From reporting on Super Bowls to hosting one

Miami native Michael Zimmer grew up a dedicated Miami Dolphins fan. So when the chance to lead the Super Bowl Host Committee arose, it was an easy decision.

"It was just a tremendous opportunity and I couldn't pass it up. It was just so right up my alley," he said.

A career journalist ­ he spent nearly 30 years working at NBC 6 WTVJ before retiring in October 2008 ­ with experience covering the drug wars in Colombia, the Olympic Games in Sydney and several World Series and Super Bowls, the chance to be on the other side was unique.

"Typically when I would go to an event as a journalist I would just go to the event. But I really wasn't aware of the amount of preparation that went into hosting a game," he said.

Set to be held a week apart Jan.31 and Feb. 7, the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl are expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in South Florida. Mr.
Zimmer notes that an important and often overlooked part of the picture is the additional spending within the community.

"Whether it's somebody flying in and getting a rental car, going to CVS and picking up some items, whether they're going to a restaurant or they're going to the attractions, people come to South Florida and experience all of that."

Mr. Zimmer spoke about leading the Super Bowl effort at LandShark Stadium with Miami Today staff writer Scott E. Pacheco.

Q: What has it been for you to take on an event this big in your hometown?
A: It's a dream come true. I was a broadcast journalist 30 years, and I was able to cover five Super Bowls. So it gives me a unique perspective in not only what's involved in putting together a Super Bowl, but it's also what's involved in all aspects that day.

I actually went to Super Bowl V with my dad here, and so I kind of grew up in this community, and to be able to experience Super Bowls and what they mean... It offers a unique perspective.
You really have a history.

I think what I'm able to bring to the table is not only a standpoint from a customer's end, but also from the standpoint of growing up in this community and understanding the importance of the Super Bowl and what it means to South Florida.

Q: Who approached you for the job?
A: Rodney Barreto, our chairman.

Q: Was it a no-brainer?
A: It was just a tremendous opportunity and I couldn't pass it up.

Q: How is it being on the other side of Super Bowl preparations?
A: Fascinating. We will probably put 350,000 hours in preparation for a game that lasts close to three hours. When I would go to an event as a journalist I would just go to the event. But I really wasn't aware of the amount of preparation that went into hosting a game.

Q: What do you take care of?
A: What I do is talk about the Super Bowl, promote the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl in our community. But the other part is to go to all the areas I work with, whether it's volunteers, whether it's communications, whether it's corporate marketing, whether it's administration.

I bounce from area to area, and I like to be involved in all aspects.

Q: What do you see that the rest of us don't?
A: It's a lot of strategic planning, and we work with all of South Florida from Miami-Dade County, Broward County and Palm Beach. It's coordinating our efforts and showcasing our communities.

It's working with all of our community leaders, working with our executive board and our staff and then putting together a plan to not only showcase South Florida but to also showcase the game.

We assist the NFL in whatever requirements [they have], whether they need the media credentialing center, whether they need help in locating certain things ­ that is what our job is, to facilitate and work with them to promote the game.

Q: When did you start, and how has it been to focus on the shorter deadlines knowing what the big prize is at the end?
A: I started back in October last year. We were very fortunate because we had a number of staff that stayed on from the '07 game. So we had a great infrastructure of people in place to add that great institutional knowledge, and we were able to add new people.

We've been able to work on deadlines quicker because we looked at what we did in '07. We're able to learn from that and say "Let's not make that same mistake," or "Let's see if we can do a better job this time around."

Q: Miami is hosting two Super Bowls close together. Can you rehash that story?
A: Miami had the Super Bowl originally for '07, and they were bidding on the Super Bowl for 2010. It was awarded to New York City and it was contingent upon, and working in conjunction with, their bid for the Olympics.

They didn't receive the Olympics and consequently they didn't build their stadium. South Florida was number two in the balloting, and therefore they were actually awarded the Super Bowl in 2010 before the Super Bowl 2007 was played.

Q: What challenges do you run into that you didn't expect?
A: What happens is that you are able now to look at things a little longer, whereas in my previous profession I didn't have that comfort. So what happens is we're able to analyze decisions, and when you take a little bit longer sometimes you slow the process down, but what it enables you to do is to do some real thinking.

And so what we're able to do is make good decisions with a lot of input from a lot of people. It sometimes bogs the system down, but we're very good at setting deadlines and following that, so when it comes to getting close to the actual game time we'll be able to do critical thinking on decisions that if we had a lot of things going on at one time it might be a little more difficult.

Q: The Super Bowl is much bigger than just a game. How much are your hands in all the aspects?
A: I think what people lose focus of is the NFL ­ they look at the game and what happens is that the NFL comes to this community and leaves a lasting legacy. We're working already now with a number of initiatives the NFL has.

There's Super Learning, Super Kids-Super Sharing, there's Rebuild America, Habitat for Humanity ­ they come in and start those projects now, and a lot of people don't understand or see those projects that the NFL comes in for months and is involved with.

[Through] NFL YETS (Youth Education Towns), there are two centers, one in Miami-Dade and one in Broward.

They will both receive $500,000 from the NFL, and in these tough times, they're matched by the county. These centers will flourish.

There is a program called Super Kids Super Sharing where they will work with area high schools to donate books and sporting equipment and then redistribute that throughout the inner city and the kids with need.

People focus just on the three-hour game, but a lot of things will go on in the community that people don't see.

There's an emerging business program. We focus on generating money to women- and minority-owned businesses, so what we do is when we place orders we look at those businesses and try to... keep the money back in Dade County, in Broward County and Palm Beach County.

Q: How big economically is the Super Bowl for South Florida?
A: The Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in this community. Whether it's somebody flying in and getting a rental car, going to CVS and picking up some items, whether they're going to a restaurant, or they're going to the attractions, people come to South Florida and experience all of that.

And what's unique about this experience is that the Pro Bowl will be a week before the Super Bowl, so it really extends our Super Bowl to almost 10, 12 days. Because typically when the Super Bowl is played people start getting in Thursday or Friday, whereas now with the Pro Bowl they'll start getting in on a Wednesday.

And the Pro Bowl offers up a tremendous opportunity for people to enjoy a game that they may not ever be able to enjoy. It's a $50 ticket. So most people can't afford or get a ticket to the Super Bowl, but they can come and enjoy the Pro Bowl.

Q: What is the extent of your involvement in the Pro Bowl?
A: We're assisting the NFL in whatever they need in putting on the event, whether it's volunteers, whether it's promotion. We started back in (2008) when we had our booth in Tampa to start promoting the Pro Bowl. Tickets went on sale online (Oct. 12), so it's a tremendous opportunity to showcase a premiere game for them.

Q: Being from Miami, did you grow up a Dolphins fan?
A: Oh, absolutely. I went to all the games with my dad. The '72 Dolphins ­ it was part of my dad and I, the thing that we did together.

Q: It's been said from a sheer economic standpoint that if the Dolphins, or Tampa Bay, Jacksonville or even Atlanta make it to the Super Bowl you'd lose some of that overnight business of people traveling here from other parts of the country. Has that been part of the conversation with the committee?
A: I am a big Dolphins fan, so I would love the Dolphins to be here. No host team has ever played in the Super Bowl, so it would be phenomenal. I understand everyone's concerns about the economic impact. But from a selfish standpoint, from me being a big Dolphins fan, I would love to see them in the Super Bowl.

Q: Where will you be during the game?
A: Wherever they need me during the game I will be. Pretty much when the ball is kicked off, my job is done.

We do have an operations director who will work with law enforcement... and any sort of issues at hand, and I will be on call for that as well. So if any issues need to be resolved I will be part of that process.

Q: Does the stadium being halfway between here and Broward affect the way that you prepare?
A: It does, and it's actually a tricounty effort. What's a little bit different this year is that Broward County is somewhat of a hub for a lot of events. The media center is at the convention center, the NFL headquarters hotel is there, as well as the AFC team hotel. So what's happened is there's been a little bit of a shift of focus for Broward County.

But there will still be an NFC team hotel at the InterContinental and there will be events across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, so if you are looking to participate in an event, you will have one in your backyard somewhere.

Q: An NFL representative said Miami's older facilities might not offer some of the amenities some new stadiums do ­ a roof to shield the weather, hi-def lighting for hi-def TV. Is that a concern?
A: The stadium has been talked about and the Miami Dolphins are aware of the issues, but South Florida offers up such a unique environment and such a unique destination that no place else offers, so there's a reason why the Super Bowl will be here for a record-breaking 10th time.

South Florida is a tremendous destination, and I know the NFL loves coming here.

Q: Would you work on a future Super Bowl?
A: Oh, absolutely. It's a tremendous opportunity for anybody to be involved.

Q: You've won Emmys. There were a couple of prestigious awards for your Hurricane Andrew coverage. Where else have you gone in your career?
A: I've been very fortunate. I have traveled the world. I have been able to experience a lot of things that a lot of people never get the opportunity to. I've interviewed every president since Jimmy Carter. I was on a bombing run in an F4 Phantom.

I'm just really blessed to have a "frontrow seat to the world." My career as a journalist has been spectacular, and I was able to take those things I learned and funnel a lot of that into the job I'm doing now.

Q: Is there a story you've covered or a person you have met who has had a lasting impact on your life, your career or the way you see things?
A: The stories that always affected me and had the biggest impact on me was that as a member of the media you are able to give back to your community. You're able help a family in need, you are able to help people, you are able to get their message out.

And though I've been very fortunate to meet a lot of incredible people, being able to help people in times of need, being able to help a child get the medical attention they need ­ that to me was the most important thing as a journalist.

Q: And that's saying quite a bit considering what you've seen.
A: Yes, and don't get me wrong ­ those are tremendous stories to be part of, and I've been very fortunate to meet some of the most powerful people in the world and been able to travel the world and cover wars - the drug wars in Colombia - but those were events.

Whether they were the Super Bowl or whether they were the World Series, at the end of the day it was an event to cover and it was spectacular to be there.

But to be able to help somebody... that to me is the most rewarding thing about being a journalist.

Q: Tell us about your career after Florida State.
A: Ironically enough I was doing an internship at WTVJ and my internship was over and I interviewed with IBM.

And so I was in the process of being hired for IBM... and about a week before I finished my internship, an entry level position came up.

I took that job. And so pretty much when I graduated in 1980 I was at WTVJ until just this past October.

Q: Do you have post-journalism and Super Bowl plans?
A: The interesting thing about the host committee is that once it's closed down [it] ceases to exist for all intents and purposes. And it will be an interesting time for me because I will for the first time be unemployed and looking for a job.

I look forward to all the challenges and the opportunities that will hopefully open up for me after this job.

Q: Did you delve into anything that gave you a push into a career in something else?
A: This job was so different than what I was used to. I've loved meeting all the people I've met. And it's been a tremendous opportunity to be able to do something like this for the community and showcase our community to the world.

Q: What brought you back to Miami after college?
A: It's home. My family's here. I love the lifestyle. I fish. I dive. I'm outside. I go to the beach. I just couldn't imagine myself anywhere else.

From the standpoint of a journalistic career it's one of the best markets in the world. It's always in the limelight of the news world.

Q: Miami is pretty young in developing as a big city. What would you like to see in the future?
A: I think Miami will continue to grow. And I think Miami will adjust to the economy and what it needs to do.

Miami has evolved over the years and it has grown... whether it's through international banking, whether it's through a tourism destination.

Q: Did you play any sports growing up?
A: I played little league football. But I just enjoyed going. For me and my dad it was just a special time for us to go to the Dolphins games and bond.

My dad was born in Czechoslovakia and he knew nothing about football. When I was young I just loved football. I loved watching football. I remember finally getting him to go to a game with me. And he had absolutely no idea what football was. He was a soccer player in Czechoslovakia, so he knew soccer.

The first game I ever took him to it was pouring rain and it didn't stop raining the whole game, and I thought we'd never ever go back. And after that game, he ended up buying season tickets. Until I went away to college, we went every year. It was an incredible experience for us.

Q: What are some other hobbies?
A: I love the outdoors. I fish. I dive. And my family does that as well. It's a big part of just taking advantage of South Florida, whether it's snorkeling or diving on the reefs or fishing ­that's what I love to do.

Q: Tell me about your family.
A: My wife was born and raised actually on Miami Beach. I have two boys, 17 and 15, at Christopher Columbus High School.

Q: Do you bond with them through the Dolphins as well?
A: Absolutely. We go to the games and we enjoy a lot of the same things. They both play sports at their school, and we just find time to spend together. Whether it's outdoors, fishing or diving, we bond and have a great time.



The mission of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee is to prepare the South Florida region to host Super Bowl XLIV, the Record-Breaking 10th Super Bowl in South Florida, and to fulfill all bid obligations to the National Football League.

The South Florida Host Committee, together with the South Florida region, will work as one community utilizing national media coverage and increased tourism to: more effectively market our destination, increase the regional economy, encourage community involvement and support local business development.

Our community effort will create a better quality of life for all residents and position South Florida as the premier site to host future Super Bowls.

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