There's a battle royale brewing in Arizona that has little to do with the Patriots or the Giants.
In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, magazines such as Playboy, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and Maxim will rival video game publisher Electronic Arts, trading card company Upper Deck and a few others for the biggest, bestest, loudest and most exclusive celebrity-filled Super Bowl party ever.
"Over the years, it's become quite competitive among the other magazines and companies who throw parties," says Hugh Hefner, the Playboy mogul who will make the trek to the Grand Canyon State for his empire's party after a three-year absence. "It's all turned into something beyond just celebrating a football game. It's an entire weekend event."
This year, about 60 parties and events are pegged to Super Bowl XLII. Fewer than 10 of those are invite-only soirees with the main aim of wooing important advertisers and the like, the largest and most famous being the Playboy and Maxim parties. In years past, Penthouse's event was also oh-so-exclusive but tickets to this year's gala are readily available online for $500.
"Super Bowl parties are a no-brainer," says Carmen Electra, the model-actress who's attended a few Super Bowl celebrations over the years. "Everyone is looking to have a good time. Basically, all you have to do is provide a venue and a DJ and invite people. I think it's pretty simple."
Electra is hosting Friday's Leather and Laces event at the Galleria Corporate Centre, which will also serve as backdrop for the Saturday Night Spectacular hosted by John Travolta and Marshall Faulk. Unlike the velvet-roped Playboy and Maxim parties, average joes can gain general admission to those events for $500. The VIP treatment, however, will set partygoers back $1,000.
With high-rolling fans flocking from New England and New York, expectations for lavish pre-game parties are high. If not invited, visitors will have to pay a broker between $1,500 and $3,000 to secure a place on the list of an exclusive event, like Playboy's oasis-themed party inside the 52,000-square-foot Rawhide Pavilion at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler.
Even some celebrities will even have trouble getting in.
"We have thousands of requests," says Donna Tavoso, Playboy's vice president in charge of putting the party together. "We tell more people no than we say yes to, which is hard. We wish we could have everyone, but you can't have an exclusive party with everyone."
This year, more attendees have asked Robert Tuchman for access to Sports Illustrated's fete at the Barcelona supper club than any other party. Tuchman is the man behind Tuchman Sports Enterprises, a hospitality company specializing in arranging tickets, accommodations and entertainment for corporate types at huge sporting events like the Super Bowl.
"Every party is going to have an open bar. Every party is going to have good food," Tuchman says. "What makes or breaks a party is the celebrities who show up and the proximity to the stars. It's being able to say, `I hung out with Adam Sandler at the bar last night.' That's what you're going to remember most about the party."
This year, the celebrity guests being bandied about in event press releases are all over the A- to D-list spectrum. A random sampling of such expected stars: Alyssa Milano, the cast of "The Hills," Cuba Gooding Jr., David Spade, Eva Longoria Parker, Gabrielle Union, Ian Ziering, Joey Fatone, Kevin Sorbo, Milo Ventimiglia, Nick Lachey and Paris Hilton.
Whether they show up is another story.
But every event has secured recognizable musicians to perform. Penthouse will have Snoop Dogg. Playboy's got Nick Cannon. Sports Illustrated has D-Nice. Leather and Laces has Sugar Ray. Vice the Party will star Timbaland. Maxim will feature a surprise musical guest. (Hint: He's a friend of Michael Jackson.) And Victoria's Secret has Josh Kelley.
For the first time, the sultry retailer has organized its own Super Bowl party. The bash at the 10,000-square-foot Taste Ultra Lounge is being thrown to coincide with the release of Victoria's Secret's annual "What is Sexy?" list. Jill Beraud, the company's chief marketing officer, isn't yet sure if the party will become a tradition worthy of scrambling against Maxim and Playboy.
"We're not looking to make it big," Beraud says. "We're looking to make it exclusive."
Victoria's Secret supermodels Karolina Kurkova, Adriana Lima and Selita Ebanks will host the event while rumors are swirling that Justin Timberlake — selected this year's Sexiest Male Musician by Victoria's Secret — will make an appearance either there or at some other party in Arizona.
Outside of the behemoth well-publicized events are several much-smaller private functions, such as Thursday's "naked" pingpong tournament, sponsored by enhanced-water bottler Glaceau and hosted by 50 Cent. Instead of a club or convention center, the party is being held at a private mansion in Scottsdale.
For CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell, who says he's attended more Super Bowl parties than he can remember, he's most looking forward to this year's offerings from Playboy and Maxim, which is holding an invite-only bash at the new Stone Rose Lounge at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
"The fact is anyone who's anyone that's in town for the Super Bowl shows up at those parties," says Rovell. "For celebrities and athletes, it's an opportunity to be seen on the red carpet at the biggest sports event of the year. For everyone else, it's their chance to rub elbows with those people. It's probably the most important aspect of these events to everyone involved."
Hefner agrees — with one important caveat.
"It has very much to do with the guest list," he says. "You have to have the right mix of celebrities, athletes and girls. The most defining part of any party is the right combination of food, drinks, ambiance, entertainment and good toilet facilities. A bad party is a party where you can't find a john."