Boardroom goes behind the scenes of one of Super Bowl LVII week’s most exclusive events to get acquainted with Excel Sports Management’s luxury party in Scottsdale.
Excel Sports Management’s Super Bowl Party takes you about 20 minutes away from Phoenix’s downtown Super Bowl festivities to Scottsdale — going back and forth between downtown Phoenix and Scottsdale is a normal thing throughout Super Bowl week. The event location is the Cottontail Lounge, a saloon within the luxury W Scottsdale Hotel.
When I pulled up to the event, it was the first time I felt like I was somewhere I wasn’t necessarily supposed to be. But it wasn’t because I was not accepted or because of what anyone said or what anyone did — it was the sight of cars being valet parked. Ferrari F8 Spider, BMW i8, Lamborghini Aventador, and a couple of other very expensive cars are all around the entrance.
As you walk in, you check in at the front desk and receive a wristband that grants you permission to enter. The music can be heard blasting not even halfway up the spiral staircase leading to the event.
Once up the steps to see where the music is coming from, the initial vibe of the party was … bizarre. A DJ is playing hits from all genres and mixing them together with dubstep made for a cool night, certainly, but in a club setting, this party could easily warm up the room and turn into a rave.
But in reality, there isn’t much dancing. Some people are swaying to the music as they have conversations and there are others either standing or sitting down. A common theme, however, is that most have a drink in their hand, accompanied by catered food.
The mix between the feel of a party and the look of a networking mixer is by design.
“Our events are much more tailored toward networking and conversations. While a DJ or performer might be important, it is very much the afterthought in the background as opposed to the shining star,” said Tracy Ogrean, Vice President of Hospitality at Excel in a phone interview.
But it isn’t just the Super Bowl that is bringing people to the agency. During the same weekend in the area, there’s the Waste Management Phoenix Open along with MLB Spring Training.
“This gives us another opportunity to celebrate multiple segments of the agency and that’s really what I’m most excited about. As opposed to a Super Bowl party, just being focused on sales and our properties divisions. The impact we have we will have across the agency is so great,” Ogrean said.
The space is filled with important deal-makers across the sports business. There is a multitude of agents, brands, and non-profit organizations, all of which are hopeful to be involved in sports.
“This is a relationship-oriented business and having the opportunity to get in front of people is really key to everything that we do,” Emilio Collins, partner and Chief Business Officer at Excel Sports Management told Boardroom.
Both Collins and Ogrean are all business when we speak on the phone. They don’t view the gathering as a party as much as they see it as an opportunity to further Excel’s mission. Other agencies attempt to do similar functions in different settings, but each has its own identity. You never know who you could make eye contact with as you gaze across the room.
In this instance, Trevor Lawrence and Joe Montana are two Excel clients that are at the night’s event. Athletes of their stature normally have an entourage around them as they make their way through the room, but on this night, that isn’t the case. Occasional pictures are welcomed and after, people proceed to mingle among themselves.
“There’s a natural respect at big events like this. You sort of expect you’re going to run into a wide variety of personalities and celebrities. There’s some degree of sophistication of a fanbase and the customers in attendance to be able to be present with a certain degree of respect,” Collins said.
From the time I arrived to the time the event ended, there was never a point in time where the space was not filled. In fact, as the conclusion approached and bartenders stopped serving beverages, I overheard multiple members distraught about it ending before they would have liked. The eagerness for it to continue will undoubtedly bring attendees back in the future.
Building Blocks for 2024
Excel has hosted these gatherings at a number of different locations based on various events. The first Super Bowl gathering happened in 2020 in Miami, with its sequels happening in 2022 in Los Angeles and this year in Phoenix.
In 2024, Excel, the NFL, the league’s fans, and all other attendees will travel to Sin City. The venture will mark a trip into uncharted territory for all parties involved. The city of Las Vegas has hosted big events such as multiple UFC fights, Day N Vegas, and even the NFL’s Pro Bowl Games, but nothing of the magnitude of the Super Bowl.
“Regardless of what happens there, Vegas is crazy. And with the Super Bowl being there the access, the availability and the pricing will all be through the roof. So I think it’s really about getting ahead of that and over-communicating with clients about expectations on what the experience will be as well as what it is going to cost you. Locking down transportation, hotels, venue for our parties has started now, all of those wheels are in motion,” said Ogrean.
Despite the success of the 2023 Super Bowl gathering, there is still room for improvement. At the event in Scottsdale, the crowd was not as diverse as the other events I attended throughout the week.
Excel told Boardroom it sent out over 1,500 invites and had 900 people RSVP with 600 of those people actually attending. During the same time period as Excel’s shindig, the NFL Honors award show was taking place in downtown Phoenix. I left the award show to head to the Excel party, but NFL Honors’ media check-in begins before Excel’s party and extends two hours after Excel’s ball begins. Media members and business representatives could have clients that are attending, causing them to have to pass.
The lack of diversity within the party doesn’t mean Excel Sports moves without the intention to bring people from all walks of life into the sports business world. The organization has a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee that is comprised of people who work to improve the organization’s policies, programs, and initiatives.
One of the things the group put in place is a fellowship that gives an individual from an underrepresented group the chance to learn Excel. The full-time, paid position is a one-year experience with the person completing three rotations on different teams. And in addition to the position, the agency also has a speaker series focused on bringing in orators to speak about DEI.
But as it relates to future gatherings, Excel’s 2023 Super Bowl party was its largest event yet. The agency has plans to host more bashes similar to this one in months to come at other events.
“We pride ourselves on being one step ahead and we’ll continue to prove that we are one of the best in the business at what we do,” Ogrean said.
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