Sympathy for New Orleans may ruin Indy’s Super Bowl bid

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The stiff competition facing Indianapolis' bid for the 2011 Super Bowl just got stiffer.

Glendale, Ariz., which already got the nod to host the big game in its new stadium in 2008, threw its hat in the ring Nov. 14 for the 2011 game. Dallas expressed an interest earlier this fall in the game Indianapolis covets. And another contender recently emerged that might sink the hopes of all its rival cities: New Orleans.

New Orleans hosted the NFL owners' meeting in October, and Crescent City officials didn't waste the opportunity to tell league officials and team owners they want to host the NFL's championship game again as part of the city's ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Sources close to those conversations said New Orleans officials were encouraged by what they heard.

New Orleans hosted a historic homecoming for the hometown Saints Sept. 25 that had a Super Bowl-like atmosphere. Now, city officials say they want the real thing.

NFL owners are divided into two camps, with one thinking New Orleans deserves a shot to host a post-Katrina Super Bowl, and the other thinking there's no way the city can be suitably rebuilt in four years to host the nation's largest sporting event.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin remains bullish on the 2011 bid.

"I think, 2011, absolutely we should be fully recovered by then and we can provide the support," Nagin told the New Orleans' Times-Picayune following the NFL owners' meetings. "New Orleans has always been a favorite NFL city and hopefully they'll see us in that light again."

A favorite, indeed. New Orleans has hosted a record nine Super Bowls. Only Miami, which has hosted eight and will host this season's, comes close to rivaling New Orleans.

"New Orleans is the city the NFL likes to have its Super Bowl in more than any other," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based Sportscorp Ltd., which counts a litany of NFL teams and venues as clients. "The city is compact; they have warm weather [and] all the entertainment, amenities and hotels you could ever want; and officials there know how to put on a big event. If there is a situation that is plug-and-play for the Super Bowl, it'd be New Orleans."

Then there's the sentimental factor. Katrina devastated New Orleans in August 2005, and the damage reached into the billions of dollars, not to mention the psychological and emotional scars left on the port city.

"New Orleans certainly presents a new wrinkle in the 2011 Super Bowl conversation," said David Carter, principal of Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group, a consulting group that has worked on stadium and other NFL projects. "The NFL finds itself wanting to reach out to New Orleans because it wants to remain in that market at full power."

Not only is New Orleans a lucrative Super Bowl host for the league, Carter said helping rebuild the ravaged city is also a big-time public relations boost to a league that's working to keep its image at an all-time high.

While the NBA, for instance, is looking to abandon New Orleans for Oklahoma City, the NFL wants to be seen as a pillar in that high-profile community, Carter said.

Indy officials draw game plan

The league already has picked Super Bowl cities through 2010. The 2011 game is the first available following the scheduled 2008 opening of Lucas Oil Stadium, the $625 million retractable-roof stadium that will replace the RCA Dome.

Mayor Bart Peterson, who is working on the city's first Super Bowl bid along with the Capital Improvement Board and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and other team leaders, said he is concentrating on Indianapolis' efforts, not worrying about New Orleans or other competitors.

"Right now, we're focusing on our own due diligence and putting a plan together to make a bid," Peterson said.

CIB President Fred Glass said city and Colts officials will decide by year's end whether making a bid is a worthwhile endeavor. If the decision is made to go forward, Glass said, a committee will be formed early next year to craft the bid.

Bids are due to league officials April 2, and the NFL owners will choose a host city at their May meeting.

Now is the time for Indianapolis officials to huddle with key league officials to begin lobbying for the event, Ganis said.

"One disadvantage Indianapolis faces is not knowing their way around the process," he said. "The contacts they make and the information they are able to gather and disseminate now will be critical to a successful bid. New Orleans officials have been through this before. If they decide to go after the event, you can be certain they'll know which path to take."

One problem facing New Orleans is that New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson's lease for the Super Dome expires in 2010.

"No NFL franchise, no Super Bowl," Carter said. "They'll need to get that worked out."

Irsay holds his own

Peterson said Irsay will be a cornerstone in the city's campaign. Sources close to the league said his standing with other team owners will be key to the success of an Indianapolis bid.

"Much to the surprise of some in Indianapolis, Jim Irsay is a rising star among NFL owners," Ganis said. "He's very well-liked, and well-respected among his fellow owners."

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue also promised Indianapolis would be considered for a Super Bowl if local officials helped finance the new Colts stadium. New Commissioner Roger Goodell has stood by that pledge, but no promises have ever been extended.

The Saints' Benson doesn't exactly evoke warm fuzzies among his fellow owners and especially not among the New Orleans faithful, sources said. He has–post-Katrina–repeatedly threatened to pull his team out of the city if local officials didn't assure he maintained a certain level of profitability.

But Benson isn't the only owner to be concerned about. Even if New Orleans' bid fails, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wields considerable clout within the NFL.

"The one thing that the NFL has in Jerry Jones is a marketing genius," Ganis said. "He's very good for the league, and you can bet he'd be good for the Super Bowl. Not only that, football is the royalty of all sports in the state of Texas."

Dallas, like Indianapolis, has never hosted a Super Bowl, and with a new stadium coming online, Jones feels he is owed, Carter said.

Even though Indianapolis has become well-known for hosting major events, including the NCAA Final Four, Ganis said there are still questions about this small market's ability to host the big game.

"Yes, Indianapolis has proven it can host a Final Four," Ganis said. "But the order of magnitude difference between the Super Bowl and Final Four is breathtaking. The Super Bowl is that much bigger, that much more corporate and commercialized, and has that much more involvement from people all over the world."

On average, the NCAA men's Final Four draws 60,000 people and 1,200 credentialed media members to a host city, whereas the Super Bowl draws up to 350,000 people, and 3,400 credentialed media members, according to recent host committee reports.

Despite the odds, Irsay and his lieutenants remain ready to make a play.

"It's premature to get a read on what the preference is among NFL owners until all the cards are laid out on the table," said Pete Ward, Colts senior executive vice president. "In time, we'll lay our cards out, and see where the chips fall."

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