Q&A: The Clevelander in Miami braces for the 2013 BCS National Championship Game


With the regular season winding down, it isn’t just teams, programs and players getting ready for bowl season, but the cities which are hosting the big games which are prepping too. And as we enter the 2013 bowl cycle, there isn’t a single city with more going on than Miami. South Beach and the surrounding area will not only play host to the Orange Bowl this year, but also the BCS National Championship Game as well.

Good times! Well, unless you’re in the hospitality business, which will booming in and around Miami in the coming months.

Which led Crystal Ball Run to wonder: How exactly does a major city get ready to host a college football National Championship Game?

Well on Wednesday we got the answer, when we reached out to Anna Whitlow, Marketing Manager at the famed South Beach hotel and nightlife hotspot “The Clevelander.”

From marching bands on the patio to West Virginia fans buying out the bar, Anna shared stories of bowl seasons past, as well what is taking place now to get ready for the title game in January.


So Miami hosts a prominent bowl game every year, but once every four years, the National Championship Game gets put on your plate as well.

How far in advance do you prepare for something as big as the BCS title game?

We’ve really been talking about it internally, in terms of our strategy, since last year, right after the Orange Bowl.

Every year for the Orange Bowl we try to reach out to the teams and offer our pool/patio area as a place where they can gather their fans together, and normally what happens is that once the teams are announced in early December. Their representatives will scout out what they want to do in terms of events and where they’d like to host them.

Hotel-wise we do have hotel rooms and encourage fans to stay with us, but food and beverage is where we see the most opportunity. And most of that opportunity comes from the teams hosting large scale pep rallies.

Last year for the Orange Bowl we hosted West Virginia fans, and it was amazing. For us it was a really great opportunity to build a great relationship with truly great people. We worked with the Alumni Association there and did private events for them across the property, but we also did a massive pep rally on our pool patio. They brought in their mascot, cheerleaders and band, and we had hundreds of West Virginia fans going crazy.

Actually, we ran out of Bud Light! The truck had to keep coming back from the distributor. It was a fantastic afternoon for us.

But really, the great thing about it for us is that it’s fans from all over the country coming down to South Beach, and they want the typical South Beach experience.

I think we are certainly positioned well to give them that.

I’m assuming that the reaction from every fan-base you’ve ever had at The Clevelander is just that they’re happy to be in town and ready to let loose?

Miami is a fantastic place for people to come down for a bowl game and experience a warm weather climate in January, enjoy the beach and just be outdoors. It’s also a chance to experience an entirely different environment than where they live regularly; for West Virginia fans, Miami is a completely different cultural experience than Morgantown is.

So we were excited to be the best example for them of what Miami life is like.   

Honestly, I think Miami a culture shock for anyone, not just people from West Virginia.

It really doesn’t even feel like you’re in the United States sometimes!

It honestly doesn’t.

So I’ve got to ask, how do you begin the process, when you don’t know who the teams are until mid-December? Especially when so many things have to be pre-planned?

That’s the nail-biter for us.

There are some travel groups that are trying to get people to bid on travel packages (hotels and game tickets) before they even know whether their team is in the game or not. Of course by certain points of the year, people already start to get a feel for whether they’re going to make it to Miami or not.

So sure, we work with certain tour groups on the hotel room side, but on the food and beverage side, it really is a waiting game.

We try hard to let people know we’re open and available, and work with the Orange Bowl and National Championship host committees to make sure they know that when the teams come through to check out Miami, they stop in the Clevelander to see what’s available, see what the event space looks like and know to ask for us. So we go after them from the committee side, but also try to work with our former event clients and alumni associations too. Like anything else, everybody talks to each other, and if they’ve been to an Orange Bowl or National Championship Game before, they go to each other and say ‘Hey, this is what worked for us.’

As I said, I’m sure if you talked to West Virginia fans, they’d tell you that we were definitely a highlight for them!

You know, I’ve got to say, it sounds like the fans from Clemson missed out on a good time.

Well Clemson fans showed up too!

It was sort of interesting because we were approached by the West Virginia people early. After all, we are an equal opportunity vendor and don’t root for one team or the other. But West Virginia came to us and presented some ideas on what they wanted to do, and it was an offer we couldn’t refuse!

Obviously we didn’t paint ourselves blue and yellow, and we were open to any Clemson fans who wanted to join and some did show up. It’s safe to say that there was quite a bit of heckling for the people who did show up from Clemson. But there was still some orange on the patio for sure.

Hopefully there was no police assistance needed?

No police assistance needed at all! With the amount of Bud Light consumed, it could’ve gotten bad, but it was very peaceful.

West Virginia fans are the best.

Is it possible for you to know whether fans are looking ahead and pre-booking hotel rooms or anything else in anticipation of their team making it to Miami?

What’s interesting this year is that Orange Bowl is actually played on New Year’s Day, so we already have plenty of pre-booked rooms and events for those events, regardless of what happens with football. So it’s a bit unique, and because of it we’re already sold out Orange Bowl week. We are also getting close to that for the National Championship as well.

We also work with folks who are going to be here regardless of what teams are playing; the ESPN’s, and others who need space to shoot and things like that.

Now, I don’t want to put you on the spot here, but… are there any teams or schools you guys are, hmm, how do I say this, “Keeping your eye on,” that you’re optimistic will make it down to Miami for either the Orange Bowl or the National Championship?

We all know certain schools travel better than others.

I don’t want to say we have a preference, especially since regardless of who makes it down here all the teams are in a festive mood and in great spirits. And I think regardless of whom those teams are, we can provide a great environment for them.

There are obviously schools which are known to be more party schools than others, but we welcome in any team down that’s part of either the Orange Bowl or National Championship.

And that’s the thing. As someone who has been around college football, I know how festive it is. You’re traveling, it’s New Year’s, and you’re getting time off work. Everyone really is pretty happy during bowl season. It’s just a really fun time no matter who your team is, or where you’re playing.

Exactly, people are really excited. I come from a football culture down in Louisiana and people are willing to travel no matter where they need to for a bowl game. Money is no object, and they really just want to go out and have a good time and root their team to victory.

And really for us, it’s a cool group to be a part of. To have such happy guests is something we really love.

It’s always good to have a bowl game every year, and to have two this year is really fantastic.

Is it safe to say West Virginia is the craziest group you’ve dealt with since you’ve started?

It is! Last year was actually my first bowl season at The Clevelander, so I’m 1-for-1 on that one.

I’ve heard stories on all the teams. I’m not sure when USC last played in the Orange Bowl, I think it was the early 2000’s, but they had their marching band on the patio as well. That story is legendary.  

But yeah, West Virginia was amazing. Seeing their marching band come down Ocean Drive onto our patio really was one of the highlights of my year at The Clevelander.

Last major question: Say by some random happenstance, an administrator at a major university who may be playing at Miami this bowl season happens to come across this interview.

Tell them what they will experience by hosting an event at The Clevelander.

I’m delighted to tell them what they’ll experience!

So basically, we have multiple event spaces to host any private events they’d need to host; whether it’s alumni association events, athletic department meetings, meet and greets with players or coaches. We also have two rooftop decks and hotel rooms if they need private meetings too.

We also welcome with open arms doing a large-scale public pep rally type event. So if they wanted to bring cheerleaders, their band, the entire football team to stop by and wave to people, whatever, we’d be open to doing it.

We also welcome them to partner with our beer, liquor and food elements. So we can do drink specials that are themed, food specials that are themed and customize the experience for them.

We welcome everyone with open arms!

For any fans, administrators or schools interested in visiting or hosting events at The Clevelander during bowl season, please call Anna directly by e-mail at awhitlow@clevelander.com or by phone at 786-276-1417.

Follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.