Bowl bid focuses on football safety, with Saturday at center of pitch

ATLANTA—Indianapolis is betting that an ambitious project to study safety issues at all levels of football, plus a plan to expand and further snazz up the Super Bowl Village, will help convince NFL owners to award the city the 2018 Super Bowl.

And organizers hope that former Indianapolis Colt Jeff Saturday and Indiana Sports Corp. CEO Allison Melangton will help deliver the final push during the city's oral presentation to get the city's bid across the goal line.

In Atlanta for the NFL team owners' meeting this week, an entourage of local sports officials revealed details late Monday morning from the city's bid for the 2018 game. An oral presentation will be delivered to owners Tuesday afternoon, along with proposals from fellow contenders Minneapolis and New Orleans.

In 2008, Indianapolis won the right to host the 2012 Super Bowl, partially on the strength of its proposed legacy project, designed to improve and leave a lasting mark on the city. The proposed legacy project in the 2018 bid would bring together several locally based sports groups to study safety in football.

The Indianapolis bid committee proposes partnering with USA Football, the NCAA, National Federation of High School Athletic Associations and the American College of Sports Medicine, all based in Indianapolis, to study and address safety issues in football at all levels. The local host committee plans to point out that concerns about safety are leading to a decline in football participation and threatening the future of the sport.

Studying and addressing concussion issues is likely to be a part of the project. The potential for permanent brain damage as a result of concussions is one of the biggest issues facing the NFL and football leagues at all levels.

"The Indiana legacy initiative is a commitment to a better and safer game of football by maximizing the sports resources only located in Indiana," said a synopsis of the bid presentation handed out to reporters Monday. "The legacy initiative answers these challenges through a partnership with USA Football and its Heads Up Football program through collaboration, innovation, funding, teaching, intellectual resources, research and facilities."

NFL insiders who asked not to be named because they were not allowed to comment on such matters said the safety study is arguably the most genius part of Indianapolis' bid.

Indianapolis' oral bid synopsis went on to say: "Our legacy project will not be a single concept, as the initiative also focuses on the important needs of the community and will support neighborhood development and residents, as well as programs that will serve our youth and others for generations to come."

In 2012, Indianapolis' Super Bowl legacy project revitalized portions of the city's near east side. Melangton promised that the 2018 project would be just as impactful, and could affect a wider array of people.

Another major element that could sway some owners' votes Tuesday is the plan to expand on Indianapolis' innovative Super Bowl Village concept.

The synopsis of the local bid handed to reporters said the Village concept in 2018 would be expanded to include Monument Circle and feature a multimedia show using advanced digital technology, laser building projections, fireworks and even more concerts than the city had for the 2012 Super Bowl.

Indianapolis' bid promises to "provide a progressive and dynamic interactive experience" that "elevates the standard for fan entertainment" at a Super Bowl.

The entourage hoping to win the 2018 Super Bowl bid for Indianapolis arrived in Atlanta in two waves, with a large chunk coming in Sunday night, and the two leaders of the effort, Melangton and Indianapolis Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward, flying in Monday morning.

Many of the 32 NFL team owners, including Colts owner Jim Irsay, on Monday morning began filtering in to the Ritz-Carton in the ritzy Buckhead district of Atlanta, where they will vote Tuesday on which of three bidding cities will host the 2018 Super Bowl.

Minneapolis is building a $975 million stadium, which is considered a compelling argument for its bid. New Orleans has hosted more Super Bowls, 10, than any other city.

Unlike 2008, when Indianapolis last bid on the Super Bowl, the Circle City is not coming in as a favorite. After narrowly missing out on the 2011 Super Bowl to Dallas, many league insiders correctly predicted Indianapolis would win the 2012 game.

"This time around, Indianapolis has a steep hill to climb," said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports business consultant who counts several NFL teams as clients.

Ganis thinks the owners will favor New Orleans, because the city has a solid track record of hosting the Super Bowl and the city is celebrating its tricentennial in 2018. Ganis thinks Minneapolis will be awarded the 2019 Super Bowl due to the city's commitment to build a new stadium. It's not clear, he said, where that leaves Indianapolis.

Ward isn't buying the predictions. "That's all speculation," he said.

If Indianapolis loses, it won't be because the local bid committee is not prepared. Its 900-page written bid dwarfed that of the other two cities. It was more than 700 pages thicker than Minneapolis' bid.

Although the written bids were complete, there still was some gamesmanship between the cities on Monday. While Minneapolis and New Orleans have been upfront about which two people will give their 15-minute oral presentations before the 32 team owners on Tuesday, Melangton had refused to reveal who would do so for Indianapolis until Monday.

"It's very competitive," Melangton said, explaining that she didn't want to reveal too much too early about Indianapolis' bid, giving the other bidding cities an opportunity to counter the moves.

But late morning Monday, the city revealed that Melangton, who captained the city's hosting effort in 2012, and former Colt Jeff Saturday will do the honors.

Saturday, who will go last, has become an influential figure in football, and was considered a key mover as a player representative in collective bargaining talks with owners in 2011. In addition to her work on the 2012 Super Bowl, Melangton is a respected organizer of international events, including as an associate producer for NBC during the 2012 Summer Olympics.

They will be emphasizing four key points: The committee has already raised the $30 million needed to host the 2018 Super Bowl from central Indiana's corporate community and can begin immediately focusing on hosting duties as opposed to fundraising; that Lucas Oil Stadium is one of the highest-rated NFL venues; that the Super Bowl Village concept will be greatly expanded; and that the legacy projects meet one of the league's pressing needs as well as serve the central Indiana community.

Clearly, said two NFL team executives, Melangton's experience with international events, and especially the Olympic Games, shines through in Indianapolis' bid.

After meeting with the media, Indianapolis' bid committee planned to do at least one more rehearsal of its bid. Meanwhile, Irsay and Ward no doubt will be busy with last-minute lobbying of the other 31 team owners.

After the three oral presentations Tuesday afternoon, the voting is expected to take up to two hours. On the first vote, the lowest vote-getter of the three cities will be eliminated. The other two cities will then square off in a second vote. If one of those cities doesn't get the votes of three-fourths of the owners, a third vote is taken and a simple majority rules.

Only the 32 team owners and a handful of each team's highest lieutenants are allowed in the room at the time of the voting. The voting for Super Bowl sites is the only one taken by NFL owners on a secret ballot, and lobbying and deal-making among the owners goes on until the last vote is cast.

"A lot of owners are deceptive about their voting," said Jim Steeg, a California-based sports event consultant and former NFL vice president who planned 26 Super Bowls. "It's real cloak-and-dagger stuff."

The bidding host cities, and the team owners from those cities, also have been known to sweeten the financial pot for the league at the 11th hour, as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones did to wrestle the 2011 Super Bowl away from Indianapolis by a 17-15 vote. During the voting for that game, Jones added $23 million to his bid at the last minute and promised the venue would seat 100,000.

In addition to Melangton and Ward, Indianapolis' bid committee in Atlanta includes Eli Lilly and Co. Vice President Dave Lewis, Langham Logistics President Cathy Langham, Ernst & Young Managing Partner Derrick Burks, Innovative Edit owner Conrad Piccirillo, Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops, Browning Investments Chairman Michael Browning, the mayor's chief of staff Ryan Vaughn, Exact Target CEO Scott Dorsey, Lucas Oil Stadium Director Mike Fox, ISC Senior Vice President Susan Baughman, Bingham Greenebaum Doll partner Rafael Sanchez, and Lingner Production Group owner Terry Lingner.

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