"Chris, Chris, Chris," the crowd chanted in unison at Margaret T. Hance Park Friday evening during the second night of the Super Bowl Experience as spotlights touched the downtown Phoenix night sky in the background like a Hollywood movie premiere. The party was on.
It was only the second act of the night, but country music singer Cooper Alan was already getting the crowd engaged as he encouraged the singled out fan, Chris, to chug his drink. "Yeah!" the crowd screamed in unison as it quickly went down.
In a matter of weeks, the area just a few blocks from ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus has completely morphed into a full-fledged entertainment venue. The NFL takeover at Hance Park has long been in the works after an 18-month-long planning and preparation process.
With a professional music stage decked out with all the bells and whistles one would expect from a festival, a 44-foot tall LED cactus named "Super Spike" weighing nearly 40,000 pounds, a VIP Club sponsored by Verizon and 16 different options for food and drink from local vendors, the Hance Park students may know looks and feels completely different.
It's part of a larger transformation of the downtown Phoenix area as the sporting and entertainment world turn its eyes toward Arizona for Super Bowl LVII on the horizon.
READ MORE: Everything ASU students need to know about Super Bowl LVII
Paul Perry, an ASU alumnus who graduated in 2018 with a degree in English literature and lives in Phoenix, has been nothing but excited to see exactly how the area has morphed over the past few weeks.
"It's definitely developed," Perry said. "Just to see the NFL come here, it's a nice presence to show this community vibe that Phoenix does have. It's an amazing culture downtown. Having people see it firsthand, it's really cool, I think."
The experience is one of two being put on by the NFL. The other is being held at the Phoenix Convention Center just a few blocks south and past campus, but requires an entry fee. The Hance Park experience differs in one big way: It's free.
For college students on a budget, it's a welcomed opportunity to experience an event that typically costs money. Abigail Dirks, a sophomore studying business management, was at her first Super Bowl-related event of the week.
"I really enjoy it," Dirks said. "I mean any social event that gets me to go see other people in the community that I don't normally see is always good. I would otherwise not be going (if it cost money) to any of the events. I'm not particularly into football, but I like being connected to this community in some way, so a free event is the best way for me to do that."
Hance Park attractions
One of the more popular destinations at Hance Park that consistently had a long line was the PetSmart MVPets TAILgate. The attraction allowed people to upload a photo of their pet and create an illustrated sports trading card on a lanyard with their furry companion decked out in football gear.
Another attraction that piqued the interest of many was the quarterback obstacle course — challengers had to hit a cactus with three targets atop each arm, run through tackling dummies from the Arizona Cardinals and end with a final throwing challenge with a target shaped like the state of Arizona with a bullseye in the middle.
As of 12:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, the top person on the adult leaderboard was a contestant by the name of "Sir Lawrence D," who completed the course in 10.8 seconds and scored 1,482 points.
READ MORE: ASU course allows students to work at Super Bowl LVII
Lining each side of the park are local food vendors that get the opportunity to showcase their product at an NFL-sponsored event on the biggest weekend of the year for the league. For one of those vendors, Hot Bamboo, it's a notable deal to be involved with an event of such scale.
"It's awesome," said Preston White, who helps run the family business based out of Chandler. "I mean, it feels good to be part of something really big that's going on in the city. It's been really busy. Last night was banging for a Thursday."
Hot Bamboo specializes in hand-crafted, customized steamed bao buns that feature character designs like Pikachu and Snorlax from Pokemon.
Alongside food, drink and all of the carnival and fair-type attractions, there has been a lineup of music all weekend, including performances from Jimmy Eat World, Gin Blossoms, Lee Brice, Cooper Alan and Pillbox Patti.
On Sunday, there will be a free viewing party with LED screens for the public to watch the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles.
READ MORE: Four Pat Tillman scholars to be honored at the Super Bowl LVII coin flip
According to Lesley Miller, director of communications for the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, the Super Bowl Experience at Hance Park is the first ever league-sanctioned free viewing party in the 56-year history of the big game.
"No other host city has ever been able to host a watch party like we're doing through the NFL," Miller said. "One of the components is the same fly-over that's happening at the stadium will come directly here before returning to base. So, it will be such a similar experience for people. They'll be watching the fly-over on TV and a minute later, it'll be on top of them. It was a huge collaboration with the NFL, all the partners, FOX, to help make it happen."
The Super Bowl game will kickoff Sunday at 4:30 p.m. MST in Glendale at State Farm Stadium.
Edited by Piper Hansen.
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Logan Stanley is a senior reporter at The State Press. He previously served as the managing editor of the school newspaper at Eastern Washington University. He has four years experience as a freelance journalist and is a graduate student in the master of arts of sports journalism program.