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COLD PROSPECT?: New stadium may not overcome climate, lack of corporate clout as city vies for Super Bowl

October 17, 2005

Did NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue do a snow job on Indiana legislators?

Tagliabue dangled visions of Indianapolis' hosting a Super Bowl when he made the case for a $625 million stadium before Indiana lawmakers earlier this year. Now construction is under way, and local officials are watching 2006 host city Detroit to see if it can warm skeptics to the idea of playing the Super Bowl in a cold-weather city.

But some observers of the big game doubt Indianapolis has the corporate clout to land the event no matter what happens in the Motor City.

"Indianapolis is facing extremely long odds," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based Sportscorp Ltd., a consulting firm that works closely with the league, its teams and owners on operations issues. Ganis doesn't think Colts owner Jim Irsay yet has the clout to gain Indianapolis a Super Bowl bid, and he calls Indianapolis' corporate climate weak.

Ganis said Detroit's victory was a favor to William Clay Ford and his family, which owns the team, and because the league's largest sponsors are in Detroit. "Detroit has a wonderful corporate base, and the Ford family has a lot of clout among NFL owners," Ganis said. "The largest companies in Detroit are the largest buyers of commercial time during NFL broadcasts and in NFL stadiums-by far. The automotive industry spends significantly more than the next highest advertisers-beer makers.

"I've watched the league up close now for 15 years ... . Believe me, the corporate sponsors and TV networks don't want a Super Bowl in Indianapolis, and the league knows that."

Believing in blue

City officials are undeterred.

Super Bowl XL in Detroit marks the third time a cold-weather city has hosted the season showdown and officials here believe the Motor City's performance on Feb. 5 could go a long way in determining if Indianapolis has any chance at hosting the fourth chilly Super Bowl.

Officials for the city and Indianapolis Colts have begun assimilating information for what they hope is a scoring drive to win a Super Bowl bid. Data from Detroit is already filling their files.

"Now that ground is broken on the new stadium, it's important we start building momentum," said Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell. "We're learning quickly how the bid process works. And we're keeping track of how Detroit is doing very closely."

NFL owners have already decided to play the next four Super Bowls after Detroit in Miami; Glendale, Ariz.; Tampa, Fla.; and Miami again. Though the new Colts stadium is to open in 2008, the prevailing wisdom is that the city's best bet to host is 2012 to 2015.

The recent trend is to award Super Bowls to cities that build new venues, but it's far from a guarantee.

"We're definitely tuned in to how it goes down in Detroit," said Pete Ward, Colts senior executive vice president. "Every city and every bid package is different in its own way, but certainly there are some parallels between Detroit and Indianapolis."

Selling the chill

The first time the Super Bowl came to the Great Lakes region-Detroit in 1982-it was an unmitigated disaster. A snowstorm paralyzed the city and logistics involved in getting then-Vice President George Bush in and out of Motown caused many spectators to miss the kickoff at the Pontiac Silverdome.

The only other northern city to host a Super Bowl was Minneapolis, in 1992. NFL owners-who vote on the host cities-have long memories, said Ganis, the NFL consultant.

"Look at the last time the Super Bowl was in Atlanta in 2000," he said. "They had a freak ice storm, and there's no doubt that had an impact on their bid to get the Super Bowl in 2010. So if it goes awry in Detroit this time, it could really doom all cold-weather climates."

Detroit officials, meanwhile, are trying to turn the city's negatives to their advantage.

They said they're trying to change not only the perception of Motown-long known for abandoned buildings and high crime-but also the Super Bowl experience.

"We're actually hoping for snow," said Ken Kettenbeil, vice president of communications for the Detroit Super Bowl XL Host Committee. "Our theme is, 'Having fun in the cold.' We're setting up a 200-foot snow slide and a dog sledding event and will have the Motown Winter Blast Festival wrapped around the event."

"We know we're not the prototypical Super Bowl host city, but that's what adds intrigue to our story," Kettenbeil added. "We think we're setting up a new model for what a Super Bowl host city could be. We definitely think it will be a model for other Midwestern cities."

Fans are last concern

It's no mystery why Detroit is trying to create an experience that goes beyond the game itself. Super Bowl hosts have long depended on drawing more than game attendees to drive economic impact. While attendance for the 2003 Super Bowl in San Diego was 67,603, an estimated 350,000 visitors descended on the city, creating an economic impact of $193.7 million, according to an NFL study.

The Detroit organizing committee is also courting the media. Officials are holding regular press teleconferences to keep media members updated on local Super Bowlrelated news, and this month they launched a national road show, visiting

Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal, ABC networks and others. Next month, they're planning another tour, to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today.

Mark Mravic, senior editor at Sports Illustrated, who attended a recent presentation, said Detroit has a tough sell. Sports Illustrated will send several dozen staffers to cover the event regardless of location, Mravic said, but some members of the media who view covering the Super Bowl as part vacation might shy away.

NFL's call

Ultimately, NFL owners decide where the Super Bowl lands and no location has been ruled out, said Greg Aiello, NFL vice president of public relations.

"There's nothing that says the game couldn't be hosted in Indianapolis," Aiello said. "The stadium is a big consideration, the convention space, hotels and other facilities are all critical to choosing a host city. The horizons have broadened on where a Super Bowl can be played."

Milton Thompson, president of locally based sports marketing consultancy Grand Slam Cos. and an organizing committee member for many of the biggest sporting events the city has hosted, thinks the city has a much better chance than it did when it last tried to lure the Super Bowl.

A contingent led by then-Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith and backed by then-Colts owner Robert Irsay tried to land the 1992 Super Bowl, but lost to Minneapolis.

Thompson said the city's second-tier status among NFL cities hurt that bid.

"But we've grown a lot since then, and proved our ability to pull off the world's largest sporting events," he said. "There should be no question about our ability to organize this event."

But Ganis said there is.

"Indianapolis can host the [NCAA] Final Four, and that's a great coup, but the Super Bowl is so much more corporate," he said. "It's a different animal."

The international media spotlight burns brighter and hotter on the Super Bowl than on any other North American sporting event, Ganis said. Even big cities in the South don't always measure up.

Houston-host of the 2004 Super Bowl-was labeled a humid, soul-less metropolis with bad zoning and a lack of hotel space.

In a column epitomizing national coverage of the game, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver wrote:

"Hype: It is possible to have as much fun in Houston in January as it is in Miami, San Diego or New Orleans. Truth: Always eager for a good practical joke, the NFL will go next to Jacksonville and Detroit."
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