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The Big Pregame (Vegas’s Version)


Music blared as the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had a conversation across a barricade. Close by were Machine Gun Kelly, the platinum-blond musician, and his partner, the actor Megan Fox. Outside the 45,000-square-foot, strobe-light-filled tent near the Las Vegas Strip, a man climbed a life-size statue of an elephant. Other partyers cheered him on and snapped pictures.

“I think if you do it right, people let loose and just enjoy themselves,” said Brian Toll, a co-founder of the h.wood Group, the hospitality business behind the star-studded circus that melted Friday night into Saturday morning, cosplaying as a socializer, concert and brand-activation playground.

Super Bowl week is important for business: When the N.F.L. crowns a champion, it also feeds television networks and gives a valuable platform to advertisers and performing artists. But for many other people, it is a great excuse to party.

“I think the game is the biggest event of the weekend, but I don’t want to confuse size and magnitude versus what people enjoy the most,” said Michael Rubin, the billionaire owner of the sports retail company Fanatics, which annually hosts a Super Bowl party for the sports and entertainment elite.

This year’s glamour has been heightened because the entertainment juggernaut Las Vegas is hosting the Super Bowl for the first time. Officials expected about 1,000 private aircraft operating through area airports. Musicians timed their residencies around the weekend.

“It’s the depth and breadth of the A-list celebrities being in Vegas this weekend that just takes what we have all the time up a notch,” said Steve Hill, the president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The h.wood Group consists of more than a dozen nightclubs and restaurants, primarily in Los Angeles, that celebrities often frequent. The rapper Drake named a 2023 song after the West Hollywood, Calif., address of the lounge Delilah; Wiz Khalifa named a 2018 song after the nightclub Bootsy Bellows.

Even so, Toll said it was particularly difficult to book talent this year. In addition to competing with parties hosted by retired athletes like Shaquille O’Neal and Rob Gronkowski, the h.wood Group was also forced to contend with the numerous nightclubs that are connected to the Strip’s hotels.

The h.wood Group held its first Super Bowl party in 2013 in New Orleans, partnering with Playboy. (It has since hosted them independently.) Having fun is the priority, Toll said, but the parties have also become a lucrative moneymaking opportunity.

The goal was: Have a great party and have our name there so that anytime our crowd was in a different market, like the Super Bowl, they should be reaching out to us,” Toll said.

To stand out in Las Vegas, Toll and his business partner, John Terzian, constructed a lavish tent next to the upscale Wynn Las Vegas resort for parties on Friday and Saturday. Toll said he expected about 6,000 guests across both nights at the venue.

Performers for the two nights included the rap stars Future and Jack Harlow and the electronic dance music artists David Guetta and Kaytranada. Toll said that Drake, who headlined their previous two parties in West Hollywood and Scottsdale, Ariz., could not commit because of his tour.

At the first party, a drone flew overhead as Future completed his set. The rapper Travis Scott sporadically acted as a D.J.

The h.wood Group charged $500 for general admission. A table for 30 people cost as much as $150,000, more than 20 times the price of a Super Bowl ticket on the secondary market.

Toll said the prices ensured that the company would profit from the millions it had spent on the tent, performers and other resources. It also sold sponsorships starting at $100,000 to Taco Bell, Crown Royal and the clothing company Revolve, among others. In return, the companies received product placement: Taco Bell announced new items on its menu earlier on Friday at a tent next to the h.wood Group’s.

“The Super Bowl is the most culturally relevant event in the entire year and we want to make sure that we are talking to that audience,” Raissa Gerona, the chief brand officer for Revolve, said.

Fanatics uses a different strategy for its invite-only party, which has become one of the most coveted events of the weekend.

“If someone called and said, ‘Hey, I’ll pay you $1 million for a six-person table,’ we would never do it,” Rubin said.

Fanatics is a retail partner for the four major sports leagues, and Rubin has fostered close relationships with team owners, star athletes and entertainers. His first party, in 2013, started as a small dinner. Now, Rubin has a person who follows him around to monitor his alcohol intake, stopping him at eight shots.

The New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, the basketball player Kevin Durant and the rapper Jay-Z have all attended past Fanatics parties.

Scott, the Chainsmokers and Ice Spice are scheduled to perform at the Fanatics party on Saturday afternoon at the Marquee club at the Cosmopolitan, a luxury resort. Rubin said he recently made a video call to Scott, who performed at last year’s party, and asked, “Do you want to run it back?”

Rubin typically begins crafting a list of guests in September and keeps a strict head count of 800 to 1,000 people. All guests are close to either Rubin or the company; the sportscaster Erin Andrews, who has attended previous parties, has a women’s sports apparel and licensing partnership with Fanatics.

Rarely can guests bring others. When a star N.F.L. quarterback inquired about a friend, Rubin declined immediately.

“Everyone there is strategically important,” Rubin said.

Instead of accepting sponsorships, Rubin allows his friends to promote their alcohol brands, such as 818 by Kendall Jenner, for free. He also hosted a small brunch with the entertainment executive Casey Wasserman on Friday at the Italian restaurant LAVO. The 100 guests included Kraft; Dana White, the chief executive of the Ultimate Fighting Championship; and Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the N.F.L.

“It’s to celebrate and appreciate and take care of the people that take care of us,” Rubin said.

The proliferation of Super Bowl social events started around the 1980s, said Jim Steeg, the N.F.L’.s former senior vice president for special events. Around that time, the singer Frank Sinatra held concerts during Super Bowl week, and the league began experimenting with hospitality tents at the host stadium.

“On Location,” the league’s official hospitality partner, said it served 35 percent of Super Bowl attendees this year. One package that cost nearly $17,000 included a game ticket, three nights at the Wynn Las Vegas and, of course, access to parties.



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