Downtown Phoenix businesses see range of Super Bowl crowds, from record-breaking to a snail’s pace

During a busy week for the Phoenix metro area, business at downtown Phoenix restaurants was a mixed bag. Some were slammed, and others were nearly empty. (Photo by Logan Camden/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – With the Super Bowl and WM Phoenix Open taking over the Phoenix metro area earlier this month, it wouldn’t be a reach to assume the influx of people would mean a boom in business.

Though some downtown Phoenix businesses felt the benefits, others did not.

Take Seamus McCaffrey’s for example. This Irish pub has been in downtown Phoenix since 1991. Before the eventful week, the bar bulked up on inventory and increased staffing for the expected surge, bartender Krista Smith said.

“We expected to see a huge amount of traffic, and we were really nervous because we didn’t know if we were going to be able to take on that burden. We were kind of scared actually, but we were actually slower than normal,” she said.

Smith said she heard the slowdown wasn’t only at Seamus McCaffrey’s, which is a common drinking spot for others in the restaurant industry. “So a lot of other bartenders were coming over just like, ‘Where is everybody?’” she said. “We got more customers than most of the other places.”

Not all downtown restaurants saw the same lack of business. Arizona Wilderness Brewing has a beer garden on Roosevelt Row. “Our Thursday was similar to what we usually see on a Friday, and our Friday was similar to a Saturday. But Saturday was when we truly saw the impact of the Super Bowl; we broke our single-day sales record that night,” Frank Gervasi, general manager of Arizona Wilderness DTPHX, said in an email.

Workers at Seamus McCaffrey’s, a downtown Phoenix Irish pub, said they saw less business during Super Bowl week than expected. (Photo by Bella Schneider/Cronkite News)

Workers at Seamus McCaffrey’s, a downtown Phoenix Irish pub, said they saw less business during Super Bowl week than expected. (Photo by Bella Schneider/Cronkite News)

However, Gervasi shared Smith’s concerns about downtown Phoenix tourism on a wider scale, noting that having the events spread out – Glendale for the actual game, Scottsdale for the WM Phoenix Open and downtown Phoenix for Super Bowl Experience events – likely diluted the crowd. “It felt like all the tourism wasn’t fully concentrated on the DTPHX area,” Gervasi said.

Arizona Wilderness also took steps to prepare for the expected influx of people. Justus Swanick, head of restaurant operations for Arizona Wilderness Brewing, said the Valley-based brewing company evaluated staffing two months in advance, bulked up on inventory, purchased an ID scanner and attended multiple community calls to know what to expect when it came to parking closures and nearby events.

Another idea was to modify hours. “We did extend our hours an extra hour every night during Super Bowl week, but it didn’t result in much additional sales,” Swanick said.

In a January 2022 press conference, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee played a video touting the benefits the big game would bring to Arizona. Over awe-inspiring background music and footage of the stadium, fans and desert landscapes, bold words like “FORWARD PROGRESS” and “SUBSTANTIAL ECONOMIC IMPACT” laid the groundwork for what was to come.

(Video by Yoori Han/Cronkite News)

Then, in January of this year, an episode of the Official Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee Show, a podcast about the different aspects of the Super Bowl, focused on the economic impact the event would bring to the state. “It has a business and an economic direct impact in how it promotes Arizona as a pro-business environment, why someone should move their business here,” said Kyle Hedstrom, senior vice president of finance and economic impact for the host committee.

Official economic impact numbers have not yet been released. Road closures did cause delays getting in and out of downtown, which may have been a deterrent for some, but overall the week ran smoothly, said Downtown Phoenix Inc. Chief Growth Officer R.J. Price.

“I was downtown all week, and while Thursday was perhaps slower than anticipated, the business core and northern parts of the neighborhood were well above capacity Friday-Sunday,” Price said in an email.

In a news conference on the Friday after the game, Downtown Phoenix Inc. President and CEO Devney Majerle said more than 250,000 people used Valley Metro rail to get to downtown during the Super Bowl events in February, about 60% higher than average. About 200,000 people traveled through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport the day after the Super Bowl – a single-day record, according to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego.

“High light rail use certainly eased traffic congestion in downtown and delivered thousands of fans to and from Super Bowl LVII activities safely,” Majerle said.

Despite more people using public transit, Smith and her co-workers struggled with the lack of business. “We were standing around for an extended period of time, not making as much money as we normally do, so it was frustrating for us.”

Ryan Tisminezky RYE-in tiz-mih-NES-key (he/him)
News Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Ryan Tisminezky expects to graduate in May 2023 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Tisminezky has reported and anchored for Cronkite News, Cronkite Noticias and interned with FOX5 in Las Vegas as well as PHXTV.

News Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Yoori Han expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Han has interned at AZTV7 and recently completed a fellowship with Gray Television in Washington, D.C.

Logan Camden LOH-gen CAM-den (he/him/his)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Logan Camden expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Camden, assigned to Cronkite sports and news this semester, has worked as a sports betting pro for SoBet and created original content for Nerd Sesh for four-plus years.

Bella Schneider IH-zuh-beh-luh SHNEYE-dehr (She/Her)
News Digital Producer, Phoenix

Isabella Schneider expects to graduate in May 2023 with a master’s degree in mass communication, concentrated in public relations. She worked as a public relations account coordinator at Serendipit Consulting and in the communications department of Tel Aviv.