SBJ/20100201/SBJ In-Depth

No longer super?

Could Sunday’s Super Bowl in South Florida, the 10th there in the 44-year history of the game, be the region’s last?

While South Florida is bidding on the 2014 game, which league owners will award in May, the NFL — in a move blasted in some circles as akin to extortion — said in December that the newly named Sun Life Stadium needs more renovations to host the game again. And the home team, the Miami Dolphins, wants little to do with the expected hundreds of millions of dollars such a project would surely cost, even after the club paid for a rendering of a revamped venue, complete with a partial roof.

“While we would love to play in the facility we unveiled, it is not imperative from a Dolphins perspective,” said the team’s chief executive, Mike Dee. If the local community decides not to pay for it, he added, “then it was a community decision, but one that may not get us a Super Bowl or Pro Bowl or BCS championship with the same degree of regularity we have come to expect.”

Sun Life Stadium is 23 years old and must import special lights, at a low six-figure cost, for each night game to meet HDTV requirements. Most of the seats are aging, and the stadium is one of only two in the NFL to also be home to a baseball team (the Oakland Raiders and A’s share their stadium), though the Florida Marlins are set to leave in 2012. The seats are unprotected from the weather, a fact underscored during the 2007 game when rain drove thousands of fans out of their seats. Even the $250 million renovation the team finished in 2007 only modernized the club-seat level, leaving most parts of the stadium untouched.

“What has happened over the years is more and more stadiums have come online that are not only newer, but are of an entirely different generational philosophy that were built to service their fans,” said Frank Supovitz, the NFL’s vice president of events. “All that means is the competition has never been greater.”

Case in point are the next three Super Bowls. Next year’s game is in Dallas, home to the new $1.1 billion Cowboys Stadium; then the 2012 edition is scheduled in the Indianapolis Colts’ new home, Lucas Oil Field. The 2013 contest is slated for the Superdome in New Orleans, which is set for $300 million of renovations following a significant overhaul that came after Hurricane Katrina.

The Miami Dolphins paid for a rendering of what a
revamped stadium, complete with a roof, could
look like. The big question is who would pay
for the actual work.

In 2014, two of South Florida’s competitors are Arizona, which has a 3 1/2-year-old stadium, and the new Meadowlands facility, which is slated to open later this year. The Meadowlands venue, home of the New York Giants and Jets, received a one-time weather exemption from the league to bid for the game because outdoor stadiums must be in warmer locales than New York offers. Tampa is also bidding.

Questioned why South Florida is bidding on the 2014 contest when the NFL’s demands for upgrades have not been met yet, Rodney Barreto, chairman of the South Florida host committee, expressed optimism that a deal could be reached by the May vote. Still, there are no current cost estimates for the work, nor any suggestion of how much the local governments would be asked to pay. Barreto’s group has created a subcommittee led by former Dolphins safety Dick Anderson to study the issue.

But Barreto is not one of the voices blasting the NFL for seeking more spending on the venue. He conceded the facility has “whiskers,” as he put it, and that the league is not susceptible to the fact that people like going to South Florida.

“They used to like San Diego, too,” he said. San Diego, because of stadium issues, has not been allowed to bid on a game since hosting the 2003 contest. The team has been working, so far fruitlessly, since that time to build a new stadium.

Cool to the idea
Panelists in the Turnkey Sports Poll were asked in January: Should the NFL give more consideration to awarding Super Bowls to open-air stadiums in the North?
No 53%
Yes, but only for newly built / reconstructed stadiums 26%
Yes, unconditionally 17%
No response/Not sure 5%
Source: Turnkey Sports Poll, January 2010. The survey covered more than 1,100 senior-level sports industry executives spanning professional and college sports.

Regions bid on Super Bowls because of the purported economic impact of the game, ascribed as high as half a billion dollars, though many of those estimates are questioned critically by sports academics. That is why the Dolphins want the local governments to pay for the renovations, because the benefit is not directly to the team (see story). The game also brings great pride to a region, helping places like Jacksonville and Detroit showcase their cities to an international audience.

That those cities hosted the game underscores that unlike the first three decades of the Super Bowl, when 12 hosts shared the 30 contests, the Super Bowl since 2000 has been spread around. Since that game in Atlanta and stretching through the 2013 game in New Orleans, which is the last one awarded, there will have been 11 different hosts. And in those 14 years, only three cities will have had two Super Bowls: Tampa, New Orleans and South Florida (and South Florida won this Sunday’s game only after the failure of the Jets’ proposed Manhattan stadium, which had won conditional approval for the game). That statistic belies the notion that there is a rotation for the game.

However, a rotation of sorts could emerge with more one-and-done hosts like Jacksonville and Detroit out of the way, and others like Atlanta and Houston falling out of favor. Both of those latter cities have failed several times in recent years at securing the game. The ice that blanketed Atlanta during its stint hosting the game appears to have permanently soured the owners. And Houston may be a victim of NFL insider political storms, with the Texans’ owner, Bob McNair, and his position on revenue-sharing issues having hurt the city’s chance to host again, sources say.

In the hunt for 2014
NFL owners will meet in May and vote on the host venue for the 2014 Super Bowl. Here is who South Florida and Sun Life Stadium will be competing against.
University of Phoenix Stadium
New Meadowlands Stadium
Raymond James Stadium

As a result, it’s hard to see a rotation not forming between Arizona, Dallas, New Orleans and South Florida, presuming Sun Life Stadium gets the renovations. A potential team in Los Angeles would likely become an instant host candidate and there are always wild cards such as a London Super Bowl. If the San Francisco 49ers are successful in their quest to build a stadium in Santa Clara, that too could be a Super Bowl host.

“Most people would like to have it on a rotation of four or five cities,” said Robert Tuchman, a corporate hospitality specialist. The game is about the week also, he said, and the corporate spending the game attracts is more robust in a warm weather environment.

South Florida always attracts big corporate spenders, so hospitality types like Tuchman are puzzled by the NFL’s hard-line on the region. “It’s baffling,” he said.

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s speech in Miami in December delivered the hard news about the stadium. However, at the end of the day, views from the commissioner and the league office are just opinions. The 32 voices that ultimately count belong to the owners who vote on where the game is played.

Warm weather sites have long been favorites among the owners. And the negative reviews of games in colder Detroit and Jacksonville certainly don’t bode well for bringing those markets back into the mix.

Nonetheless, South Florida has some hard decisions to make if it wants the game again.

Sun Life Stadium, the Dolphins’ Dee said, “is not good enough to compete with Dallas, Phoenix [and] other newer facilities. That is the message the NFL sent.”

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