|By Christopher Calnan, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 1, 2005 - Imagine trying to plan for a couple hundred guests, many of whom are 300-pound athletes, with just seven days notice.
That's what two Jacksonville-area hotels are dealing with this week.
The Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Spa and the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village have known for the more than a year they would host the two teams playing in Sunday's Super Bowl. But it wasn't until Jan. 23 that they knew which two teams they'd host and exactly what their needs would be when they arrived Sunday.
The Sawgrass Marriott, in Ponte Vedra Beach, is the team hotel of the NFC champions Philadelphia Eagles. The Renaissance Resort, in St. Augustine, is hosting the AFC champions -- and the defending world champion -- New England Patriots. The NFL and teams pay for hotel accommodations.
The different approaches of the two teams were apparent on their arrival with the Patriots clad in jackets and ties entering through a private entrance. The more casually dressed Eagles, some carrying video cameras, entered through the Mariott's front door.
The contrasting entrances suggest the needs of the two teams will also be much different.
Of course, the Super Bowl is about as big as it gets for hotels. But both the Sawgrass Marriott and the Renaissance Resort have plenty of experience in accommodating football teams and hosting celebrities.
It's another event, even though officials at both hotels admit that the Super Bowl is not just another event.
The short lead time between conference championship games and when the teams arrive makes it a greater challenge.
Patriots' officials arrived at the Renaissance Resort Jan. 24 to set up temporary offices at the hotel and begin preparations for the team's arrival. By Tuesday, workers were already starting to erect a 20,000-square-foot media tent in the parking lot.
The tent, which can be heated or air-conditioned, is for news conferences because the hotel's own conference rooms were reserved for team meetings, hotel manager Terry Crawford said.
All public areas of the 301-room hotel, such as its lobby, restaurant and bar, are open to the public.
Most of the other areas, including the elevators, are off limits to anyone without credentials, Crawford said.
Each team has different coaches with different rules, wants and needs.
Some teams want families to stay at the team hotel, others don't. Some coaches have relaxed access policies, others don't.
Both hotels have back hallways and service elevators, so players can have as much privacy as they want. The Renaissance Resort's four glass elevators are covered for privacy during Super Bowl week, Crawford said.
The 508-room Sawgrass Marriott is also hosting the Fox Network, which is broadcasting the game, said Chris Bracken, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.
Bracken said about 90 percent of the needs had been planned months ago. The hotel had a Plan A and a Plan B based on the two teams that played in the conference finals, the Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Renaissance Resort plans to operate with its existing staff through Wednesday. But it would hire 80-100 additional employees to work from Thursday through Sunday, Bracken said.
The Patriots' previous Super Bowl experience, two of the last three years, made preparations much easier because team officials knew what they needed, Crawford said. "They've got it down to a science," he said.
The 7-year-old Renaissance Resort, in St. Augustine, next to the World Golf Hall of Fame, normally employs 145 workers. This week the number could reach 225, Crawford said.
Both hotels have previously hosted football teams.
The Renaissance Resort usually puts up the University of Georgia's team for its game against the University of Florida played each year in Jacksonville. Sawgrass Marriott hosts a Gator Bowl team each year, and several NFL teams have stayed at the hotel when in town to play the Jaguars, Bracken said.
The Sawgrass Marriott is also the choice of most of the PGA golfers playing in the annual Players Championship tournament, a similar week-long event, Bracken said, but it's much different from the Super Bowl.
"This is the first time and it's not an annual event," he said.
The hotels do more than just give the teams a place to eat and sleep. They also provide coaches with offices and meeting spaces replete with the best audio-visual equipment.
The logistics of dealing with all the equipment is the biggest challenge for the Sawgrass Marriott, Bracken said.
Each player is provided a car for the week and the hotels host invitation-only post-game parties for the teams.
Of course, feeding professional football players requires more food than conventional guests.
The Sawgrass Marriott ordered an additional 1,000 pounds of steak and 3,000 bottles of Gatorade for the Eagles.
At the Patriots' request, Crawford couldn't reveal the special food items ordered by the team. However, he said the quantities are at least four times greater than what the hotel normally orders.
Both hotels extended their full-menu room service hours to around the clock during Super Bowl week.
"If a player wants a filet mignon at 3 a.m.," Crawford said, "he gets a filet mignon."
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