party starts at 9 p.m.; the Saturday tailgate is noon to 5 p.m. Both events will take place at 202 S Morgan St., at the corner of Morgan and Bell streets.

Who will be there (on Friday): More than 200 athletes and dozens of entertainers are expected to attend. A partial list: Lindsay Lohan, Jimmy Fallon, Alyssa Milano, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Slater, Jordin Sparks, Cuba Gooding Jr., Maria Menounos, Joel and Benji Madden, Howie Dorough, John Cena, Ian Ziering and a host of athletes, including Terrell Owens, Warren Sapp, Ryan Sheckler, Justin Tuck, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Gates, Dwight Freeney, Travis Pastrana, Clinton Portis, Jerry Rice and many more. Wyclef Jean is the headlining performer; Samantha Ronson will DJ, as will ESPN analyst Marcellus Wiley. And ESPN blogger (and occasional rapper) Lil Wayne, right, will interview celebs on the red carpet.

Who will be there (on Saturday): Sean Kingston, American Idol's Michael Johns, Tampa reggae-rockers Impulse and the USF marching band will perform, but there will be a ton of attractions and guests, including: pro beach volleyball exhibition matches; Red Bull skydivers; Tony Stewart's Old Spice NASCAR racer; appearances by drivers like John Force, Scott Sharp and David Brabham; golf swing and NASCAR simulators; food from Skipper's Smokehouse; and a celebrity cookoff between the Jaguars' Reggie Williams and the Saints' Bobby McCray. Get more information at espn.com/next.

Can you get in? On Saturday, yes. The event is free, family-friendly and open to the public. Just take traffic and parking into consideration. But the VIP gala is invite-only — and it's a tricky ticket even if you're an athlete. ESPN is trying to cap the guest list at 1,400, but as other parties this year have been canceled, demand for access to the ESPN party has gotten even more intense. "Up until the night of, we're all kind of pulling our hair out dealing with invites," said Blandine JnPaul-Reid, ESPN's director of magazine and event marketing. "Our motto is, we don't turn away athletes — or we try not to. We go through struggles every year with the entourages; one guy RSVP'd for 75 people. It's a consistent process of management, because we obviously want them all, and they all want to be there."

What else? Wait a second — Lil Wayne isn't performing, but blogging? Apparently so. He'll have a tent where he'll be pulling celebrities from the red carpet and interviewing them on camera. "He's definitely going to be fully engaged in becoming a reporter," JnPaul-Reid said. "We've never had a celebrity or musician or athlete completely take over our red carpet, so this is a first for us." — Jay Cridlin cridlin@tampabay.com

ESPN Party: A night for them, a day for you 01/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 7:36pm]

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