NFL superstars and witty TV commercials will captivate the entire country on Super Bowl Sunday, but 15 UT students will be more focused on their task at hand: actually working the biggest game of the year.
The team of undergraduate and graduate students will join three faculty members in New Orleans as they work directly with M Group Scenic Studios, the Super Bowl event planner.
The program was founded by Fritz Polite, a clinical professor of sports management and the founder of the Institute for Leadership, Ethics and Diversity. After working for the NFL as a consultant, he was asked to support Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville in 2005.
"While I was there I met someone and asked if it was possible to bring my students. They said sure, so I brought six students to Jacksonville, developing a relationship with several senior administrators there," Fritz said.
After moving to Knoxville, Fritz instituted TEAM UT, hoping to provide more students with the opportunity to work the Super Bowl. The group grew from six students working the parking lots to a group of almost 20 working inside the stadium.
"Because of my relationships I've built over the years, we've been able to get closer and closer to the action," Fritz said. "Now we're an integral part of the game day operations."
Applicants must prepare a resume, business card and 15 year plan detailing the benefits that attending the Super Bowl will have on their professional development. A rigorous interview, led by former TEAM UT members who now work in professional sports organizations, helps narrow the field.Once accepted, the real work begins.
"Students are responsible for all aspects of the trips. They had to book vans, they had to raise the money, they had to create sponsorship packages and present those sponsorships to different organizations," Fritz said.
Taylor Hathorn, junior in journalism and electronic media, said the preparations for the game were demanding.
"I'm not gonna lie, it was a lot of hard work," Hathorn said. "Raising this money ... it was really, really difficult. We had to do a fundraiser, and prior to the fundraiser we had to sell tickets to the fundraiser, then we had to get people to the fundraiser, then we had to get auction items for the fundraiser, and then set up free food, get T-shirts ... We basically ran our own corporation for the last six months. It was exhausting."
Kristen Petway, senior in recreation and sports management, is a co-director for this year's trip. She equated preparing for the Super Bowl to a full-time job.
"We met about an hour and a half each week, and aside from that there's continuous e-mails and phone calls. I would honestly say I put in at least 20 hours a week working on the Super Bowl, preparing and making sure everything is in line," she said. "This is the biggest group we've ever had so far, and communication is crazy with this amount of people. You have to be in touch on a daily basis."
Much of the coordination revolves around fundraising. TEAM UT hosted a golf tournament that raised $3,000 and an auction that raised another $6,000. They also relied on corporate sponsorships. Magnetrol/Orion, a company that specializes in magnetic level indicators, donated $10,000. All totaled, TEAM UT raised almost $20,000.
All the planning is difficult for the students, but Hathorn also said it's what sets this trip apart.
"It's satisfying. A lot of the trips at UT, if you can't put forth $2400, you can't go. But for this one, if you work your butt off, you're going to be able to go," she said.
During their time in New Orleans, the team will work with Habitat for Humanity on a build project. As the game draws nearer, however, they will begin the work they have been preparing for all year.
"We really don't get a chance to watch very much of the game. Students are normally pretty shocked by that," Fritz said. "We're not there to watch; we're there to work."
TEAM UT will work presidential boxes assigned to various corporations. Much like UT's Student Alumni Associates, the students will interact with various businessmen and represent both UT and M Group Studios. They will also help run the commissioner's tailgate party, the owner's party and The NFL Experience, an interactive fan event on the field.
"Unfortunately, working with sports you can't really watch the game and enjoy it. But you do get to enjoy the behind the scenes process and working the actual event," Petway said.
And although countless celebrities will be milling around the stadium suites, Hathorn is more excited for the chance to network with top executives.
"You may not meet J-Lo, but you get to meet these people that make a big impact on society," she said.