By BARRY WILNER
Build it and the Super Bowl will come.
While that’s not exactly how the sites of the NFL’s championship extravaganza are determined, it sure doesn’t hurt to have a brand new, billion-dollar facility in your city.
Including the 2004 game in Houston, the league will have staged nine Super Bowls in metropolitan areas with new stadiums in the past 15 years: Detroit, Phoenix, Dallas, Indianapolis, New York, San Francisco, Minneapolis and, now, Atlanta. Arizona and Houston actually have hosted twice, but obviously neither of those buildings was new the second time around.
There’s nothing written on a game plan sheet guaranteeing such an award from the NFL, it’s more a nodding agreement it will happen. And it will once more in Los Angeles in 2022, and very likely in Las Vegas before the end of the next decade.
“It really depends, but a world-class stadium is critical, and we are going through a run with Minnesota and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and other new buildings,” says Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president of events. “There are lots of factors that come into it in determining where and when we go and what is the right sequence. So that’s not necessarily a truism … though certainly there is a track record of a number of recent buildings that have been built that are incredible facilities.”
Atlanta last hosted a Super Bowl in 2000, when it was hit with severe weather, including ice storms that nearly shut down the city. The NFL didn’t go back until this year, in part because the Georgia Dome no longer was a state-of-the-art venue, and in part because of memories of 2000.
Since Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in 2017, Atlanta has been the site of several major sporting events, including the college football playoff. Atlanta United of MLS has set all sorts of attendance records in the building.
Those successes matter in the Super Bowl race.
“We do attend and we watch all those events that are coming into a venue,” says O’Reilly, who also oversees the staging of the draft that has become a traveling show and heads to Nashville this April and Las Vegas next year.
“Part of the reason we have a policy in place that we don’t play a Super Bowl in the first year after a building opens is you understand and learn from the events and the games in there. One of the positives is a number of the key vendors who work on the Super Bowl work on other major events. Clearly, in this community it’s a really collaborative spirit.”
Of course, hosting a Super Bowl is about a lot more than spirit. It’s about dollars, millions of dollars.
Economic impact studies tend to show the value of the NFL’s big show ranges from $200 million to $500 million for a city. Plus, more than 100 million viewers across the country are seeing that city being showcased. Minnesota might not have been a winter vacation destination to many people before it was spotlighted for last year’s game.
Naturally, Minneapolis wouldn’t have gotten the Super Bowl without having built an ultramodern indoor stadium. The only outdoor game in a cold weather city was in 2014 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and that was a given once the Giants and Jets agreed to foot most of the bill for the facility.
With a wink and a nod, Detroit was destined for a Super Bowl once Ford Field was ready and the Lions moved back downtown from the suburbs. Indianapolis, which put on a sensational Super Bowl week, never would have been considered without Lucas Oil Stadium being constructed.
“There’s nothing formal,” explains Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp, a Chicago-based consulting firm, and an adviser to several team owners. “It is an understanding that if you build a new stadium and have the facilities for a Super Bowl and the community gets behind it, you will get a Super Bowl. Maybe you will only get one, like Indianapolis — as great a job as Indianapolis did, it’s really on the edge of a community that can support a Super Bowl. They made up for it with the great community support.
“It is not an issue of how well a franchise is run, either. It’s an issue of the market, the hotel rooms and the stadium. So we know that Miami (2020), Tampa (2021), New Orleans (2024), Texas, Arizona (2023), LA and Las Vegas will get them.”
The process for securing a Super Bowl has changed. No longer do cities bid against each other — Ganis notes that a so-called loser in the bidding could be embarrassed despite putting up a very strong presentation, and that a lengthy series of ballots doesn’t look good for anyone.
Now, O’Reilly and the owners’ Super Bowl committee go to each club seeking an expression of interest in hosting the game. Many cities know they have no chance, perhaps because of weather concerns at an outdoor stadium — it’s unlikely any such venue in the Northeast except MetLife would be considered — or lack of stadium size or insufficient infrastructure or hotel space.
The committee identifies a city that fits best for a particular year and asks it for specifics for hosting.
“We end up with optimizing the sequences, avoid a scenario where multiple cities are spending significant time and resources on a bid and ultimately they’re not rewarded,” O’Reilly says.
Suggestions that the game could wind up in London seem farfetched, and the NFL certainly would need a franchise there before it could happen. Besides, Ganis says there will never be a shortage of U.S. locales interested in hosting.
“I focus on the tremendous amount of new money coming into the community, and not just the week of the Super Bowl, but all the planning and the attention that takes place, and the money spent from outside (the venue) on that. Those things are almost impossible to put a price tag on, as is the visibility over a number of years focused on those two weeks in your city. It is almost always very positive.”