City Government and Jim Irsay and Sports Business

City gained momentum with Super Bowl bid

May 28, 2007

Indianapolis' bid to host the 2011 Super Bowl missed by inches, but observers said the city nevertheless scored major points that still could result in a victory.

But not without suiting up again.

The 32 NFL owners voted May 22 to play Super Bowl XLV at the Dallas Cowboys' 100,000-seat stadium under construction in Arlington, Texas. The North Texas bid beat out proposals from Indianapolis and Glendale, Ariz., which was eliminated after the first round of balloting.

City boosters emerged after the decision disappointed but not deflated. The vote in the final balloting was as close as it could be--17-15, according to Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Indianapolis held its own against a competitor with a larger stadium in a bigger market, factors that gave Dallas' bid an estimated $23 million edge.

"I spoke with a whole lot of owners after the vote, and this was close," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consultancy Sportscorp Ltd., which works closely with several NFL teams. "Even people who voted for Dallas said Indianapolis was close."

And that, he said, speaks volumes about the city's ability to win the big one eventually. His advice: Get back in the game as soon as possible.

"Indianapolis presented itself so well, it needs to take advantage of that and go for it again," he said. "Don't let any grass grow here. There are a lot of positive feelings right now--both for Indianapolis and for Jimmy Irsay."

Two-fer troubles

So if owners were so impressed and the vote was so tight, why not make Indianapolis a Super Bowl city now? After all, owners gave Tampa the 2001 game after Atlanta edged it out for the right to host the 2000 Super Bowl.

"That wouldn't have been fair to other cities that want to bid on 2012," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, calling the 2000-2001 two-fer "an aberration."

The league voted on three Super Bowl sites in 2000, awarding games to Houston, Jacksonville and Detroit, but it solicited separate proposals for each one. And the bidding process is vastly different now, as the NFL asks for--and gets--more from host cities.

"It has changed dramatically," said Detroit hospitality consultant Susan Sherer, who led that city's 2006 Super Bowl effort. The host committee there paid for team hotels and transportation as a financial "enhancement" to its bid, for example; now, that's mandatory.

Awarding two games at once essentially would leave money on the table, since the NFL wouldn't be able to adjust its requirements from one year to the next.

"There's no need to do it that way," Ganis said. "Each year, the league finds more it wants done at the Super Bowl. Why bid out two games at once when they might get more?"

And other problems could arise, too, as the NFL discovered when it gave Tampa the 2001 game.

To qualify for consideration, host cities must have hotel rooms under contract, with binding agreements not to artificially inflate prices during Super Bowl festivities. If the game is played a different year, those agreements are not valid.

"Everything wasn't buttoned down," recalled Jim Steeg, the NFL's Super Bowl guru for more than two decades and now the San Diego Chargers' chief operating officer. "Tampa was bidding on 2000, and it didn't have a [hotel] document for 2001."

Ultimately, about 90 percent of the hotels that signed the original agreement reupped, he said. But other hotels--assured of Super Bowl crowds regardless of their decision--opted not to sign contracts.

If Indianapolis were to bid again, city boosters would have to go back to hotels and entertainment venues to get new commitments. They also would have to revisit the corporate donors who pledged more than $25 million to pay costs associated with staging the game. And given the ever-rising Super Bowl bar, that might not be enough the next time around.

Narrow window

Indianapolis 2011 President Fred Glass said he was proud of the recent bid, saying there's nothing he could--or would--have done differently.

"If we had pedaled as hard as we could and didn't qualify, that's one thing," he said. "But by all accounts, we had an excellent bid and a close vote in a year when we were competing against the largest stadium in the NFL."

Lucas Oil Stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2008, has a 72,884-seat capacity. Although he might have momentarily wished for a bigger venue last week, Glass knows the $675 million stadium is the right size for Indianapolis.

The question is whether it will be the right size for the Super Bowls of the future. The NFL requires a minimum of 70,000 seats for its big game--a stipulation that has remained unchanged since at least 2000. Some observers speculate it won't stay there long, as Dallas' mega-stadium and resulting Super Bowl win fuels the facility arms race.

That's why it's so important for Indianapolis to take another shot soon, Ganis said.

The San Diego Chargers are contemplating building a "state-of-the-art, Super Bowl-quality" stadium, as its Web site puts it. Los Angeles could land an NFL franchise in the next few years. And New Orleans--thought to be a sentimental favorite to host the big game as the city recovers from Hurricane Katrina--would be eligible if the Saints strike a deal to stay put past 2010.

"When L.A. gets a new stadium, everyone else should basically close up shop," Ganis said. "With viable options in California, it's going to be very tough. ... The window of opportunity isn't very big."

Competition matters

Irsay said he's willing to try again. Other owners came up to him after the vote to complement him on the bid and presentation, urging him to give it another shot.

"I believe we certainly will get it," he said. "There's no question I'm up for it."

Still, Glass said it's too soon to make that call.

"We'll be very careful and deliberate," said Glass, a Baker & Daniels partner on loan to the Super Bowl bid team. "This isn't my decision. It's a community decision."

Organizers need to touch base with supporters to gauge interest in a repeat bid, he said, and communicate with the NFL to clarify the reasons for this year's loss.

Don't be surprised if they also evaluate the potential competition before committing to a bid.

"It may be a question of who Indianapolis is bidding against," said Lee A. Eckilsen, a stadium consultant and an associate professor at Johnson & Wales University's Center for Sports, Recreation and Event Management in Rhode Island. "[But] I don't think any other city is better at moving people and holding major events."

Ganis said Indianapolis has a legitimate chance to host football's biggest game. By the time the city bids again, the stadium will be nearly complete and promised hotels will have started to materialize--giving it an even stronger bid.

The city already improved its odds with the strong showing this month.

"Sometimes, the way you leave something is as important as how you go in the door," he said. "Indianapolis showed it had class, integrity and went into this with the right interests of the NFL at heart. That came through loud and clear. But good will like that has a pathetically short shelf life."

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