ATLANTA—Indianapolis officials likely face an uphill battle Tuesday afternoon when they try to convince National Football League owners that the city deserves to host the Super Bowl in 2018.
According to an array of league and team officials in Atlanta, New Orleans has emerged as the front runner due to its tricentennial celebration in 2018 and the fact that this could be 86-year-old New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson’s last crack at hosting a Super Bowl.
The consensus is that Minneapolis, because of its new $975 million stadium expected to open in 2016, is running second and is a good bet to land the 2019 Super Bowl.
Oddly, two NFL officials told IBJ that they think Indianapolis has the best bid for the 2018 game, but that the city simply has too steep a hill to climb.
Starting after lunch Tuesday, the three cities will give their oral presentations one at a time—their last chance to sway the 32 NFL owners—before a vote is cast shortly after 3:15 p.m. Though the voting process is unpredictable and sometimes protracted, the winner is expected to be announced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Indianapolis’ bid committee leader, Allison Melangton, president of the Indiana Sports Corp., remained undaunted during a frenzy of lobbying, rehearsing and high-level meetings with NFL brass on Monday.
Emerging from a final presentation rehearsal Monday night, Melangton told IBJ: “I feel great about our chances. Really good.”
Melangton along with former Colts center turned broadcaster Jeff Saturday will give the city’s pitch to the owners between 2:40 p.m. and 2:50 p.m. Saturday, who will close the presentation, is expected to focus on the city’s legacy project—which involves football safety—as well as the experience inside Lucas Oil Stadium and Indianapolis’ love for football.
The Minneapolis contingent will be the first to give its 15-minute oral presentation, New Orleans is second and Indianapolis is third. After the three bid committees give their presentations, each corresponding team owner will have five minutes to address his fellow owners. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who recently emerged from a drug rehabilitation program, will go last.
Bid committees are allowed five people in the owners’ meeting room at the time of the presentation. Joining Melangton and Saturday will be Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, who was instrumental in the successful 2012 Super Bowl bid; USA Football Executive Director Scott Hallenbeck, who is heavily involved in the legacy project portion of the bid; and Derrick Burks, managing partner at Ernst and Young.
Irsay was arrested in March on preliminary charges of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance. When asked if he thought his arrest could affect Indianapolis’ Super Bowl bid, Irsay tried his best to avoid the subject.
“I’m excited about the bid and the job we’ve done in the past,” Irsay told a throng of local and national reporters outside the Indianapolis bid committee’s meeting room late Monday afternoon. “I know in terms of trying to intertwine the questions … that is your job, but again I’m not really addressing those issues. I’m here like always to try to get this Super Bowl for Indianapolis.”
Melangton was pleased with the idea of presenting third before the owners.
“It’s always good to hit clean-up,” Melangton told IBJ. “You’re fresh in their minds.”
Melangton, too, was pleased with the final rehearsal, which took place where the owners will see the presentations and vote for the 2018 host city.
“I feel great,” she said immediately after the rehearsal as she hustled off to a dinner meeting. “It was high energy. Jeff and I feel good working together. He’s going to be awesome.”
Saturday may be the local bid committee’s ace in the hole. Not only is he extremely popular among Indianapolis fans and past and present players leaguewide, but he also earned a great deal of respect from team owners as one of the heads of the players’ union during the last collective bargaining agreement negotiations in 2011.
After months of tense negotiations that led to a lockout and threatened the 2011 NFL season, Saturday emerged arm-in-arm with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to announce a settlement just in time for the beginning of the season.
Melangton, a veteran sports and events administrator who has been involved in everything from Olympic Games to Final Fours, is confident, but certainly not cocky.
“Competition for any event, much less one this big, is always super-tense,” she said.
Tense may be an understatement. Reporters and other onlookers were constantly shooed away and shielded from closed-door meetings of the three contingents Monday. New Orleans posted security guards outside its rehearsal room Monday night to thwart information leaks.
But this much did get out: New Orleans will pitch “N.O. Better Time” as its slogan, with a big emphasis on the Super Bowl being used to kick off the city’s massive 300th birthday party.
New Orleans also will emphasize the uniqueness of the Crescent City.
“There are some things we can deliver in New Orleans that can never be delivered in any other host city throughout the NFL,” said Sam Joffray, vice president of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. “That’s a big part of how we approached this.”
The Minneapolis group is relying heavily on the fact that the city is building a new stadium. And with good reason. Since 2004, the seven cities—Houston, Phoenix, Detroit, Dallas, Indianapolis, New York and San Francisco—that have built stadiums and bid on a Super Bowl were all rewarded with the big game, which, according to sports economists, carries an economic impact between $150 million and $200 million.
During a jazzy media presentation Monday, Minneapolis’ bid committee displayed renderings of the new stadium all around the room. The Minneapolis group thinks its new stadium will create a problem for New Orleans, which plays in an aging Mercedes-Benz Superdome that experienced a 34-minute power outage during the 2013 Super Bowl.
While the Minneapolis contingent acknowledged that Indianapolis hosted one of the best Super Bowls ever in 2012, committee members said that factor could also work in their favor by showing a great game can be staged in a cold-weather city.
While the Minneapolis group appeared confident Monday, they weren’t taking anything for granted.
“There’s no sense of entitlement,” said Lester Bagley, Minnesota Vikings vice president of public affairs. “We believe we’ll have to earn it.”
The New Orleans group was less soft spoken, with several members exiting their final rehearsal late Monday night proclaiming: “We all know where the 2018 Super Bowl is headed. The birthplace of jazz, baby.”
Jay Cicero, one of the heads of New Orleans' bid committee, was more diplomatic. He told IBJ that he didn’t think New Orleans was the favorite or the underdog.
“It all comes down to who submitted the best bid,” he said, “and who gives the best presentation.”