Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Opinion

BENNER: How do we top 2012? Here’s hoping we get to find out

September 7, 2013

The announcement that Indianapolis will pursue the 2018 Super Bowl—also known as Super Bowl LII—was greeted with equal amounts of reality, skepticism and optimism.

The reality is that 2018 will be much more difficult than the bid that brought us the 2012 Super Bowl. When Lucas Oil Stadium opened in 2008, there was a general understanding, if not an outright requirement, among the National Football League owners that the investment of $720 million in a highly publicly financed building would earn a Super Bowl in return.

The only hitch, as you may recall, was that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones dropped $1 billion on a stadium that had 30,000 more seats than Lucas Oil and thus, “North Texas” leapfrogged ahead of Indy and landed the 2011 game local leaders originally coveted.

Of course, that eventually reaped a huge but totally unpredictable bonus. North Texas got clobbered with a snow and ice storm it was ill prepared to deal with (Indianapolis had a lousy week of weather then, too). Then, in 2012, we were blessed with a string of unusually mild February days that contributed to our highly acclaimed effort.

That is part of where a good deal of the skepticism lies: that Indy can’t possibly get that meteorologically lucky twice. And there is also acknowledgement that, having been awarded the 2012 game, nothing can actually compel the NFL owners to return their prize to our modest flyover burg.

And yes, the competition will be much keener this time. New Orleans, despite the blackout that delayed last February’s Super Bowl in the Superdome, is now back solidly in the mix it had to abandon after Hurricane Katrina. They do know how to throw a party and do big events down in the bayou. Minneapolis could have its new stadium online in time to pursue 2018. Tampa Bay, too, is expected to bid, and its package is certain to include photos of palm trees and beaches.

Indy can merely counter with its unbridled optimism, led by cheerleader-in-chief Allison Melangton, and point to the overwhelming praise heaped upon the city and organizers in doing the 2012 game.

Indeed, Indianapolis may be its own toughest competition, for the largest question is, how in the heck do you top that?

Melangton, now president of Indiana Sports Corp., but introduced at the bid announcement in the role of Bid Committee chair—that was Mark Miles’ position for 2012—told the media that, should Indy make the short list of cities asked to present at next May’s owners meeting, there will be few, if any, hints as to how the city will distinguish its bid this time around.

Yes, there is certain to be a legacy project, but in what ways can it be bigger, better, bolder and more beneficial than the Near Eastside effort? What might be an even more profound community effort than SuperCure and its quest to strike down breast cancer. Yes, Georgia Street can be dressed up again as a Super Bowl Village, but how do you surpass that 10-day Superpalooza that brought more than a million folks downtown? How can there be a more impactful—and absolutely brilliant—way of delivering the bid books than sending 32 eighth-graders (and their chaperones) dressed in team colors to franchise offices around the country.

Indeed, how do you outzip the zip line? String it from the top of the Chase Tower?

By virtually all assessments, Indy re-wrote the book on how to host a Super Bowl. Now it has to author a sequel that promises to be even better.

For sure, the corporate community will muster the necessary funding again and the people resource —the greatest ingredient in Indy’s secret sauce —will step forward to man (and woman) the committees and volunteer slots. It would also help if, by next May, organizers could tell the owners that another major hotel in close proximity to the stadium and convention center is in the works. (See front-page story.)

Between now and then, too, Colts’ owner Jim Irsay will have to persuasively work the room full of his peers. And somehow, Allison Melangton will have to identify the next, well, Allison Melangton.

In the meantime, there will be predictable naysaying and complaining about priorities. Those voices deserve to be heard. But, no surprise, I’m glad we’re going for it. You can’t win if you’re afraid to lose.•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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