By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
January 25, 2013
My goodness. With all the chatter surrounding the rebranding of the NBA New Orleans Hornets to the Pelicans this week, you’d think the biggest sports issue ever to captivate the Big Easy was a new logo on jerseys and perhaps a snicker or two at the non-threatening demeanor of the ubiquitous local bird. We Americans love our sports symbols to be intimidating, after all.
But sports section headlines to the contrary, a bigger issue than a feeble fowl is beginning to grip New Orleans, as Super Bowl XLVII, its attendant corporate and media circus—and oh yeah, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens—come marching in.
The February 3 NFL season finale will mark the tenth time the Super Bowl will be played in New Orleans, tying it with Miami as the most frequent host. Prior to 2005, New Orleans had hosted the Super Bowl a record nine times. This is the first time the city is hosting the game since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region seven years ago. Having last hosted the game in 2002, the 11-year gap is by far New Orleans’ biggest in the Super Bowl era.
It wasn’t cheap or easy to get New Orleans back in the Super Bowl rotation, though you can bet the city and the NFL are happy it is. Mercedes-Benz Superdome renovations post-Katrina total $336 million. Upgrades to the building include wider concourses, new concession stands and restrooms, and a complete restoration of its outer skin.
Without these renovations, not only would New Orleans not have the Super Bowl, they might also not have the Saints, as relocating to San Antonio was a real possibility after Hurricane Katrina. Given how far the city has come in since 2005, it’s hard to imagine any citizen being upset with the substantial public investment.
What’s more, the Crescent City should seriously consider changing its unofficial nickname from the Big Easy to Big Game City. Since the start of 2012, New Orleans has hosted the BCS National Championship, the NCAA men’s Final Four, and two Sugar Bowls. This year the Super Bowl and NCAA women’s Final Four come to town. Next year, New Orleans gets the NBA All-Star Game and another Sugar Bowl. The economic impact of all these events will far exceed $1 billion.
The Super Bowl itself is expected to bring in $423 million, up substantially from the $323 million Indianapolis generated last year and the $299 million the game brought in the last time it was held in New Orleans, when the New England Patriots played the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
A lot of money will be changing hands in New Orleans and elsewhere this weekend. Tickets on the secondary market are averaging $3,100, making the street value of 76,000 seats about $237 million. Super Bowl merchandise revenue is expected to be around $150 million. Legal gambling in Las Vegas should top out around $100 million, while illegal betting across the country will be more than $1 billion.
To prepare for the Super Bowl, New Orleans has invested $1.2 billion over the last few years on various public/private improvement projects, including road work, a new Loyola Avenue streetcar line, renovations to Louis Armstrong International Airport, and private renovations by hotels. The Super Bowl host committee raised $13.5 million--$6 million from the state and $7.5 million from corporate sponsors.
The dynasty that is the San Francisco 49ers is 5-0 in Super Bowls, the best record of any team in the NFL’s annual championship. According to the San Jose Mercury News, 49ers fever "has gripped the Bay Area, and merchants are poised to cash in" on the squad’s first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years. San Francisco-based The Sports Authority Sales Manager David Vannatta claimed that the store has been "sold out of all" quarterback Colin Kaepernick merchandise "for days."
The Ravens, founded in 1996, are one of the league’s newest teams, which fought for years to win respect from fans still smarting from Baltimore Colts owner Art Modell’s decision to pack up that franchise in the dead of night and move it to Indianapolis. According to Forbes, the 49ers are the 9th most valuable NFL team at $1.18 billion, while the Ravens are the 11th most valuable at $1.16 billion.
The head coaching Harbaugh brothers will go up against each other in what is also being billed as the HarBowl. The two will hold a joint news conference two days before the game, and while they will reportedly exchange text messages, they won’t talk on the phone. (We certainly don’t envy the Harbaugh parents.)
Local Saints fans, meanwhile, can join in Super Bowl festivities knowing that their Bountygate scandal is largely behind them and Mardi Gras awaits—New Orleans is rescheduling its famous parades, which would normally run Super Bowl week. Laissez bon temps rouler.