The NFL Experience is looking like a winner even before it opens.
More tickets have been purchased in advance for the 20th edition of the NFL Experience than for any previous Super Bowl site. The event opens today at the Indiana Convention Center.
Billed as pro football’s “interactive theme park,” the attraction spans more than 850,000 square feet and includes more than 75 exhibits. Visitors will be able to run on a full-sized field, test their passing accuracy and hang out in a replica locker room.
There also will be multiple goalposts for kickers of every age.
“Everybody loves to try to kick a field goal,” said Christine Mills, the NFL’s director of special events. “Men, women, young and old.”
Mills declined to reveal the number of tickets already sold but said, “It’s phenomenal.”
The record for total attendance at an NFL Experience is more than 200,000, established at the 2008 edition in Arizona.
Attendance is fueled by the nation’s love affair with pro football, which shows no signs of ending. In a poll published Wednesday, 36 percent of Americans surveyed named pro football as their favorite spectator sport. (Baseball was No. 2.) The New York-based Harris Poll has reported pro football as No. 1 in this category for 27 consecutive years.
The NFL Experience occupies eight halls of the Indiana Convention Center plus four tent structures between the building and Lucas Oil Stadium. About 3,500 Super Bowl Host Committee volunteers will oversee the interactive activities.
“We certainly anticipate it being the largest public event ever held in the Indiana Convention Center,” said Barney Levengood, executive director of the Capital Improvement Board.
Bob Schultz, an NFL Experience spokesman and account director at Borshoff public relations firm, said the expanded convention center is poised to dazzle visitors who have tickets to the Super Bowl — a group in which 65 percent are deemed to be “corporate decision makers.”
“When you’re flexing your muscles is when you want to show off,” Schultz said. “We’re flexing our event muscles with this.”
Tom Drullinger, an account executive for Fern Exposition & Event Services, said he’s impressed by contractors that have specialized in overhead trusses, temporary flooring and the heating of tents during a week of NFL Experience construction.
“We’re challenged to work together, which has never been a problem for Indianapolis,” Drullinger said.
A portion of admission proceeds — tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for ages 12 and younger — will go toward a $1 million donation to the Chase Near-Eastside Legacy Center on the campus of Tech High School.
For fans with front-office fantasies, the NFL Experience features the NFL Draft lectern and stage. Step to the microphone, Colts fans, and practice announcing “Andrew Luck” or “Robert Griffin III.”
The Vince Lombardi Trophy to be awarded Feb. 5 to the New York Giants or New England Patriots also will be on display. The coveted prize has a hometown courier in Colts linebacker Gary Brackett, who is scheduled to deliver the trophy during an NFL Experience opening ceremony at 3 p.m. today.
Budding broadcasters can see experts in action when the NFL Network’s on-air crew hosts live programming on a stage in the middle of the NFL Experience — allowing close-up views of anchor Rich Eisen, former coach Steve Mariucci and former players who work for the network.
Attendees also have the chance to record play-by-play commentary to accompany memorable action from the 2011 season.
A different exhibit is billed as “You Make the Call,” where fans can showcase their decisiveness in an official’s instant-replay booth.
“What we really are striving for is to bring fans closer to the game,” Mills said.