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Guster plays at NFL Kickoff celebration at Columbus Park (Photo by @ConciergeBoston)

Much like the outcome of the game itself (Chiefs 42, Patriots 27), expectations exceeded reality Thursday for the NFL season kickoff celebration on Boston’s North End waterfront at Christopher Columbus Park.

When a “surprise musical guest” was teased as part of a large NFL Kickoff in Boston, rumors quickly spread that Bon Jovi would be performing. A massive security effort was organized to surround the entire park with visually screened fencing, high level concert scanners, bomb sweeps, sniffing dogs and “first-come, first-serve” restricted access through a single entrance on Atlantic Avenue. The league pushed for a complete takeover of the prime waterfront location at Christopher Columbus Park, according to city officials, rather than using the more typical City Hall Plaza or part of Boston Common. Dozens of police and city staff were on hand for the setup of the locked-down waterfront venue.

The prospect for overwhelming crowds at the free event turned more modest when the NFL announced that Miguel would be singing his R&B hits instead of a large scale, arena-like show. Still, at least it was a grammy award winner with broad appeal. On with the show! But then, the Miguel show didn’t happen either. On the night before, the NFL said the R&B artist was feeling ill. Filling in would be the local alt-rock band, Guster.

And so, the show went on, and it was fine. A decent crowd gathered in front of the stage as Guster put on an energetic 45-minute set. The lead singer admitted he knew next to nothing about football but that didn’t seem to matter. Former Patriots stars Rodney Harrison and Willie McGinest came out to be part of the celebration. Before the concert, there was a screening of “America’s Game,” celebrating the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI winning season. And, there were giveaways to get the crowd fired up. The winner of the season opener tickets, Ross Chanowski, made a generous gesture by offering his tickets to a “dreamer” immigrant.

It was clear, however, that those worried about “first-come, first-served” warnings would not have a problem. The NFL live stream did a masterful job of showing the front row crowd so as not to make it obvious that the park lawn was largely empty in the rear. And despite the extensive preparations at the park, the event itself was brief. By 1:30 p.m., it was all over.

The event got us thinking … was it overkill to take over an entire city park in our neighborhood for what amounted to a marketing event? When asked why the Harborwalk could not be left open for people to walk through the park, officials cited a public safety concern because the area was being used as backstage for the performance. The preparation that closed the park was longer than the event itself. At 6pm, the massive amount fencing and other security measures were still being deconstructed.

We confirmed with city officials that the NFL did not pay the city to use the park. Unlike an arena or private facility, Boston Parks Department does not charge to use its unique venues. An estimate for security was not available at the time.

City officials asked the NFL to make a donation to the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park. As of this writing, that has not happened but FOCCP officers remain hopeful. Along with meticulously tending to the park, the group is trying to bring back New Year’s Eve fireworks to the waterfront and could use the money.

Should the NFL have paid to use the city park for its concert just like any other private venue? Take the poll and let us know what you think in the comments below.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. I went to walk my dog and was turned away. The whole thing was a joke. Of course the NFL should pay the city and the friends group. It was pure marketing by the NFL, Hyundai, Pepsi, Microsoft banners everywhere. The NFL made over $13 billion last year, the least they can do is give back a few thousand dollars to the city.

    • Hi ‘no spin’ they had SECURITY CHECK POINTS around the park you could have entered if you passed through them. The organizers blocked off areas (like the rose garden) so that the crowds would not trample anything if it was large. But I am sorry for your inconvenience

  2. I dont see how this event was any different from others who get permits to used the CCP or any venue. BTW the crowd was small because it was a weekday and school started that day. I was there the fans were polite and caring about the park i.e. they kept it clean. For me (an avid football fan) I thought it was a nice place to have a rally/kickoff event and would like to see it return. If it does I volunteer to welcome them from the Friends of Christopher Columbus park and ask the participants for a donation to ‘keep this park as beautiful as it is”.

  3. In the relative sense the NFL could have paid and probably would have paid if asked. The concession the City made was probably made to keep the entertainment free. The NFL had very little to gain from the free publicity since the TV contracts have been signed and tickets had all been sold at this point.

    However, professional sports has leached off taxpayers in worse ways. To their credit, the Mass legislature refused to buy Robert Kraft a new stadium even after he threatened to move the team to Hartford. In retrospect, this worked out better for both parties. Cities like Oakland and Baltimore that paid for venues to support sports teams have never recovered. The cities have been sucked dry for the entertainment of suburbanite couch potatoes. Baltimore doesn’t even receive money from stadium concessions. Oakland was just stiffed after luring the team back from LA, giving them a stadium, they leave again for the money and new stadium in Los Vegas. The results have been derelict schools systems and intercity poverty.

    I believe the question asked here was a good one, since the public should be vigilant against public money going to private organizations.

  4. Of course they should have paid. The North End has many events annually that support the neighborhood such as the feasts and the taste of the north end who pay for permits, details, and many other things. Why should the NFL, who make 10s of billions a year, be able to come here and take over a park and promote themselves for free? Doesn’t make sense to me

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