City Government and Super Bowl and Sports Business

Pledge blitz buoys Bowl bid

March 19, 2007

With time winding down and the competition fierce, the team leading Indianapolis' bid to host the 2011 Super Bowl is calling on the corporate community to get in the game.

More than a dozen business leaders are rushing to raise $25 million before May 23, when NFL owners are expected to select a host city from hopefuls Indianapolis; Dallas; and Glendale, Ariz.

Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. is the early front-runner for MVP, promising $2.5 million to the effort. President John Lechleiter is heading the 17-member Business Advisory Committee as it solicits additional donations.

Bid organizers want to line up pledges to cover the cost of staging the massive event before owners can question the city's ability to pull it off. And they say they'll do it without accepting a penny of public money.

"We're creating a new model for financing," said Fred Glass, a partner at the Baker & Daniels law firm on loan to the Indianapolis 2011 effort. "This will set us apart from every other city that has ever bid on a Super Bowl."

Indeed, lining up financial support before the game has been awarded is highly unusual, said Michael Kelly, who ran host committees in the Florida cities of Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa. Forgoing government support is unheard of.

Cities "try to at least lock up public support" before bidding, Kelly said, then spell out their plan for raising more money. Government sources usually contribute about 20 percent of the total cost.

"Clearly, fund-raising capacity is crucial," Kelly said. "It's the lifeblood of your bid."

Glass agrees. But he's convinced Indianapolis can demonstrate that capacity without dipping into the public till. Taxpayers already are paying to build the $625 million Lucas Oil Stadium, he said.

"We're not going to ask the public to do more than they've already done," Glass said.

Bids for the 2011 game are due April 2, and wannabe host cities will make their pitches in person before the May 23 owners' vote in Nashville, Tenn. Indianapolis organizers want to have pledges in hand well before then.

They're not posting results on the scoreboard just yet, but Glass and others said fund-raising efforts are going well so far. It doesn't hurt that the list of folks making calls to ask for money reads like a veritable who's who of local business executives.

Lilly's Lechleiter is confident the corporate community will step up, as it has in support of countless other events, from the World Police & Fire Games to the NCAA Final Four.

"This community has shown time and again that it can and will pull together to get the job done," he said. "There is a lot of enthusiasm out there for this. People recognize this is a once-in-a-lifetime event that will have a substantial economic benefit to the city."

'The big time'

Quantifying that benefit is difficult, at best. Studies suggest the economic impact of a Super Bowl runs well into nine figures, although naysayers abound.

Estimates for an Indianapolis game are a relatively conservative $250 million, but Glass said that doesn't include the value of the international attention a host city gets through television and other media.

More than 800 million people worldwide tuned in to Super Bowl XLI in Miami last month, Glass said, and the eight most-watched television programs since 2000 have been the eight Super Bowls.

"That $250 million is real, it's tangible, it's a big jolt for everyone," said Glass, who also serves as president of the county's Capital Improvement Board, which owns and operates the stadium and convention center. "But the exposure is valuable, too."

"It's like a week-long infomercial for your community," agreed Kelly, the Florida Super Bowl organizer.

Glass and others are trying to make that point as they ask business leaders to help pay. Whether they're talking to a reporter or addressing a Chamber of Commerce board meeting, proponents are calling the same audible: A rising tide lifts all boats. What's good for the city is good for the city's businesses. Indianapolis' time has come.

"This is the big time," Lechleiter said. "Getting the Super Bowl would show the world that we are one of the most desirable and progressive cities in the United States."

While that can have a direct result on businesses--making it easier to recruit top-notch talent to Indianapolis, for example--it doesn't necessarily show up on a company's bottom line.

Even so, corporate donors seem to understand the big picture, Kelly said. The South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee got $7.5 million of its $10 million budget from private sources.

Businesses "are very civic-minded," he said. "They weren't necessarily motivated by what [a donation] could do for their company, but what it could do for the community."

Indianapolis 2011's tax-exempt status doesn't allow it to accept charitable contributions--ruling out gifts from sources like Lilly Endowment Inc.--but money companies spend on the Super Bowl effort have the same tax benefits as any other business expense.

Once the game has been awarded, host committees can sweeten the pot for sponsors by offering things like game tickets, access to special events, and various marketing opportunities.

That's another reason it can be difficult to line up corporate sponsors before the owners vote, Kelly said.

"Until you get the game, you don't know what assets you can provide," he said.

Specifics are scarce, Glass agreed, but Indianapolis' boosters are outlining two kinds of possible take-aways for would-be sponsors: hospitality and marketing.

Depending on the level of support, hospitality-minded donors could get tickets to the Indianapolis game and even trips to other Super Bowls before 2011.

Marketing possibilities include recognition in game-related publications and Web sites, or co-branding for ancillary events.

"Most companies that want to do this see the value as corporate citizens to helping the city," Glass said. "But at these substantial levels, we also have to offer them something with a more immediate and tangible value."

'Raising the ante'

So what will the money pay for, anyway?

Some will go for the basics, like practice facilities for both teams. The Colts' 56th Street football complex is a gimme, but the host committee will have to come up with another heated, covered football field within 20 minutes of Lucas Oil Stadium. That won't be cheap.

And there are other league requirements, from a venue for The NFL Experience theme park to a climate-controlled place to hold a high-end tailgate party.

"The NFL keeps raising the ante," Glass said. "What was voluntary in Detroit [in 2006] is a requirement for us. We have no choice."

And the cost of meeting NFL requirements varies from city to city. Small-market Jacksonville spent $12 million to bring in six cruise ships that served as hotel rooms for the 2005 Super Bowl. Cold-weather Indianapolis will have to pay to protect teams, officials and other visitors from the elements.

Detroit organizers spent $18 million on the 2006 Super Bowl, said host committee chief Susan Sherer. Its budget included snow removal and a large-scale winter festival to celebrate the season.

Now a self-employed consultant, Sherer has reviewed Indianapolis' Super Bowl budget in her capacity as a paid adviser to the bid committee. She confirmed that the NFL is "more sophisticated" now in engaging host cities.

"They're really requiring a lot more, passing on expenses differently," she said. "The whole event is coming up, expanding, and the NFL is sharing that burden."

When Sherer started working on Detroit's bid in 1999, host committee budgets were averaging $2 million to $4 million.

"It has changed since then," she said.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league doesn't require cities to spend any specific amount to host the game, but owners do pay attention to how committees will pay for the plans spelled out in their bids.

"There's not a magic number," he said. "They're more concerned with whether the region will be able to pull off the event and provide us with the services we require."

Public safety is another concern, and although the Indianapolis committee isn't accepting cash from government entities, it has asked for in-kind police and fire services, a common request.

'The hard part'

Indianapolis' experience and expertise in hosting big events bodes well for its Super Bowl chances, Glass said, and also makes the fund-raising effort a little easier.

"The business community supports other events ...  so the model is not unique. That helps us," he said. "They've been approached before, just not on this scale."

This time around, bid organizers are asking for donations ranging from $250,000 to $2 million--although more is welcome. Lilly's gift was the largest disclosed to IBJ, but others are chipping in, too.

Colts owner Jim Irsay announced a $1 million donation Jan. 31, the day Indianapolis 2011 was incorporated. Glass' employer, Baker & Daniels, has promised $500,000.

Glass said he expects all companies with representatives on the Business Advisory Council to make financial commitments, but some have yet to do so.

For now, members are concentrating on recruiting others to ante up. But even if they make a good case for support, not everyone can play.

Regions Bank's greater Indianapolis president, Barbara Branic, has heard the pitch and believes in the possibilities. But she's not sure she'll be able to convince the folks at the home office in Birmingham, Ala.

And she suspects others might be in a similar situation.

"The idea makes sense and certainly the city needs to be behind it," she said. "The hard part is figuring out how to be a good corporate citizen given the budget constraints everyone is facing."

Although Regions has a presence in Miami--and is included among the "partners" listed on the South Florida host committee's Web site--it also operates in Dallas, which is bidding against Indianapolis.

Still, if the national bank doesn't sign on as a sponsor of Indianapolis 2011, Branic said she'll find some money in her local sponsorship budget to contribute--albeit at a much lower level.

"The corporate community needs to do something," she said.

Indianapolis-based City Securities Corp. is sold on supporting the Super Bowl bid. The investment firm has pledged an undisclosed amount, which CEO Mike Bosway said was significant enough to merit a seat on the host committee.

If Indianapolis gets the game, Glass said, "lead" donors likely will be invited to join the committee responsible for coordinating all events. All sponsors will become members of the Business Advisory Council, and those that donate $1 million or more will receive special recognition.

"We have a responsibility to be involved in communities in which we do business," Bosway said. "We like to contribute our fair share."

Bosway acknowledged that some businesses may not be able to do as much, but he's sure the committee will meet its goal--and the community will be better for it.

"I can't tell you that I've done a return-on-investment analysis to determine the exact and direct impact," he said. "Sometimes, you just have to participate and hope that there are some benefits that accrue."

Signing on the city's largest and most prominent businesses as donors is important, Glass said, since that sends a message that the Super Bowl is worthy of support. But he and others know they have to make the case to companies of all sizes.

"We need the involvement of everyone up and down the food chain," Glass said.

And if the fund-raising effort and Super Bowl bid are successful, organizers will keep making the rounds to drum up additional support--in the form of money and volunteers alike.

Challenges remain, to be sure, even if the city gets the 2011 game. But first things first.

"We need to get this thing funded," Lilly's Lechleiter said. "Then we'll work on the weather."

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