Whether Broadway likes it or not, Times Square will turn into a gridiron on Sept. 5, when a lavish celebration kicking off the football season takes over the area.
At an Aug. 28 city-hall press conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg waxed enthusiastic about the effect the big kickoff would have on ticket sales that day.
“The theater has been worried,” he said. “It will be a minor inconvenience at worst. It will be a boon to Broadway and Off Broadway.”
The theater community has been in a tizzy since the mayor and the NFL announced on July 30 that Bon Jovi and other rock bands would hold a five-hour concert on Broadway’s turf to mark the countdown to the kickoff between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants at Giants Stadium.
Questions raged: How would ticketholders get to the theaters? Would anyone buy tix that day? And what about access to the TKTS booth?
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue joined the mayor at the press conference. “This is an opportunity to show that New York City is back,” Tagliabue said.
He estimated the media value to the city at $100 million in national TV and radio coverage.
Performers for the event include Bon Jovi, DJ Skribble, Eve, Alicia Keys and Enrique Iglesias. Also planned is a 20-minute fashion show, the fashion district being just south of Times Square.
As for the square’s immediate residents, Broadway performers are curiously absent. “I wouldn’t use the word ‘boycott,'” says Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theaters & Producers.
The NFL did ask the Broadway trade org for its participation. “As a group, we decided not to take advantage of the publicity,” Bernstein says. “Some producers may participate, but we did not want to create a track record of these events, which can be disruptive to the theater.”
Bernstein says the league and the Times Square Business Improvement District were told of the event sometime in June. He reported to his org on June 19 that the city was “considering this, few details of which were given. There was no timetable.” The league’s exec committee sent word to the mayor’s office that the NFL event would be “disruptive and not a good thing for the theater district.
“In case it did go forward,” Bernstein recalls, “the league wanted to mitigate the disruptiveness and get … some kind of compensation from the NFL.” When it became apparent in July that the city was going forward, the league had further discussions with the mayor’s office.
While some in the theater community have criticized the league for being slow to protest, in the end, the NFL event appears to be a media juggernaut the mayor could not live without.
“On the city’s mind was something that sends out a different, celebratory message to the world,” Tim Tomkins, president of Times Square BID, tells Variety. “There will be a whole different set of messages from New York the week after, on Sept. 11.”
Tompkins credits meetings between the league and the mayor’s office with narrowing the window of the event. Originally skedded for five hours, the event now runs from 4:30-80 p.m. Broadway curtains will be pushed back half an hour to go up at 8:30 p.m.
At the press conference, Bloomberg pooh-poohed any effect on box office that day. “The only inconvenience is getting to hotels, restaurants or the theater, and a police officer will be there to help you,” he said.
Producers have had to turn the other cheek and find humor in the face of the NFL onslaught.
“We’re big football fans,” says “Metamorphoses” producer Robyn Goodman, “and we are expecting a huge spill over because NFL and ‘Metamorphoses’ have so much in common. There’s a big thematic tie-in here.”
Bloomberg could not guess how many people would cram Times Square to watch Bon Jovi and others. “Pick a number,” he said. As for crowd control, the city announced that the Sept. 5 event would close 43rd to 47th Streets between 6th and 8th Avenues beginning at noon that day, with streets above 47th Street closed after 2 p.m. on an “as-needed basis.” Tompkins said crowd control would be “more porous” than on New Year’s Eve, allowing easier access to buildings in the area.
Bernstein recalls the mayor’s office telling the league that Sept. 5 “would be a one-time, once-in-a-lifetime event.”
But back at city hall, Bloomberg held out hope for other mega-mob scenes. “New York is the place to stage big events!” he crowed.
Jon Bon Jovi appeared to be the one person at the press conference ready to acknowledge the event’s possible negative consequences. He said, “I’d like to apologize in advance for the biggest traffic jam ever.”