NEW YORK — The NFL is taking its game to Times Square. Literally.
NFL Experience will open to the public in the mecca of Manhattan on Friday, one day after a grand opening that Commissioner Roger Goodell and assorted football celebrities and Hall of Famers will attend. While this Experience is patterned after the exhibits the league has done for years at the Super Bowl and draft, it has a new and different feel thanks to a partnership with Cirque du Soleil.
"Cirque du Soleil has been involved with our team on things and with the Super Bowl," says Dawn Hudson, the league's chief marketing officer. "We wanted to not just do an experience like anything else, but to have creativity and imagination and to really think about the things we would do. We thought about the power of what we know about the NFL and to try to reimagine that with a company that looks at the world in a totally different way could create magic for the fan."
A $30 million project that has taken 2 1/2 years in development, the Experience has something for kids, teens, and adults, mixing high tech and traditional displays into an immersive attraction.
Want to read about and see clips from your favorite franchise, or view memorabilia? There's a room for that, whether through tablets or visual displays.
Want to virtually dress up in full uniform and equipment like a player from your team? Do drills as if you were a draft prospect at the NFL combine? Take a history lesson of football — sort of an NFL101 — or create a touchdown celebration dance? Go ahead, there's a place for all of that, too.
Visitors can act the part of coach and quarterback with the help of Jon Gruden as he calls and diagrams a play (Dice Right 61 Bullseye X Individual), then allows fans to run the play on a video screen.
Displays of all the Super Bowl rings and tickets and the Lombardi Trophy are on hand. A replication of an equipment room and the underneath areas of a stadium is part of the four-floor tour, which takes anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes, depending on lines, though there will be timed entries.
But there's plenty to do even while waiting for something else to do.
"We look at this as Disneyland meets the Hall of Fame in Times Square," says Danny Boockvar, president of NFL Experience Times Square.
The centerpiece certainly will be a 4D film that has Cirque du Soleil's touch — artistically and in reality. It's Cirque du Soleil's first experiential venture.
Before watching the film in the Experience's Stadium, there's even a warning for people who are prone to motion sickness to beware, although the seats in the theater are adjustable to limit the amount of jerking around a viewer takes. Doubt they have those out on the field for the players.
The movie by NFL Films pretty much covers every aspect of how a player prepares, feels and what he, well, experiences when running for touchdowns, being sacked, or winning a championship. It's as fast-paced as a Tyreek Hill sprint, as powerful as a Von Miller tackle, as memorable as a Drew Brees touch pass.
It even comes with a weather surprise.
"Part of the trick is make sure to appeal to kids who are 8 and adults who are 80, to the hardcore fan and the novice, and the people from overseas," Hudson says, noting that 20 percent of foot traffic in Times Square is from Europe.
Visitors can finish off the visit in a dining area featuring favored items from the 32 NFL teams. The New York item being highlighted recently was a reuben sandwich.
The NFL Experience is one of several sites opening near Times Square this year that are a striking departure from the unique local attractions: Broadway theater; world-class museums; world-famous landmarks such as the Empire State Building, along with authentic neighborhoods, shops and eateries.
New York isn't known for its Southern food or country music, but the Grand Ole Opry is opening a venue soon promising "the best of Nashville food and entertainment in Times Square." National Geographic Encounter opened in October with an "immersive" experience using high-tech visuals and soundscapes.
"I would say the primary thought was not a movement to enhance Times Square," Hudson says. "People want things that are high-sensory experiences they can do with friends and they can talk and share, and that don't take a huge amount of time.
"We considered other places and cities. We knew we needed to have an area with a lot of visitors and fans, an area that would require heavy foot traffic. New York is the home of the NFL, it has two teams, and so many or our other teams are not so far away. This is five blocks from our headquarters. Our people can be here every day and make sure everything is authentic."