A Super Bowl volunteer diary

Laura McCallum, MPR’s managing editor for daily news, is one of the 10,000 people volunteering to greet visitors during Super Bowl week this winter. She’ll be documenting her experience periodically on NewsCut.

Here’s her first dispatch.

  1. Listen MPR’s Laura McCallum shares experience from Super Bowl volunteer orientation

    Nov. 13, 2017

The invitation said we should wear purple, and nearly everyone did. I even saw a few women with purple hair. Thousands of people wearing Vikings gear, smashing their blow-up bambams together and waving their new “Bold North” mittens filled the Xcel Energy Center.

We were here for volunteer orientation for Super Bowl 52. And we were told we were “the chosen ones.” More than 30,000 people had registered online to be volunteers, about half were interviewed, and we were among the final 10,000 who were actually picked. And the crowd was fired up – several speakers commented on the “energy and excitement in the room.”

I didn’t live in Minnesota the last time we hosted the Super Bowl – 26 years ago – and when I heard that the host committee was recruiting 10,000 volunteers, I thought it would be fun. Journalists don’t usually get to be part of the festivities, we just observe them. I ran it past the news leaders at MPR News, and said if I was picked, I’d write about the experience for MPR News. And I’d made the cut (see below for my interview experience).

The orientation was a little bit like a pep rally, designed to get us pumped up to represent Minnesota for the million visitors expected for Super Bowl 52. We’ll need to get our Minnesota talking points down before the crowds arrive. Sen. Amy Klobuchar reminded us that we’re the #1 state in coastlines (take that, California!) because of our many lakes. We’re No. 1 in turkey production. We’re the only state with a SPAM museum. We invented the pacemaker, the pop-up toaster and of course, post-it notes.

Minnesotans also tend to volunteer and do community service. Several speakers said we’re the kind of people who say, “Put us in, coach – we’re ready to play!”

Even though we’d made it through the interview process, the host committee wanted to make sure we knew we needed to be friendly and welcoming to all those out-of-state visitors. Actors from the Theater of Public Policy did a role-playing exercise with “Shannon”, who arrived here from Phoenix for the Super Bowl wearing flip-flops. The guy playing the bad volunteer was most unhelpful – he was talking on his cell phone, couldn’t be bothered to direct her to U.S. Bank Stadium or show her how to take a light rail train to the mall to get a coat and better shoes for the winter. He even told Shannon he was cold, cranky and tired.

Then the good volunteer, Jim, stepped in, the picture of courtesy, telling Shannon about Minnesota’s 23,000 lakes and 7 miles of skyway system. Jim reminded us that this might be visitors’ first time to Minnesota – let’s make sure it’s not their last!

And finally, the moment many in the room were waiting for – the unveiling of the uniforms. And I have to admit, they didn’t disappoint (you be the judge – see the photos). Volunteers modeled a purple polo, a turquoise puffer jacket, a fleece, a blue shell jacket, purple beanie and a backpack, all with the Crew 52 logo.

Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo (the only speaker who got a standing ovation) told us there will be a strong, visible law enforcement presence working the streets. He said we should think of these officers as our partners and take selfies with them. We’re going to get safety training on how to report suspicious behavior.

We’ll soon learn exactly what we’ll be doing during the 10 days leading up to the Super Bowl, then we’ll get training for our specific assignments and get those cool uniforms. Think I’ll get an indoor stint? If I’m stationed outside, at least there’s that parka.

Overheard as we were all leaving – “So, does everyone agree the best reason to volunteer is the free coat?”

The interview

Back in August, I interviewed to be a volunteer on the first day of interviews at the Crew 52 volunteer headquarters in downtown Minneapolis. It used to be a Sports Authority next to the Saks OFF 5th. Outside, I was greeted by women in blue host committee t-shirts, and then by women in Vikings t-shirts shaking pom pons. And then by a big guy dressed up as a Viking with purple face paint who scared me a little, but reassured me that I’m on his team so I shouldn’t be worried.

I was ushered back to a room with about a dozen other potential volunteers. It was a mostly white group, but there were a couple people of color, including a young pregnant black woman wearing purple. I complimented her on her choice, but she said it was just a coincidence. Another woman dressed in a button down shirt and black pants said she wasn’t sure if she should wear a Vikings jersey – or clothes for an interview.

A woman told us that 20,000 people have filled out the form to volunteer so far, and they only need 10,000. But there will be some attrition, and we have a good shot since we’re interviewing on the first day. We watched a short video with CEO Maureen Bausch and then former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway (who reminds us that he’s #52) and Fox9 anchor Amy Hockert. Then that Vikings guy leads us in a chant – Bold North!

We were then ushered to tables covered in purple tablecloths. I was interviewed by a woman who asked me a little about myself, what I like about Minnesota, why I want to volunteer for the Super Bowl, a good customer service experience I’ve been involved in and my past volunteerism. I’m a little worried I’m tanking – I don’t really do customer service in my job, unless you count answering the phone and dealing with angry listeners.

She asked about my listed preference to work at volunteer headquarters and asked if I’d be willing to work outside – they need 5,000 people for outdoor shifts! I reluctantly said yes, although that certainly wouldn’t be my first choice. Volunteers do 3 four-hour shifts between Jan. 26 and the Super Bowl.
And as I left, I received a souvenir for the interview, a Super Bowl 52 deck of cards.