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NFL shows a little bling to corporate sponsors at Super Bowl amid sting of economy

TAMPA — It didn't seem like a recession among the corporate high-flyers at the big game Sunday.

The club level at Raymond James Stadium had some tempting offerings at precrash prices. The pork-loin sandwiches sold for $15, the pina colada cake and red velvet cake for $8. Shrimp cocktails could be had for $25.

Bars carved from ice served $12 glasses of lemondrop, mango or grapefruit martinis and $15 margaritas.

John Legend and Journey performed at a private pregame party thrown by the NFL. Actors such as Jimmy Fallon and Michelle Rodriguez mingled with guests.

"This has been a fantastic party," said Neal Sroka, president of a real estate and sports marketing firm in New York. "An unbelievable showing."

Sroka said he has been to 14 Super Bowls, and this was one of the better ones. He said the only thing that suggested a bad economy was the mood at some of the events he attended.

"It's a little lower key than previous years," Sroka said. "It's been more laid-back, and the parties have been less over the top. I think that's a good thing."

Raves like that one are what the NFL wants to hear. League spokesman Brian McCarthy said it spent about $40 million this week on festivities, much of it on sponsor relations. McCarthy said that despite the economy, no sponsor canceled.

The corporate suites were filled with a "who's who" of corporate America. AT&T, Motorola, NBC and Pepsi. Even some executives from institutions that have received billions in corporate bailout money watched the game from suites. Capital One, Wachovia and Bank of America had suites with all the trimmings.

A bank executive for Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank, which received $6.5 billion in bailout money, said the company was here on business, not necessarily pleasure.

"For us, being here, it's more than being at a game," Joe Knisely said. "It's about being with our client, the NFL."

And on Sunday, at least, bad times weren't part of the game plan for the NFL.

"What would it tell our sponsors if we didn't treat them well right now," McCarthy said at the pregame party, which he said was attended by 10,000.

For some, the first-class treatment was odd coming after what they've witnessed with a shriveling economy.

"This is surreal," said Jeff Massuda, a warehouse manager from Mount Laurel, N.J. "I'm seeing people getting laid off all the time. And then you come here, and it's so nice. It's not like home."

Even the NFL acknowledges its sponsors are in for a tough road ahead. General Motors brought a smaller contingent, McCarthy said. And many of the sponsors who attended did so because of long-standing contract obligations. During his news conference Friday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league wasn't "immune to what's going on out in the economy."

Indeed, on Tuesday, the league plans to lay off 150 people.

NFL shows a little bling to corporate sponsors at Super Bowl amid sting of economy 02/01/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 1, 2009 11:37pm]
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