By: Andy Likes, Practice Area Lead- Crisis Communications
If you’ve ever had a crisis, you know they are tough to plan for, difficult to manage and tricky to eliminate. Sunday evening on the biggest global stage, the NFL, CBS, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Entergy Corporation dealt with a crisis while the world watched live and waited. For the first few minutes, fans in the stadium and those watching at home had no idea what happened as half the lighting banks, including the power to the press box, went out. CBS came back on the air with minimal cameras and audio only from sideline reporter Steve Tasker. As is the case in most crises, there was not enough information. The FBI quickly started an investigation to rule out anything criminal. Tasker later reported that he went and found an NFL official in a suit to determine what happened. The NFL should have come to the media faster with information. There were only a few thousand media from around the world in the house.
It was ultimately determined this was an isolated incident. Initial speculation said it was the power lines to the stadium that left the most-watched football game in history in semi-darkness for a lengthy 34 minutes. CBS scrambled to get the NFL Today studio crew set up and running following halftime. There was lots of speculation regarding the reason, the timing and ultimately the seemingly miraculous improvement of the San Francisco offense following the extended delay. Ultimately, the NFL did a good job managing the crisis, but they could have given information to the media and fans faster and more accurately. We heard several times the lights would be back on in 15 minutes. It ended up taking more than double that estimate. If you are going to give an estimate, under promise and over deliver in a crisis.
Philip Allison, a spokesman for Entergy New Orleans, the local power company, said “All of our distribution and transmission feeds going into the Superdome were operating as expected.” He said the outage appeared to originate from a failure in equipment run by the stadium staff. Eric Eagan, a spokesman for the Mercedes-Benz Superdome said, “We sincerely apologize for the incident.”
Monday morning, Entergy and SMG, the company that manages the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, issued a joint statement explaining the power loss.
“A piece of equipment that is designed to monitor electrical load sensed an abnormality in the system. Once the issue was detected, the sensing equipment operated as designed and opened a breaker, causing power to be partially cut to the Superdome in order to isolate the issue. Backup generators kicked in immediately as designed.”
In the heat of this crisis, the fans and players seemed to remain calm while the situation was fixed. There were no issues in the stands, although cameras showed many fans leaving the game, unhappy with waiting during the delay. Players continued to throw the football and stretch to stay “warm.” Overall, this crisis was handled quickly, no one was injured, truly a best case scenario for all involved. That being said, it’s been 11 years since New Orleans hosted the Super Bowl, and there is tremendous competition for the game as cities build bigger and better stadiums. Will this incident make future Super Bowl’s crisis communications plans better? Absolutely. Will it hurt New Orleans chances to bring the Super Bowl back to town? Only time will tell, but it surely won’t help.