The Super Bowl equates to dollars, lots and lots of dollars. Between the advertising and network deals, the V.I.P. parties and concerts, to the actual football game itself, there is no shortage of money being invested, donated, raised, spent, blown, and made in our city this week. Nowhere in the Valley was the cash-flow more apparent than on Saturday night for the sixth annual Big Game Big Give charity event hosted by actor Mark Wahlberg and film director Michael Bay, which featured a performance by Phoenix native and American Idol season six winner, Jordin Sparks.
This year, the VIP charity event took place at the massive private residence of former Diamondbacks third baseman and current Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams and his wife, Erika, the former anchor of Good Evening Arizona on KTVK. With a red carpet entrance onto the property, and a lavish spread of amenities inside the Paradise Valley estate, the Williams manor was quickly packed to the gills by politicians, television and film actors, musicians and athletes who all had the chance to bid on high-priced memorabilia and personalized packages in the spirit of philanthropy.
Of all the entrances that were to occur, the first arrival by the Williams' was the most impressive, as a coach pulled by six Budweiser Clydesdales came stomping down the public Phoenix street carrying the co-chairs of the evening to their own home. The Clydesdales would end up staying on the side of the curb for the next two hours, guarded by Phoenix Police Department, until they were ushered away to make room for the official Optimus Prime Mack truck from Michael Bay's Transformers films. On a side note: This marked the first time I've ever seen a Clydesdale horse in person, and they are monstrously huge animals.
One by one, guests arrived over the next few hours, and every time another noteworthy figure would approach the entrance, the media circus would kick up into high gear. The banter and interviews between celebrities and the media were all very short and extremely generic and predictable (mostly pertaining to how important it is to give back with charity or whether they are rooting for the Patriots or the Seahawks) from the politicians like Senator Jeff Flake and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, to the famed Hollywood staples like producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Michael Bay, Mark Wahlberg, Maria Menounos, or athletes like Houston Texans running back Arian Foster and Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen.
The front gate opened up into a courtyard where a series of open bars were strategically scattered around the grounds. BMW was a platinum sponsor of the event, and BMW models from every era were displayed on the property.
Other tables for guests to visit included a fine cigar bar, a dining area sponsored by some of the higher end chefs in the country and local valley, and tables filled with diamond jewelry and exclusive offers available for silent auction. The Williams, along with their neighbors and fellow co-chair couple Linda and Bill Pope, crafted an enormous celebration devoted to The Giving Back Fund, the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix.
On the red carpet, Erika Williams mentioned that the goal for the evening was to raise one million dollars, and before the auction had even begun she said they had already reached their goal. So when Mark Wahlberg took to the stage in the front yard alongside Michael Bay and the evening's emcee, Maria Menounos, to begin the live auction (complete with the stereotypical fast-talking auctioneer) it was all just supplemental income.
"All you guys are going to spend a lot of money tonight," Wahlberg announced to the crowd in front of him."Because we need it, and it's going to a lot of great causes -- and for you, it's a drop in the bucket."
Cue the jaw-dropping amounts of money people were willing to throw down for Wahlberg and Bay's personalized gifts.
What were the personalized gifts? Well, you could bid on a chance to attend the premiere of Ted 2 and the new season of Entourage. Another high priced item was a chance to spend the day with Mark Wahlberg on the set of his next movie. Or you could bid on a chance to attend the season finale of American Idol, receive a VIP experience at the 2015 Daytona 500, earn a walk on role in the upcoming Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Part 2, visit Matt Williams for a three-game series with his Washington Nationals and tour the White House, or travel on the team plane with the Arizona Diamondbacks to an away game of your choice.
How much did all of these items sell for? It doesn't really matter, because it was just a drop in the bucket, remember? In actuality, all of the aforementioned packages ended up selling for between $25,000 and $30,000 each. What the hell though, it's for charity, and plus, they can write it off on their taxes.
A highlight of Wahlberg's auction came when he brought Marcus Luttrell, author of Lone Survivor, on stage with him to say thank you for his service to our country.
After the auction concluded, Wahlberg and Bay left the stage, and Wahlberg was completely swarmed by the attendees yet again. It almost made me feel bad for the guy. He wasn't able to stick around after the auction, and was escorted by his entourage out of the event, but Bay joined everyone else in the crowd to enjoy the rest of the evening.
Jordin Sparks was the musical performance of the night, and she came to the stage around 9:45 in a long flowing yellow dress and opened with a cover of the timeless love song "At Last." While Sparks only played a handful of stripped-down songs for her performance on this evening, it was altogether powerful and impressive as the Phoenix native wooed the crowd with her soothing vocal power.
Sparks warned the audience that her voice was hurting before she began her performance, but once those American Idol-winning vocal chords kicked in, she was money. Even still, while Sparks was certainly an advertised part of the Big Game Big Give event, her performance seemed like a secondary thought to the people in attendance. She had her share of listeners standing in close for her performance, but many of the once packed seats for Wahlberg's auction were now mostly empty as people had gotten up to hit the open bars and mingle with the crowd.
By the time Sparks wound down her very brief set, the party was in full swing with booze flowing and many different spectacles for me to behold, like Jared Allen sitting on the patio furniture smoking a cigar and entertaining listeners with stories from the NFL, or eavesdropping on two young guys who had approached Michael Bay to pitch their screenplays. A large fireworks display capped off the planned festivities, but the emcee encouraged that everyone sticks around and continue to mingle and socialize into the night.
Last Night: The Big Game Big Give with Mark Wahlberg, Michael Bay and Jordin Sparks
The Crowd: An eclectic group of philanthropists and public figures all dressed to the nines
Overheard in the Crowd: One of the "dressed to the nines" philanthropist guys asked me if he could bum a cigarette. After I gave him one, he said, "Thank God you're here, because all these celebrity assholes are on this 'be healthy' kick and they act like cigarettes are bad for you and shit."
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