LA-Based Super Bowl Brings Star Power, Bolstering Big Game With Big Extracurricular Events

Jason Koerner / Getty Images
– Superballin
DJ Diesel – better known as NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal – plays at the 2020 installment of Shaq’s Fun House at Miami’s Mana Wynwood Convention Center, Jan. 31, 2020.

Every year, the Super Bowl delivers a (hopefully) classic football game to tens of millions of fans, and an eye-popping halftime show and plenty of head-turning television ads for viewers who’re ambivalent about sports. 

But, for the locals who reside in Super Bowl host cities and the lucky masses who make the pilgrimage for the big game, the event extends far beyond a few football-centric hours on a mid-winter Sunday evening.

“What other event can you be riding a Ferris wheel eating Roscoe’s (chicken and waffles) while Lil Wayne is performing?” said Joe Silberzweig, co-founder of live event company Medium Rare and a former executive at Live Nation and Insomniac Events.

That very scenario will be possible at this year’s edition of Shaq’s Fun House, the spare-no-expense Super Bowl party hosted by NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, which debuted in Atlanta in 2019 and will touch down at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium on Feb. 11, two days before Super Bowl LVI takes place at SoFi Stadium in nearby Inglewood.

Like many brands and promoters, Medium Rare has identified and latched onto the seemingly limitless potential of staging events in Super Bowl host cities around the big game. Parties like Shaq’s Fun House offer fans additional activities to round out their weekends, executives in town for the big game a chance to network, and, of course, hefty paydays for anyone ambitious and savvy enough to pull them off.

Shaq’s Fun House is a useful case study, tying together several strands – music, food, activities, and brand partnerships – for an impressively lucrative and beloved event.

This year, Lil Wayne, Zedd, and Diplo, along with O’Neal, under his “DJ Diesel” moniker, will provide music at the event. Los Angeles food institutions including Kazunori, Roscoe’s, Pink’s Hot Dogs, and Diddy Riese will offer their goods, while a carnival midway will feature a Ferris wheel, circus performers, and other rides and games.

“There’s been a lot of these parties and events that have been around a really long time,” said Medium Rare co-founder Adam Richman, who’s also the executive vice president at event producer LiveStyle, by way of its Made Event property. “Those are like your father’s Super Bowl parties. … We wanted to bring some fun to the Super Bowl, where it wasn’t a corporate party, it wasn’t a bunch of middle-aged guys standing around in a sports jacket watching some performer that they don’t even know who it is. We really flipped that on its head.”

Naturally, competition is steep, not just to attract potential customers who have a variety of entertainment options to choose from, but to secure desirable venues often courted by multiple parties.

“We, every year, need to go find a new venue to work with in a new city and a new market – 

that’s not fun,” Richman said. “It’s a lot to pick up and start fresh every single year. We actually started this venue search well over a year ago. … you’ve got to be really ahead of the curve.”

Richman estimates the Medium Rare team looked at 30 Los Angeles venues for the 2022 edition of Shaq’s Fun House and, once it settled on The Shrine, had to fork over 10 to 20 times the fee the venue receives for an event on a typical Friday night.

The consummate salesman, O’Neal, who bills himself as both the CFO (chief fun officer) and the Emperor of L.A., proved instrumental, especially given the reverence he enjoys among Angelenos thanks to his championship-winning tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Shaq had to give a little song and dance and say how great this event was, even with us paying that much more, because there’s such competition for these venues,” Richman said.

Paying such a premium wouldn’t make sense without a substantial return on investment. “Shaq likes to say, ‘Leave your wallet at home, because anything you want is free at the Fun House,’” said Silberzweig, but getting in the door costs a pretty penny. All-inclusive tickets to Shaq’s Fun House, which encompass a six-hour open bar, unlimited food, and carnival rides and games, began this year at $249.99 (at press time, sales were on the third of five tiers, going for $349.99), and VIP tickets started at $1,099.99.

The wildest part? Ticket sales are just “the cherry on top,” according to Richman, for Shaq’s Fun House, which is presented by cryptocurrency exchange platform FTX and features partnerships with ZipRecruiter, Pepsi, Bud Light, Maker’s Mark, TickPick and WynnBET, among others.

“Shaq’s Fun House is actually profitable before it sells one ticket – that’s unheard of in the typical live event/festival format,” Richman said. “Here we are doing Shaq’s Fun House, a really unbelievable, expensive event to produce, and it’s all underwritten by the partners, which is just insane from a live event business perspective.”

“Per head, in terms of our sponsorship figure, it’s pretty incredible what we’re able to do with an event that’s only 3,000 to 5,000 people; it’s able to generate a few million bucks in sponsorship,” Silberzweig concurred.

In a sense, Super Bowl events operate in another dimension, where the typical laws of gravity that govern live don’t apply. That presents unique challenges, like securing coveted venues, appealing to a clientele that includes the musically less-engaged, and cracking a VIP equation that differs from the typical music event, but also offers unprecedented upside.

Super Bowl The Best
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for EA Sports Bowl at Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest
– Super Bowl The Best
DJ Khaled (center), flanked by Migos’ Offset (left) and Quavo (right), performs at Bud Light Super Bowl Music Festival at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena, Jan. 30, 2020.

Less than two miles away from the Shrine, a statue of Shaq adorns the building where he won three championships, newly rechristened Arena. The L.A. venue will host the third iteration of another Super Bowl event that debuted in Atlanta in 2019, the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Festival, a three-night blowout featuring performances by some of music’s biggest names. The 2022 event features Machine Gun Kelly and Halsey (Feb. 10), Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani with Mickey Guyton (Feb. 11) and Green Day and Miley Cyrus (Feb. 12).

“L.A. is a terrific entertainment market in addition to sports market, and it allowed us to create a really strong lineup that has something for everyone,” said Paul Caine, president of On Location Experiences, the premium hospitality company that presents Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest in conjunction with Anheuser-Busch and the NFL.

According to Caine, Bud Light Super Bowl Music Festival, which set venue gross records with its inaugural event at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena  and followed that with another successful year at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena in 2020, worked in tandem with the Arena team to deliver the best possible bill in 2022.

“The leadership there is just super successful for a very long period of time in understanding not only the core market, but also the market that will come in for the larger event, and they’ve been just terrific in helping us program this effectively,” Caine said.

Like Richman and Silberzweig, Caine is already looking to Glendale, Ariz., which will host the Super Bowl in 2023 at State Farm Stadium, west of Phoenix, because Super Bowl week is such a reliable bet for successful events.

“When the Super Bowl is in your market, it’s more than just a day, it’s more than just a night,” he said. “It’s a much longer period of time. Events like Super Bowl Music Fest really build the excitement and capture a lot of the excitement.”

Shaq’s Fun House and Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest are just two events — albeit two of the largest — that will descend on L.A. come February. The NFL itself will stage several, including the Super Bowl Experience Presented by Lowe’s, an interactive football theme park held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and Taste of the NFL, a “strolling food and wine event” with stations from each of the 32 NFL cities, booked for the Petersen Automotive Museum and created to raise awareness to combat hunger and food insecurity.

Meanwhile, MaximBet, the media brand’s new sports betting property, will host “Music at the Market” at the City Market of Los Angeles on Friday and Saturday of Super Bowl week, headlined by The Chainsmokers and Tiësto, respectively. General admission tickets start at $1,000, while VIP tables run as high as $55,000. Other examples abound, from “Babes and Ballers,” hosted by NFL Hall of Famer Terrell Davis and featuring a Lil Jon DJ set, to the United Champions Super Bowl LVI Celebrity Golf Tournament.

“The Super Bowl, it’s almost a national holiday in America,” Richman said. “It’s probably one of the only events that brings so many sectors of entertainment together, where music cares about it, sports cares about it, general entertainment cares about it. … it has this aura around it like, ‘Whoa, you were at Super Bowl weekend.’”