SBJ/July 28 - August 3, 2003/Special Report

Cities listen and learn when holding events

With a few exceptions, sports commissions and venues bidding on and playing host to mega-events like the Super Bowl and Final Four know exactly what to expect when planning for those larger-than-life experiences.

That's because the NFL and NCAA are explicit in what they require from the handful of markets that annually bid for those events.

"The NCAA does such a great job giving you information early on that you would have to be a complete idiot to wind up with any surprises," said Rick Nafe, vice president of stadium operations for Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., site of the 2000 men's Final Four.

"You have to listen to the NCAA and what they want. You can't determine what they need. We let them drive the wagon, so to speak, and support them accordingly," said Susan Blackwood, executive director of the San Antonio Sports Foundation.

The Alamodome was site of the 2002 women's Final Four and has next year's men's Final Four. San Antonio also has the 2008 men's Final Four and the 2010 women's Final Four.

"We learned early on that we have to play it strictly by the book. You have to know exactly what their needs are because there are so many components involved," said Carole Ketterhagen, executive director of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Ketterhagen was among those instrumental in researching and formulating bids for the 2000 men's Final Four and the 2001 Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

She said officials realized from the bid process that the region's biggest challenge was the lack of hotel rooms situated in one centralized area, a preference in the eyes of the NCAA even though it wasn't a requirement.

Ketterhagen said the deficiency of rooms in proximity to Tropicana Field has temporarily prevented the Tampa-St. Pete market from bidding on future men's Final Fours at the dome.

Other than logistics, planners have learned that cooperation and communication with the local municipalities is crucial to landing mega-events. "The lessons we've learned is that it takes a great deal of teamwork within the city," with input ranging from the mayor to security guards, said Gary Stokan, president of the Atlanta Sports Council.

The Georgia Dome has played host to the 2003 women's Final Four and 2001 men's Final Four, and has the men back in 2007. Annual events in Atlanta are the Southeastern Conference football championship, the Bell South Classic PGA tour event and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The Atlanta Sports Council is bidding on the 2005 NHL All-Star Game for Philips Arena.What Stokan describes as his "box team" for soliciting bids includes the facility, Convention and Visitors Bureau and the team relevant to the event, whether it's the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Thrashers or Georgia Tech, host school for the Final Fours at the Georgia Dome.

The Atlanta Sports Council also has representatives on its board from Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Bell South, United Parcel Service and Georgia Power. Companies fund the group's efforts and sponsor hospitality functions at events. The council is seeking alternative methods of financing, such as the possibility of tapping into taxes paid by visitors, such as hotel, car and food/drink monies.

"People are coming here for sporting events and those taxes help pay for the event at the end of the day," Stokan said. "We're trying to shift the focus on the out-of-market fans rather than local people having to pay for the tax."

Budgets grow in conjunction with the scope of the mega-event. The Super Bowl and Final Four are now much more than just the game, spread out over a seven-day period with numerous ancillary events.

Bill Wilson, manager of Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, has been in charge of facility operations at six Super Bowls, including the most recent one last January. "The first one I did, Super Bowl XI, was a football game with a small commissioner's party," he said. "Now, it's a giant weekly social gathering with an incidental football game."

Ky Snyder, president of the San Diego International Sports Council, said as many as 60 to 70 activities could be happening around the Super Bowl.

"As the host committee, we have refocused on a few that are much different than usual, like Saturday night, when we had the 'largest fireworks show' in California history," Snyder said. "It was a gift to the community."

The San Antonio Sports Foundation also had the general public in mind, specifically area youths, in shifting more focus to ancillary events surrounding the Final Four. Those activities attempt to satisfy community residents unable to attend the Final Four.

The foundation created the "Dome Dribble" for the 2002 women's Final Four and hopes to do the same thing for the 2004 men's Final Four, said Blackwood. Some 3,000 kids dribbled from the Alamodome a few blocks away to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and received a ticket to the "Hoop City" fanfest.

Also, the "River Rally" has participating teams, cheerleaders and bands ride barges along the San Antonio River to a lagoon. The additional activities were the result of the foundation's evaluation of past Final Fours in San Antonio.

"Those are examples of our efforts to continue to engage the community, which is a big part of what we do," Blackwood said. "From that standpoint, we've notched up the bid process."

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