USC Annenberg students working the social media command center for the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission, leading up to Super Bowl LVI.
Photo by Olivia Mowry

Students work behind the scenes at Super Bowl LVI

It was natural for Kiley McKay to sign up for the unique opportunity to work for the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission (LASEC) in their newly created social media command center. With a strong family legacy in football — USC’s John McKay Center is her namesake — it was almost inevitable.

“My dad played football at USC and went on to the NFL, and my grandfather was the head football coach at USC for quite a few years,” said McKay, an undergraduate majoring in communication. “So, football has always been a sport that I've had a passion for and a pretty deep knowledge of.”

McKay was one of 34 students who were hired to staff the social media command center for LASEC, the Super Bowl LVI host committee. They were tasked with assisting guests traveling to both the “Super Bowl Experience” at the Los Angeles Convention Center and to the game on Feb. 13. The group, representing the disciplines of communication, public relations and journalism, as well as two alumni, served as managers over the 10-day period, starting on Feb. 5. They were led by Myah Genung, associate director of industry relations at USC Annenberg and Matthew LeVeque, associate professor of professional practice.

Their primary function was to engage in “social listening” — monitoring online questions and conversations from attendees around Super Bowl logistics, transportation and the navigation of Los Angeles. They provided rapid-fire responses to any concerns or questions that arose before, on and after the big game to create a seamless fan experience.

“The team was our eyes and ears on the ground, understanding what the narrative is, how people are responding, what they're enjoying, where their pain points are,” said Jason Krutzsch, vice president of marketing, content and communications for LASEC.

He shared just how rapid the NFL responses were, when an inquiry about bike parking at Sofi came in off of Twitter. The students shared the question with Krutzsch who immediately approached the NFL. Within the hour, the NFL scouted the area, an answer was reached and then shared with the fan.  “Students saw the excitement from a professional standpoint,” said Krutzsch.

Being in an environment with so many high-profile individuals, Krutzsch was also quick to encourage students to network and take advantage of enhancing their LinkedIn profiles.  

“I really was hoping students would get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into a major event,” he said. “The intention was just to give them on-the-spot training and make sure they had a great resume-building experience.”

In addition to networking, the command center also provided key learning opportunities for students. The biggest takeaway according to McKay was methodically “figuring out the best way to answer various inquiries and address everything in an organized manner.”

Ila Avinash, a student in the digital social media master’s degree program, was excited to utilize her data analytics skills learned in class. “We’re going through fans' reactions, all the excitement that’s going on in downtown L.A., as well as in Inglewood,” she said. “We’re engaging in the different metrics, sentiments, as well as the kind of the topics that they're discussing. It really gives you a lot of insight into the community, the consumers of this whole great fan experience.”

“Football brings people from all walks of life together,” said Monique Chavez, a master’s student in public relations and advertising, who jumped at the NFL opportunity. It was the hands-on experience of building community at such a major event that intrigued her.

For those not initially interested in sports, the experience also proved enlightening. Elias Hernandez, a master’s degree student in public relations and advertising, never thought about a career in sports, having simply signed up to network. “But after my experience working with LASEC, I felt awakened,” he said. “Now, the idea of working in sports added another option to my list of things that I could be doing after Annenberg.”

Krutzsch couldn’t be prouder of what the USC Annenberg students accomplished over the 10-day period. “Everybody from the top down was just ready to react, ready to respond, put in the long hours to really, truly invest in what we were doing,” he said.

Chavez, who wants to work for the NFL one day, also felt the experience was extremely valuable. “I would love to land a public relations and communications role in sports and in the NFL specifically,” Chavez said. “I've already gotten attention through job interviews. They're like, ‘Tell me about the Super Bowl experience.’ So, it’s been a major resume booster to be here.”

As for the game itself, a nail-biting Los Angles Ram’s victory against the Cincinnati Bengals (23-20) as well as a riveting half-time show that headlined rappers for the first time in history (Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, as well as RnB singer, Mary J. Blige), put the final touchdown on an experience that brought much of Los Angeles together.