Meet the planning 'wizard' behind Eagles' Super Bowl parade in Philadelphia
As lead producer of the Eagles parade, Fred Stein is orchestrating what could be the city's highest-attended event in memory.
A helicopter company wanted to know if it could fly the Eagles' mascot, Swoop, over the crowds.
A long line of port-a-potties had been set up in a way that would block the views of thousands of spectators.
Trucks carrying 3,000 chairs bound for the foot of the Art Museum were arriving ahead of schedule, with no place to unload them.
Just 24 hours before the Eagles were slated to parade through the city, Fred Stein was putting out all sorts of last-minute logistical fires.
If Stein was sweating under his black Super Bowl-champion Eagles cap, you couldn't tell. He told the helicopter company thanks, but no thanks, made arrangements to move the port-a-potties, and redirected the chairs.
"I'm getting 100 requests a day, calls, texts, e-mails, smoke signals, sign language," Stein said Wednesday morning. "Miss Philadelphia, Miss America, the Army band, the Temple band, the Penn band. I can't tell you how many special Eagles songs I have that people have written and want to perform."
As lead producer of the parade and celebratory ceremony, Stein is coordinating hundreds of people and logistics, orchestrating what could be the city's highest-attended event in memory. The parade will start officially at 11 a.m. at Broad and Pattison and end at the Art Museum in time for speeches, which start at 1 p.m.
Stein is quick to point out an event of this size only works if one has many partners — the Eagles, NBC, the city. He runs his company, the Creative Group, with his son, Neil, and he's partnering on the parade with event producer Karen Homer. "The event is a success only because of the whole team," he says, pausing to answer his fifth phone call in two minutes. (He keeps three backup chargers on him at all times.)
While he won't give away details until showtime, the parade is almost exclusively Eagles players. "That's what this is about," Stein said. "The Eagles and their fans and the people of this city."
He said it's why the decision was made to end at the Art Museum instead of at the stadium, where the Phillies' 2008 World Series ceremony took place. Lincoln Financial Field holds only 60,000, he said. The Parkway will accommodate far more spectators.
Tentative plans for an Eagles parade started in hushed whispers about a week ago, but only ramped up to full speed Monday at 8 a.m. The parade and ceremony production will costs "millions," Stein said, to be paid for by the Eagles. Everything has to be cleaned up by 5 p.m. Friday.
In addition to the big details — security considerations, sight-lines for TV cameras and locations — he's also a stickler for the little things. He brought in two huge bottles of hand sanitizer to set up in the tent where workers pulling all-day shifts eat three meals a day.
Stein has produced several Mummers parades and the 76ers championship parade in 1983. He was behind the 200th anniversary of the Constitution in 1987, when thousands of people rode elaborate floats through the city. Stein organized the very short — but historic — trip the Liberty Bell took around the corner in 2003.
His team ran the papal events on Independence Mall, and the celebratory openings for the Constitution Center, the Convention Center, the Barnes Foundation, and the National Museum of American Jewish History.
"He's the wizard. The man behind the magic," said Ike Richman, a communications professional, who was working with Stein on parade preparations Wednesday. "If it's a big celebration in Philadelphia, Fred has his handprints all over it and no one would ever know."
Richman recalled a private party Stein produced when the Spectrum closed in 2009.
"As you walked down the hallway out onto the floor Fred had the sound system pumping crowd noise so you felt like you were walking out into the arena," Richman said. "He had the Stanley Cup out there, he had thought of every single detail. That's Fred. He works tirelessly and never stops and if you pull him aside he never looks like anything's bothering him."
Stein, 66, grew up in Oxford Circle, graduated from Northeast High School and Temple University, and now lives in Center City. He started out as a reporter and later worked for the city. It was during his time as assistant managing director, planning Philadelphia's 300th birthday in 1982, that he got into event planning.
By noon, the number of fires had grown and Stein had to leave the Parkway for an emergency meeting. He teaches college courses on event management and warns each of his students this is a profession for people who thrive in stress.
"You're in the middle of a million things, but you don't let the pressure get to you, no matter what," Stein said. "My favorite part isn't when it's over, it's when you're in the thick of it, just before it begins."
With that, his mind wandered back to those 3,000 chairs scheduled to arrive at 5 p.m.
"You know, it's probably going to still be raining when they get here," he said. "Then it's going to get cold. Then the rain will freeze. … I'll probably be stopping at Home Depot on the way home for rags and blowtorches or something. I haven't quite figured that one out yet."