ATLANTA—Despite having what several NFL executives said was the strongest proposal, Indianapolis lost out on its bid to host the 2018 Super Bowl.
The championship game instead was awarded by the 32 NFL team owners on Tuesday to Minneapolis. New Orleans also made the final trio of candidates. Indianapolis was the first city eliminated in owners' voting.
Team owners are in Atlanta for their annual spring meetings. On Monday and Tuesday, most league insiders believed Indianapolis was running third in a three-horse race.
New Orleans, the most experienced of any Super Bowl host city, had proposed to kick off the city’s 300th birthday party with the 2018 Super Bowl, and Minneapolis bragged about a taxpayer-funded $975 million stadium that will be open in time for the game.
“Those are two very serious opponents,” said Chicago-based sports business consultant Marc Ganis, who counts several NFL teams as clients. “It’s a tough position for Indy, despite the stellar job they did hosting the Super Bowl in 2012.”
Despite offering to build a multi-million dollar training and research facility for NFL-backed USA Football to study concussions and other health issues plaguing the sport —and that Indianapolis was the only city to have already raised all the cash it would need to host the game—NFL owners still didn’t buy the city's sales pitch.
Not even the surprise recruitment of retired Colt turned broadcaster Jeff Saturday for the city's presentation on Tuesday helped put Indy over the goal line. Saturday is not only popular with current and former NFL players and Indianapolis Colts fans, but he also gained the respect of team owners by helping settle the 2011 labor dispute between owners and players which threatened to shorten or kill that season.
The addition of Saturday and the city's plans for a legacy project addressing pressing needs in the NFL "is genius," said an executive of one NFL team before the owners' decision.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard congratulated Minneapolis but praised his home city's bid.
“Indy’s Bid Committee put forward a very compelling presentation that stayed true to our belief that these events are about ‘more than a game’ by focusing on long-term betterment of our community and player safety," Ballard said in a statement.
Saturday and Indiana Sports Corp. CEO Allison Melangton gave their pitch to the 32 owners in a behind-closed-doors session at around 2:15 p.m. Indianapolis was the third contingent to make its bid, behind Minneapolis and then New Orleans.
After Indianapolis was eliminated, Melangton kept a smile on her face. "We put evrything on the table," she said. "[Losing] is part of the bid process."
Minneapolis hosted one Super Bowl previously, in 1992 when the Washington Redskins defeated the Buffalo Bills at the Metrodome. Construction began in December on the Minnesota Viking’s new stadium, which will receive about $500 million in taxpayer funds. It is expected to be complete by 2016.
“It was the centerpiece of our Super Bowl bid,” Minnesota Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf said in a press conference. “We emphasized that we’re at a critical juncture of our stadium. It will help the community realize that this is a world-class venue. I think the league has recognized that as well. It validates that with this type of event.”
U.S. Bancorp Chief Executive Officer Richard Davis, who served as co-chairman of Minneapolis’s bid committee, said he anticipates at least 100,000 visitors will come to Minneapolis for the game, where the average temperature in February is 29 degrees Fahrenheit.
It's unclear what impact the March arrest of Colts owner Jim Irsay on charges of driving under the influence and drug possession had on the voting. Several league and team officials speculated before the vote that it could be a drag on Indy’s bid. Irsay, however, has long been one of the most well liked owners among the group, those sources told IBJ.
There was plenty at stake for all three cities. Sports economists and NFL officials estimate the annual economic impact on the host city between $150 million and $300 million. A study commissioned by Indianapolis’ 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee reported that visitor spending in Indianapolis related to the 2012 Super Bowl tallied $175 million.
It’s not clear what’s next for Indianapolis. Melangton, who headed up the bid committee, said no contingency plans have been made to seek a future Super Bowl.
Some in Atlanta certainly think the Indianapolis contingent should try again. ESPN’s NFL reporter Adam Schefter said Monday that he thinks Indianapolis should be a part of a five-year Super Bowl rotation. ESPN and former CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell said on Monday that Indianapolis in 2012 hosted “by far the best Super Bowl ever.”
The Indianapolis Super Bowl bid committee, Melangton said, will take a moment to catch its breath before starting to analyze in the coming days and weeks what—if anything—went wrong in the city’s bidding effort. It included a 900-page written bid and an oral presentation including high-tech multimedia elements. Only then, will local officials and Irsay decide whether or not to give it another go.
This story will be updated.