Boardroom goes behind the scenes of one of Super Bowl LVII week’s most in-demand events to get acquainted with Uninterrupted’s first-ever live, fan-attended engagement built around The Shop.
Since 2018, Uninterrupted’s The Shop has hosted living legends in barbershop spaces as they discuss a wide variety of topics over the course of an hour, first on HBO and now exclusively on YouTube. Guests like Barack Obama, Stacey Abrams, Jay-Z, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Brady, Naomi Osaka, Megan Rapinoe, and Lisa Leslie have all sat in its signature chairs for conversations over the course of the show’s 25 episodes to date.
Within those rooms, however, there has never been a live audience on hand to take it all in — that changed on Saturday, Feb. 11 in Phoenix, Arizona the day before Super Bowl LVII.
Uninterrupted held their first-ever live event for The Shop that was open to the public at Phoenix venue Croft Downtown. With limited capacity, RSVPs for the event were first come, first serve, and as I arrive at the location, the spot is already buzzing. A line of enthusiasts stretches about 90 feet from the entrance, nearly reaching the street, and the scene is so packed that you can barely see the front door. What can be seen — and smelled, it must be said — is a Randizzle’s Food Truck serving gourmet burgers and tacos.
Even when attendees do enter The Shop, Randizzle’s is never without a line. As I overhear one customer say, “This burger is smacking. I gotta slow down before this shit send me into a food coma.”
Don’t worry, the buzzing spirit of the room would surely wake this guy up.
Upon entering, the venue offers one of the most interactive experiences of Super Bowl weekend. On my immediate right is a photo booth in which spectators can sit in one of The Shop’s barber chairs to take pictures; the snapshots are sent to attendees within minutes of getting up from their seats. In front of the booth are Xbox One and PlayStation 5 console stations inviting gamers to play a few rounds of EA Sports’ Madden.
I witness a kid slaughtering an older fellow on the sticks to the tune of a 42-14 score. It’s not even halftime.
Rows of chairs are centered toward the front of the room for visitors awaiting a panel featuring four NFL playmakers of past and present: Julian Edelman, Jerry Jeudy, LeGarrette Blount, and Vernon Davis. The wall in front of those seats displays a video playing from a projector showcasing highlights from previous episodes of The Shop. Behind those chairs is a mini barbershop featuring celebrity barbers Brownie Blendz, Nick Castellanos, and Vince Garcia, along with local Phoenix barbers.
Attendees are able to get a line-up/edge-up for free if they so choose. On the far-left side of the room is a merchandise stand selling The Shop-themed apparel, marking the first time Uninterrupted has sold The Shop merch at a physical location.
About an hour into the event, it is time for the panel discussion, A Conversation with Football Champions. (I won’t quote anything that the panelists said verbatim during the chat itself; that defeats the purpose of “Rooms You Can’t Get Into” as a concept, doesn’t it?)
Fans witness Vernon Davis, a longtime San Francisco 49er won a Super Bowl in 2015 with the Denver Broncos. LeGarrette Blount, who played for seven different NFL teams in nine seasons won three Super Bowls (two with the Patriots, one with the Eagles). Current Denver Broncos wideout Jerry Jeudy won a national championship at Alabama in 2017. Former New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman is a three-time Super Bowl champion, as well as the MVP of Super Bowl LIII.
Boardroom spoke with Jerry Jeudy about why he decided to participate.
“Being a champion, you have to be dedicated, motivated, and hungry, because that’s the only thing you can do to be a champion,” he says. “I first saw The Shop when it was on HBO. In terms of me wanting to be on there, it slowly developed through time because I’m not a big-talking guy, but it’s a cool thing to do because athletes have a platform where they can speak their truth, so that’s amazing. Plus, it’s LeBron’s thing and I’m a big fan of his, so why not?”
The champs engage in a fun conversation that has them breathing life into the audience and sharing a few laughs at the same time.
The Back Room
At the back corner of the room is a small doorway guarded by a couple of security guards. Behind those doors is a VIP lounge in which the night’s talent and other attendees lucky enough to make the list can chill. A bar serves LeBron James’ tequila, Lobos 1707, as well as Grey Goose, a presenting sponsor of The Shop. Floating around the room is Jimmy Spencer, the General Manager of Uninterrupted.
“We haven’t done much in terms of consumer-facing stuff; everything we’ve done has been mostly behind the production curtain and so we’re trying to build The Shop, we are trying to continue to grow and we want the consumers to see it,” he tells Boardroom. “For a long time, The Shop was just a television show but it was also the most known thing people knew from Uninterrupted. So when we looked at the Super Bowl and tried to find opportunities there and we figured out how to bring this thing to a physical spot and made it successful for everybody, I’m loving walking around.”
What is a bit strange is that Uninterrupted did not charge attendees a dime to get in the door (which also has us running the risk of confusing the “Rooms You Can’t Get Into” tagline, but bear with us). One could view this as a missed opportunity, but Spencer views the event as an investment in the brand.
“Anyone could go pay for a haircut or pay to watch The Shop, but we want it to be open to what we feel like is our audience. The charge would be counterproductive to what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to open our doors to everybody, and charging for the experience will limit the number of people who can do it,” he says.
The audience notably features a wide range of ages and walks of life. In one moment, the barbers on hand trimmed the hair of Black, white, AAPI, and Latino children. In another, it’s a middle-aged Black woman with shorter hair or a college student with a mullet getting a fresh cut. That’s no accident, as the theme of inclusivity is why Uninterrupted is on the verge of an international expansion. The idea of the neighborhood barbershop and the cultural value it represents is not unique to the US — these places exist all around the world, and Uninterrupted wants to amplify this as much as possible.
“It’s a really good sign to see people line up outside. We can actually see who our audience is for the first time. We’ve seen The Shop go from HBO to YouTube and have a sponsorship with Grey Goose and even on Thursday Night Football. We’re seeing how many different ways the Shop can be utilized as a revenue driver. From apparel to live events in the future, there’s a world where The Shop tours around the country and now they become ticketed events. This is a nice little first run at that,” Spencer says.
Shortly after we finish our conversation, Julian Edelman begins a game of ping pong. He plays three different attendees, and although his opponents win sets, he is victorious in each match. He even talks some junk when he beats his last opponent: “Anybody else?”
No one rises to the challenge.
Throughout the five-hour event, familiar faces like Maverick Carter, Rich Paul, Paul Rivera, Victor Cruz, and VicBlends also stop by, causing countless fans to turn their heads and ask for pictures. Each welcomes these requests with a smile.
There are a couple of details here that may go unnoticed by most. The kids running around the venue technically aren’t RSVP’d attendees per se; Uninterrupted collaborated with the NFL Players Association to bring 20 children who are excelling academically to the event. The children were the first people let in the doors. Their heads served as warm-ups for the barbers who would eventually have a busy day, and outside of the shape-ups, they also were the first to get their shoes polished, eat something tasty, and play a game or two.
NFLPA Senior Communications Manager Brandon Parker explains to Boardroom how this came to be:
“As we were planning our first NFLPA Community Day and they were planning their pop-up Shop activation, it made sense to bring our two events together,” he says. “At some point in our lives, we all hear someone tell us to do your best in school and never give up, but when it comes directly from a professional athlete, those words hit a little different. Based on the wide smiles, many hugs, and excitement from the students and players alike, it’s safe to say we planted the right seeds and accomplished what we set out to do as a team.”
It isn’t just the kids, though — Randy Gatewood’s smile might be wider than theirs.
Gatewood is a former college football player at UNLV and an ex-indoor football player for the Arizona Rattlers. These days, he’s fully focused on Randizzle’s. “Teaming with Uninterrupted was a dream come true,” he says. “There were so many people who had never experienced Randizzle’s, [so] I’m sure we will see benefits from teaming with them.”
The opportunity to join forces today in Phoenix came to Gateweood through Game Seven, the agency Uninterrupted worked with to put the event together.
“After we closed the deal and they told me who the client was, I was overjoyed. The overall reception has been nothing short of amazing,” he says. “So many people walked up to me to tell me that was one of the best burgers they had ever had. They also told me how I needed to open up spots in [several cities]. To see the smile It’s one of the greatest feelings. To see the smile or the expression after they take a bite is one of the greatest feelings.”
In some ways, The Shop’s first live event was as experimental as it was intentional. It was the first time they hosted a conversation like this, the first time they sold merchandise at a physical location, and their first-ever consumer-facing event. At the same time, the focus on celebrating kids, helping them have a great time, and assembling a broader audience that’s as diverse as it can be is written into the genes of Uninterrupted.
As Jimmy Spencer adds to put a bow on things:
“The goal of Uninterrupted is to have athletes call us and tell us what they want to do, and this event is helping us push that forward. This is just the beginning.”
(This story has been corrected to show that attendees were able to get a haircut for free instead of paying.)
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