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How do cities reel in a mega event?

This is an excerpt from Beyond the Scoreboard: An Insider’s Guide to the Business of Sport by Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek.

Reeling In a Mega Event

Taking their cue from the long tradition of the Olympic Games, North American cities vying to host the Super Bowl, an All-Star Game, a regional component of a nationwide event (the NCAA tourney, the World Cup, the World Baseball Classic), or the Olympics themselves must go through an elaborate bid process. Outside of the Olympics, none is as mired in precision and politics as the bidding process for a Super Bowl.

Each November, the NFL issues a 200- to 300-page bid book to cities looking to host the game. Draft bids are due in April, and the NFL’s 32 owners vote on the location at an owners’ meeting sometime thereafter. Baseline hosting requirements, according to SportsBusiness Journal, include the following:

  • A 70,000-seat stadium or one that can be expanded to at least that size
  • At least 19,000 hotel rooms that require three- or four-night minimum stays, including rooms for both teams and NFL personnel
  • A range of nearby facilities or spaces to house the media and accreditation center for more than 4,000 media representatives, the NFL Experience, the NFL Tailgate Party, and the like
  • An average daily temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 °C) or above the week of the game, or a climate-controlled indoor facility
  • Provision of police, fire, ambulance, and other infrastructure services at no cost to the NFL

Over the years, insiders indicate that the politics of the bid process have ratcheted up considerably—as have the perks. The 2007 Miami bid committee threw in the use of a yacht for each of the 32 owners, while Tampa offered all the teams free golf. The 2011 North Texas group went green instead, offering the NFL an additional $1 million to cover game-day expenses at Cowboys Stadium, enticing enough as that new facility is on its own.

The bid process is also "shrouded in secrecy, like someone had found the Holy Grail," says Ted Ferris, chairman of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, the regional agency in charge of University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale and an organization heavily involved in the roll-up to Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

"Our former chairman, John Benton, gave an apt description of what our role was in the bid process," Ferris says. "We were working with the Bidwill family [the Arizona Cardinals’ owners], and information was getting passed back and forth. But we never saw the entire bid document. As Benton said, if you view the bid as the plans for an airplane, we were given only the plans for a wing—the stadium and what the authority would commit to do for the NFL. We had no clue what the airplane looked like. We just knew what the wing looked like."

But it wasn’t always that way. Jim Steeg, who spent 33 years with the NFL, including 26 in charge of the league’s special events department, says when he first was put in charge of the Super Bowl, the bid specifications were "maybe two pages long."

"We didn’t go through all of this," Steeg says. "When I first got involved, the bids were very Chamber of Commerce. Then the ante was upped in March 1979. We were in Hawaii, and we were looking for sites for the Super Bowl in ’81, ’82, and ’83. Detroit really wanted the ’81 game, which New Orleans ended up winning. But Detroit came in—this was how crazy it was—and made a presentation, and it had a slide show, a video, and all this stuff up there. And all these owners, who you think are really tremendously sophisticated, were looking at this presentation and just going on and on. That’s how Detroit got it [the 1982 Super Bowl]. Their presentation materials were so far ahead of everybody else’s."

The Silverdome may have won the day in 1982, but that Motor City facility would never pass muster these days. The quality of Detroit’s newer Ford Field and the $505 million public–private financing partnership that enabled a weatherproof roof to be built over it (chronicled in my book When the Game Is On the Line) were among the primary reasons chilly Detroit was chosen to host Super Bowl XL in 2006. XL provided the biggest of international stages upon which to showcase downtown Detroit’s rebirth—and in hindsight, it may have helped stave off the precipitous crash of the auto industry for a year or two.

The new stadium trump card Detroit played before the NFL to earn Super Bowl XL also paved the way for Glendale in 2008, North Texas in 2011, Indianapolis in 2012, and New Meadowlands Stadium in 2014. San Diego, formerly a popular stop in the so-called Super Bowl rotation, knows full well it will never see another Super Bowl without building a new stadium to replace aging Qualcomm (the city may lose the Chargers for that reason as well). Even NFL favorite Miami has been told that unless it completes renovations to Sun Life Stadium, including additional seating capacity and suites and at least a partial roof, it will no longer be allowed to compete with cutting-edge venues such as Cowboys Stadium.

Read more about Beyond the Scoreboard: An Insider’s Guide to the Business of Sport by Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek.

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