While some stars may pop up in stadium suites, the pandemic curtails most in-person events.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs square off at Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7, there’ll be no shortage of stars on the field thanks to A-list QBs Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes and an entertainment lineup that includes halftime performer The Weeknd, national anthem duet team Jazmine Sullivan and Eric Church, poet Amanda Gorman and Miley Cyrus, who’s headlining the NFL TikTok Tailgate event. Beyond the sidelines? Not so much.
Super Bowl LV is shaping up to be a modest celebration due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has effectively crushed the normal swirl of events surrounding the big game. That means the jet-set crowd of influencers, movie stars, athletes and musicians that typically make the trek for Super Bowl weekend — no matter what city is playing host — is largely taking a pass, too. Some insiders say that they are already looking ahead to Los Angeles hosting the Super Bowl in 2022 when the virus is (hopefully) in the rearview mirror.
The NFL and the Super Bowl Host Committee are still hosting a number of events in Tampa (some virtual) — such as an interactive fan park known as the Super Bowl Experience and a Road to Gameday Restaurant Week — but the lineup has been considerably scaled back. “We’ve had to withhold a number of events that we would normally do. Those events that are being held [are being held] outside in a distanced fashion as we want to keep everyone as safe as possible,” said NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills.
Only about 22,000 seats inside the stadium will be filled (capacity is normally up to 75,000), with 7,500 of those reserved for vaccinated health care workers. Masks are required for all events, and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has issued an order that makes face coverings mandatory while outdoors. And while in years past it was commonplace to see staff from Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and Extra working the sidelines alongside peers from CBS and ESPN, THR has learned that all three entertainment shows will be covering the game remotely.
So, what’s missing? In a typical year, there would be dozens of celebrity-packed events, concerts, nightclub takeovers and lounges in addition to all the official NFL-sanctioned events. In a party guide compiled by THR for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, there were upward of 40 gatherings including events hosted by Paramount Pictures, an Endeavor Lounge, magazine bashes thrown by Rolling Stone, Maxim, Sports Illustrated and GQ, and fetes by Pepsi, Fanatics, Barstool Sports and others. Among the high-profile events has always been AT&T’s — or previously, DirecTV’s — Super Saturday Night concert that in years past has featured Beyoncé, Jay Z, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift and Foo Fighters, among others.
David Spencer, co-CEO of Talent Resources Sports, knows the scene well as his company always has a strong presence at major cultural events like the Super Bowl. He says his team scouted locations in Tampa early last year. However, as the pandemic raged on, they suggested their partners err on the side of caution.
“We’ve advised our brands to make a digital pivot and plan for Los Angeles. We are focusing 100 percent on that being the first big major event coming out of COVID, one that is safe for brands to participate in and guests to attend,” explains Spencer, adding that they have secured the Sheats-Goldstein residence and are in negotiations with three Sunset Strip hotels for takeovers. “I would never want to put Bob Kraft, Elon Musk or Steve Tisch in a situation where they are going to be exposed. We’re not in the business of hosting a super-spreader event.”
The Centers for Disease Control issued guidance last week for how to take in the Super Bowl, suggesting that “gathering virtually or with the people you live with is the safest way” to celebrate. For small gatherings with those outside the household, the CDC recommends outdoor spaces that can accommodate social distancing. Dr. Anthony Fauci backed up the CDC guidelines days later, saying, “The one thing you don’t want to do, … you don’t want parties with people that you haven’t had much contact with.”
Tampa will be far from empty, however. Thousands are expected to be making the trip south for the weekend, including Shaquille O’Neal. The basketball great is mounting a live-stream event, Mercari Presents The Shaq Bowl, featuring two teams of stars competing in everything from dodgeball and an obstacle course to a hot wing-eating challenge. Participants include Olivia Culpo, Anthony Anderson, Diplo, Quavo, Offset, Tim Tebow and Winnie Harlow.
THR has also learned that E11EVEN Miami has teamed up with Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports and Pied Piper Productions to throw two parties. Presented by E11EVEN Vodka, the E11EVEN x Barstool Sports pop-up parties will take place Friday and Saturday at WTR at The Godfrey Hotel. Steve Aoki, Tyga, Diplo and special guest 50 Cent are expected.
Meanwhile, Rebel Wilson posted on Instagram Tuesday that she’s heading to the Super Bowl but it’s unclear if she’s going to the big game or any of the surrounding events. It is likely that some of the Chiefs’ many celebrity supporters also could pop up in a luxury suite not far from Brady’s wife, Gisele Bündchen, who will be on hand to support her husband’s 10th Super Bowl appearance.
Among the many Hollywood fans of the K.C. team (who include Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Eric Stonestreet and Melissa Etheridge), three tell THR that they’re happy to cheer on the red-and-gold from home. Saturday Night Live‘s Heidi Gardner, a Kansas City native, says: “If I could go there and scream my guts out for them, I would do it, [but] it doesn’t make sense. I want to stay safe and respectful.”
Rob Riggle, who hails from Kansas City suburb Overland Park, says as much as he’d love to be in Tampa, the complications with the virus and ticket availability convinced him to stay home: “Whether they play it with an overflow of fans and a weeklong series of fanfare, at the end of the day, it comes down to what happens on the field.”
Good Times star John Amos is more than a lifelong Chiefs fan — he was on the team. During the 1960s, Amos joined as a free agent under Hank Stram, “one of the greatest coaches who ever lived,” he says. Though his tenure on the team was short, Amos named his son KC. “It was a dream come true,” he says of wearing the uniform.
Amos is going to watch from home in Colorado with a few pals: “I encourage all those who do go to the game or intend to see it in a large gathering: Wear your mask, wash your hands, enjoy yourself, but have a good sense about it. It’s not worth endangering your health. There’ll be other games and there’ll be other Chiefs championships too, I guarantee you that.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.