Behind the Scenes at the Super Bowl

By Charles McKenzie, February 2, 2020
IC alumnus manages the world's biggest screens at the world's biggest game.

Whether talking about a kickball tournament, an Oscar party, or Girl Scout cookie season, people often describe the biggest annual event in their lives in a similar way, “That’s my Super Bowl.” For Nate McCoart 13, his Super Bowl is the Super Bowl, and it has been for the last seven years. 

McCoart is the Technical Operations Manager for Van Wagner Sports Entertainment, which again this year is working with the NFL, Fox Sports and the host (Hard Rock Stadium in Miami) to develop, produce, and direct a three-hour pre-game show and in-stadium entertainment during the game. This includes managing key moments (like the team introductions) and some pretty impressive video real estate. Fans often know the largest of them as JumboTrons, but that’s a specific Sony product. The generic term is a “video board,” and they come in all shapes and sizes, even a “ribbon” of screens that runs all the way around Miami’s stadium. 

With 65,000 fans in attendance, some of whom spent tens of thousands of dollars to be there, and with literally 100 million television viewers watching from home, one might think McCoart would have some anxiety on the eve of the game.

“I’ve been here for two and a half weeks, and we've been through three days of hardcore rehearsals and checks, so we're in a pretty good spot going into tomorrow,” he said from his hotel room, just eight hours before his 6 a.m. arrival at the stadium. “So there's nothing really keeping me up tonight, believe it or not. We try to plan for the unexpected as best we can and have a rough idea of what our responses will be.” 

“The grunt work, if you will, is mostly done, and we've given our team all the tools they’ll need. Now we just put on the show.” 

Nate McCoart ’13

All that’s left is execution, which for him, means turning from a technical guru into a showman. 

“The grunt work, if you will, is mostly done, and we've given our team all the tools they’ll need,” he said. “Now we just put on the show.” 

For him and his company, that’s the only real measure of the game, he says. If fans were engaged and enjoyed the experience, his team wins. But with that thrill of victory comes the agony of the feet. 

“I can actually keep track of my steps, and I easily walk a marathon on game days alone. There’s lots of coffee.”

man in front of screen at Super Bowl

Nate McCoart on set of the Super Bowl pregame show on Super Bowl Sunday.

Even amid all of the chaos and commotion in and around the world’s biggest spectacle, at some point he finds a moment of zen. 

“It's important. You've got to take some time on event day to kind of just sit back and and revel in awe almost of the opportunity and the experience that we’re given to play a small role in such a huge project,” he said. “So I'll definitely find my time, maybe sometime in pregame around the National Anthem, to just kind of take a little breather, to just soak it all in for a few minutes, and then I’m right back to work.”

And it doesn’t stop after the final whistle. In fact, he has a full day’s work ahead of him still (only it will be at night).

“Even after the trophy is presented, the game still isn’t over for my team. Now it’s time to break down all of the equipment.

Although that will take days, his 22-hour Super Bowl Sunday will stretch deep into Monday morning. At 4 a.m., he — along with the last of the hardcore Super Bowl revelers — will head to bed, only he has just a few hours of rest before returning to the stadium. 

“At that point, I’m just trying to get through the next couple of days of packing up and getting everything back to where it needs to go. And then maybe by the end of the week, once I'm back home, I'll consider the game over. But as soon as one event is done we're quickly on to planning and getting ready for the next big event.” 

“I've always had the mindset that the sky is the limit, and as far as you can push yourself is as far as you will reach.”

Nate McCoart '13

For him, that means the two-week Paribas Open, arguably the biggest non-Grand Slam tennis tournament in the world, held every March in Southern California. Although he works about six big marquee events per year, he stays on the road about two-thirds of the time, supporting two dozen or so mid-level events per year. In the last month, he only returned home once. Between the college football national championship in New Orleans and the Super Bowl in Miami, he was able to go home to Chapel Hill, N.C., for one day to refocus, repack and reconnect with his girlfriend, a second-grade teacher. 

In addition to working this year’s Cortaca Game at MetLife Stadium, he has worked (though not always on site), the NFL Pro Bowl and Draft, Olympic & Paralympic Summer & Winter Games, US Open Tennis and dozens of college national championships in a variety of sports. 

He is used to working around celebrities and remains cool in their presence. 

“Really, they're there helping us. They're taking time out of their schedule to pay us a visit, as a guest on one of our sets, or something like that, so I try to keep it pretty professional.” 

But he has been star struck. 

“I grew up in Rhode Island a born and bred Patriots fan so getting to interact with Tom Brady and Coach Belichik over the last couple Super Bowls has been pretty cool. You don't expect to just be in the same room as them, or give them direction or put on a microphone. Those have probably been my favorite interactions.”

It’s a dream job really, but it’s come after a lot hard work.

“I've always had the mindset that the sky is the limit, and as far as you can push yourself is as far as you will reach,” said the sports management major. 

While at IC, McCoart says he produced nearly every home athletic contest for the Bombers between 2010 and 2012. He also served as an event and facility manager when IC opened its Athletics and Events Center in 2011. 

He’s always tried to take advantage of every opportunity and to learn from every person he’s met along the way, including several IC alumni. 

“The classmates and other alumni that I have come across and interacted with, sometimes just randomly at events, have been great. They’re everywhere, especially in the sports and production areas.”

Working Cortaca this year was especially thrilling. 

“It was exciting to get to work with some folks that I hadn't seen in a while, people who I went to school with or worked alongside at IC. I thought we helped put together a pretty amazing day for students, alumni, and really everyone.”