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Booker, mascots have a ball with Super Bowl as big game nears

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Caught on tape: a whistle-blowing, football-toting Newark Mayor Cory Booker, barking and pointing as he tries to motivate a bumbling group of sports mascots.

“I’ll tell you this!” Booker shouts at the group, which includes a devil, a pirate and two human-sized animals. “It’s not whether you win or lose! It’s how we play the game!”

The 90-second video isn’t the latest SportsCenter commercial, but the second installment in a campaign aimed at showcasing Newark before next year’s Super Bowl. Executives with the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is spearheading the effort, hope to tap into the city’s business, cultural and political networks to build enthusiasm and draw visitors to the region before the game at MetLife Stadium.

“This is really just using the Super Bowl platform to kind of introduce the world to the variety of what we have in Newark,” said Michael Davidson, the organization’s executive director. “So there are going to be videos all over the place … and I think as the videos roll out, we’ll be getting more and more interest.”

The campaign, dubbed Newark’s Super Ball Toss, launched last week, and will release a new video every Monday until the NFL’s championship game on Feb. 2, said Lauren Hall, the bureau’s marketing director. To jump-start the effort, the group recruited Booker and the mascots of the New Jersey Devils, Seton Hall University, Newark Bears and New York Liberty, with the mayor assuming the role of a coach while “getting the mascots in shape.”

But Davidson said the campaign has a pipeline of commitments from entities around the Brick City and neighboring Elizabeth, ranging from the New York Red Bulls and the Prudential Center to a deli and local comic book shop. He cited the importance of social media, and said that the more participants, the greater chance it has to showcase the region.

“As it gets closer, we expect more and more of partners to kind of push out our message,” he said. “Every time we set up a video, they’ll use their channels to send out the word about it.

Hall said the organization hopes that offering its own resources will encourage businesses to take part, allowing them to do so at no cost.

The visitors bureau has other plans for building exposure around the Super Bowl, including two planned public art projects. In the fall, the group will start to install 22 five-foot-tall footballs around the city that will be decorated by local artists. The group also plans to place two oversized football helmets at Championship Plaza, outside the Prudential Center, that will be designed by artists from the home cities of the two eventual Super Bowl teams.

Davidson noted such efforts are especially important because the Prudential Center on Jan. 28 will host Media Day, the high-profile first official public event of Super Bowl week.

“All of the state tourism people who we’re working with … realize that it’s a unique opportunity for New Jersey, and we should be taking advantage of it,” he said.

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Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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