I got an inside look at the NFL Experience, an attraction that opened this week in New York’s Times Square. Inside the four-story building there are many activities and games, some electronic and some physical. The president of NFL Experience, Danny Boockvar, said the league wants to create more fans and turn current fans into even bigger ones. He is expecting 1 million people to visit in the next year.
“Because it is in Times Square, we expect to attract a lot of tourists who are coming to visit New York from overseas,” added Marie-Hélène Lagacé, the senior director of public relations for Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, which partnered with the NFL on the exhibition. “When you come in, the first thing you see is a bit of history and NFL 101. The goal is to teach kids and families coming from around the world what this great sport is all about.”
My favorite part of the experience was the awesome 4D theater called the Stadium. It had 180 chairs that vibrated and wiggled around during a 10-minute show. This made it feel like you were actually in the game. When a player tackled a different player, the chair would shake. I thought it couldn’t get any cooler, but then fake snow came down from the ceiling. Finally, a person wearing a parachute and a camera jumped out of a plane down to the field, so that you could feel like you were having that experience.
The next floor was the Equipment Room. In this room, there were a lot of physical activities. For example, there was a vertical jump station where you leap as high as you can, and it measures how high you went. You can compare yourself to NFL stars, including Odell Beckham Jr., who had the highest vertical jump. In addition, you can slam into a blocking dummy and try to push it back while sensors measure how hard you push. The room also has game-used pads, cleats, and gloves, including Matt Ryan’s cleats from when he played in the Super Bowl. On the bottom of his cleats, you can see that there were still grass stains on it (and confetti from the Patriots’ post-game celebration).
In Huddle Up and Game Plan, you learn how to execute an actual NFL play, and then you do it. In Huddle Up, a video of coach Jon Gruden teaches you a play, Dice Right 61 Bullseye X Individual, in a team meeting. In Game Plan, you get to execute the play. You go up to the wall, look into a helmet, and then you call the play that you learned. The computer understands what you say to it. You choose who you want to throw it to—the wide receiver or the tight end. Gruden then tells you if the play worked.
The QB Challenge was a little silly but fun. I took the football and threw it at a screen (with a net over it), which showed the wide receiver running. The goal was to try to get the ball to him. I got it to him all three times I tried. The speed-tracking technology tells you how fast you threw the football at the wide receiver. The system compares your statistics to the real-life NFL quarterback of the team you choose.
Finally, the NFL Experience has a wall with glass cases containing memorabilia from each of the 32 teams. For example, there were tickets, Wheaties boxes, and team jerseys. It looked like the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio (which I visited last year). The Lombardi Trophy is on display, and you can have your photo taken with it. The room also has every championship ring, from the Green Bay Packers’ in Super Bowl I to the New England Patriots’ in Super Bowl LI. The Patriots’ ring has 283 diamonds!
If you’re in Times Square in New York City, you should go to the new NFL Experience to have some fun. Whether you’re a huge fan or new to football, you won’t be disappointed.
Photographs by Zach Harwayne