NFL helps diverse firms compete for Super Bowl business

The Viking World Order lobbied at the State Capitol
The Viking World Order is one of the groups hoping to have some fun and make money with the Super Bowl. They're offering bands of hardcore Viking fans to turbocharge the Minnesota vibe at VIP parties and other events.
Courtesy Viking World Order

The NFL wants Twin Cities firms owned by people of color, women, veterans and LGBT Minnesotans to share in all the spending the Super Bowl will generate in February.

For months, owners of such firms have received coaching about everything from how to make sales pitches to making sure they get paid.

The NFL's Business Connect supplier diversity program offers networking, educational and other guidance to prepare qualified, diverse businesses to win contracts.

At recent Super Bowls, about 100 small companies with diverse ownership managed to get about $6 million or so in sales. A piece of that business can mean a lot to small firms. But they have to know how to do business at a level they may not be used to.

At a recent Business Connect seminar in Minneapolis, RJ Orr shared some tips about how to play the game. He's a white male whose Phoenix, Ariz.-based firm has supplied large format signs for past Super Bowls. Orr recounted the moment he learned the importance of asking potential customers what their budgets are.

"I'm like, 'God, if we can get this thing for 10 grand, that would be awesome!'," he recalled. Then he asked, "'What's your budget?' And she goes, 'If you can be at 35 grand, that would be awesome.' And I'm like, 'I can do it for 28.' And she goes, 'It's yours.'"

Orr also advised attendees to persevere, be professional, organized, methodical and always available — and to be sticklers about getting paid on time.

The NFL championship game should create a lot of temporary jobs involving ticketing, coat checking, event set-up, cleanup and other tasks.

Khadija Ali, CEO of Global Language Connections, is looking to get a piece of that business and provide work to people who live near US Bank stadium.

"A lot of the people we employ are [from] around the same neighborhood where the stadium is, which usually has a higher rate of unemployment than areas in our state," she said.

In addition to entertainment, companies and organizations hosting game-related events will need food. That's Ben Dossman's opportunity. He owns the Fat Chance restaurant in Brooklyn Park, and already has won some sales out of the big game. Back in April, he fed people training the 10,000 volunteers who'll be helping out with game-related events. And after a recent sales pitch, he's optimistic about landing more catering business.

"We did a taste testing and we did pretty good," Dossman said. "We got some positive feedback, couple of changes we need to make. But we're looking forward to that."

Some 400 local businesses ended up making a Business Connect list of suggested vendors. Each business had to certify it's owned by people of color, women, veterans or lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals. The firms also had to be based in Minnesota, in business for at least three years and in good standing in the community.

But the NFL doesn't guarantee the businesses will get any sales.

"We are going to show you how to compete," said Alex Tittle, vice president for Business Connect corporate affairs for the Minnesota Super Bowl host committee.

The league just aims to give selected businesses a shot at winning contracts from game sponsors and other organizations hosting parties or other events.

"We spend the majority of our time providing a concierge service to companies to show them who the best and brightest are, to show them exactly what these businesses have to offer. And most importantly when and where to locate them," Tittle said.

Sam Cooke stands for a portrait.
Sam Cooke, of the Cooke Group, is focused on selling local color. His Viking World Order is made up of "super fans, from across the state, from across the country, and even from up from Canada."
Evan Frost | MPR News

Some of the Business Connect hopefuls are just selling local color.

"We are Minnesota Viking super fans, from across the state, from across the country, and even from up from Canada," said Sam Cooke of the Cooke Group, who leads the Viking World Order.

The group of some 400 is hoping to have some fun and make some money with the Super Bowl. They're offering bands of hardcore Viking fans to turbocharge the Minnesota vibe at VIP parties and other events.

Cooke says the Viking World Order crew is purple to the max, with horned helmets, shields, swords, face paint.

"Takes two and half hours for some of these folks to get dressed in their Viking regalia or their paint or war paint," Cooke said.

One firm that made the original Business Connect cut proved to be a bit of an embarrassment. The woman-owned King of Diamonds strip club in Inver Grove Heights somehow cleared the bar, but only until that made headlines.

Even so, the owner said she expects to see a bump from the Super Bowl.