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Photo: Verizon

Due to the pandemic, this year's Super Bowl is different from any past championship game. And tech is playing a big role.

The big picture: You'll need a smartphone just to get in the door, as there are no paper tickets. Concessions are also mobile payment only — no cash.

What's changed this year? "Everything," says Michelle McKenna, the NFL's chief information officer.

Among the differences:

  • Only 25,000 fans will be allowed, including 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers. People will be seated directly next to only those in their party, with space between other groups.
  • The halftime entertainment will also look and feel different, McKenna said, because of how the league had to deal with the acts given the pandemic. She declined to go into more detail, not wanting to spoil the show.

Verizon, which spends a bundle to be a league sponsor, will also use the event as a showcase for its high-speed millimeter-wave flavor of 5G.

  • It invested $80 million to upgrade Raymond James Stadium and its surrounds, including laying 60 miles of fiber in and around the stadium, according to Verizon executive vice president Tami Erwin.
  • Those at the game will be able to access Verizon's high-speed network and watch any of seven camera angles on their mobile devices.

Other carriers have also upgraded for the big game.

  • T-Mobile has added its mid-band 5G to key parts of Tampa and both midband and even faster millimeter-wave 5G at the stadium itself. It also plans to advertise on TV during the game.
  • AT&T says it has invested $75 million in the Tampa area over the last 18 months, including adding millimeter-wave to Raymond James Stadium and parking lots, as well as in parts of downtown Tampa, Busch Gardens and Tampa International Airport.

Go deeper

Updated Feb 4, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: Hospitality and the return to work in Tampa

On Thursday, February 4, Axios Tampa Bay reporters Selene San Felice and Ben Montgomery hosted a Smart Take conversation on the hospitality industry, economic recovery and the return to work in Tampa, featuring Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa Bay Economic Development Council CEO Craig Richard.

Mayor Jane Castor discussed how Tampa has approached public health during the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • On how the city is supporting its residents during the pandemic. "There's a moratorium on any evictions...In addition, we are working in collaboration with career sources on workforce development. That is one of the larger elements of my administration's platform."
  • On how existing development projects were able to safely progress during the pandemic: "We hired a medical director at the city and individuals had to be screened before they could come on the job site. They had to wear masks, they had to socially distance and there had to be hand washing stations throughout those locations. ..I'm very proud to say, out of the thousands of workers that we were able to keep employed, we had very few COVID-19 cases at those locations."

Craig Richard unpacked economic development in Tampa and the impact it has on the 2021 Super Bowl.

  • On the challenges of economic development during the pandemic: "Tampa Bay's challenges aren't unlike any other big cities challenges right now: the challenges that we're facing are primarily pandemic related. All the obstacles and barriers that are associated with that it difficult to bring in clients and prospects and actually show them the fine city that we have."

Axios Senior Vice President of Client Partnerships Jon Otto hosted a View from the Top segment with 'Dinner Done!' co-founder and CEO Audra Nasser, who discussed the food industry in Tampa.

  • How having a digital presence impacted their ability to operate during the pandemic: "It also gave us inventory controls and that turned out to be very critical in our ability to immediately begin offering curbside pickup to our customers. Additionally, we used a lot of social media like Facebook and Instagram to continuously communicate with our customers."

Thank you Facebook for sponsoring this event.

Tampa economic leader says transit, infrastructure improvements could drive growth

Axios Tampa Bay's Ben Montgomery (L) and Tampa Bay Economic Development Council CEO Craig Richard (R). Photo: Axios

Improving transportation and infrastructure in Tampa could drive significant economic growth, Tampa Bay Economic Development Council CEO Craig Richard said on Thursday at an Axios virtual event.

The big picture: Tampa has buses for public transportation and has improved its biking and pedestrian access in recent years. But the city does not have a rail system outside of the TECO line streetcar, which is not high-speed and has limited reach. Some infrastructure throughout Hillsborough County is also in need of repair.

Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden told congressional leadership in a letter Saturday that this week's airstrike against facilities tied to Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria was consistent with the U.S. right to self-defense.

Why it matters: Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.