Irsay open to another Super Bowl bid, but 2019 looks unlikely

ATLANTA—Too late to do anything about their failed bid to bring the 2018 Super Bowl to the Circle City and too early to escape the sting and look forward, Indianapolis officials sighed audibly inside their war room on the second floor of the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead late Tuesday afternoon.

The smile faded briefly from the face of typically buoyant Indiana Sports Corp. President and local bid committee boss Allison Melangton as Indianapolis' elimination was announced.

“You don’t enjoy the victories as much unless you taste defeat,” said Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Still, some of the committee members were visibly upset and wondering what went wrong. After all, in its bid presented to the 32 NFL owners Tuesday, Indianapolis addressed one of the league’s most pressing needs with a promise to build a multimillion-dollar facility to help USA Football study concussions and other football-related injuries. The committee chose retired Colts center Jeff Saturday, much respected by many of the team owners, to deliver the closing speech.

And there was something even more disturbing. Indianapolis was passed over despite having a bid that was $2 million more lucrative for the league than New Orleans’ and a whopping $14 million more lucrative than Minneapolis’ proposal, according to a league source familiar with the bids.

Minneapolis won the bidding war that had turned ugly earlier Tuesday with some New Orleans bid committee members comparing cold-weather Indianapolis and Minnesota’s Twin Cities to North Dakota.

The normally affable Irsay appeared miffed by the decision of his fellow owners.

“It was a crazy situation,” Irsay said moments after emerging from the first floor conference room at the Ritz-Carlton where the vote took place. “We had the best bid financially, game plan-wise and legacy project-wise. The competition was tough, but our bid was superior if you shrunk it down."

“And with this city’s event organizers, we gave a no-glitch guarantee [to hosting the Super Bowl],” Irsay added.

Saturday echoed his former boss’ sentiments.

“What can you say? We put it all out there,” Saturday said in a loud voice. “That’s how life is. Wow.”

Irsay was effusive in his praise of the Indianapolis business community in its effort to win what he called Tuesday after the loss “an uphill battle.”

“Indianapolis’ business community has just been tremendous,” Irsay said. “It wasn’t just how much [money] we raised for the 2018 Super Bowl that was so amazing, but how quickly we raised it.”

The city's business community “delivers on its promises,” Irsay added.  

The deck appears to have been stacked against Indianapolis.

“It’s tough to beat a $1 billion building,” said Indianapolis bid committee member Mark Miles, referring to the new stadium under construction in Minneapolis. “Rewarding continued investment in NFL markets is smart business for the league.”

NFL officials declined to reveal vote totals, but Indianapolis had the lowest number of votes and was eliminated after the first round of voting. Minneapolis won on the third ballot by less than 75 percent majority of the 32 NFL team owners, a league source said.

It’s unclear what’s next for Indianapolis, which hosted its first Super Bowl in 2012. Melangton and Miles said it’s simply too early to consider going for another Super Bowl. It seems bidding next year for the 2019 game is off the table.

“They’ll be in a cold-weather city in 2018 and the league has never hosted back-to-back Super Bowls in cold-weather climates,” Melangton said. “It would be unprecedented.”

Miles pointed out that it takes myriad resources and considerable money just to put a Super Bowl bid together, so he thinks Indianapolis needs to be strategic about its timing.

“There’s no reason to hurry on a conclusion about where we go from here,” Miles said.

“Without having collaboration of my group, I’d say it will be a while before we bid again. But someday,” Melangton mused. “Someday.”

If Melangton and her group were looking for encouragement to bid again they didn’t have to look far. Irsay came up to the Indianapolis bid committees’ war room shaking hands and giving hugs to its members.

“We don’t have any plans right now to bid again, but we want to be persistent,” Irsay said. “When the city and state are ready [to bid again] so are we.”

Some wondered if New Orleans’ time as a Super Bowl host powerhouse has passed. Tuesday marked the first time in 11 attempts the Crescent City didn’t win its Super Bowl bid.

Despite a supremely confident New Orleans bid committee heading into the vote, NFL league sources told IBJ the aging Mercedes-Benz Superdome was a major concern among NFL team owners, who think it might be time to consider a new stadium in that market.

The task of winning another Super Bowl may not get any easier with Atlanta breaking ground on a new stadium May 18 and Miami planning to do the same soon.

Still several outside sources think Indianapolis should jump in the game again.

Asked if Indianapolis should bid on a future Super Bowl as he headed into a reception for team owners Tuesday night, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said: “Sure they should. They’ve made an impression.”

After Indianapolis in 2007 lost a close vote to Dallas to host the 2011 Super Bowl, a strong contingent of team owners and league executives encouraged Indianapolis to bid for the 2012 Super Bowl, said Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward, who was part of Indianapolis’ bid committee. He said he has “no feeling whatsoever on the feedback” Indianapolis will get following Tuesday’s loss.

On Monday, ESPN’s NFL Insider Adam Schefter said Indianapolis should be on a five-year rotation to host the Super Bowl.

Frank Supovitz, who heads up Super Bowl operations for the NFL, lingered in Indianapolis’ war room, consoling and encouraging local bid committee members after their loss.

“It was a great, great proposal,” he told Melangton. “You guys have done a tremendous job. You’ve raised the bar.”

When asked if he’d encourage Indianapolis to bid for another Super Bowl, he declined to comment.

“I’m going to slink away quietly. I’m going to let [the Indianapolis bid committee] be the story right now,” Supovitz told the IBJ.

Looking back, Melangton said she had “no regrets” with the bid presentation.

“All three communities focused on different things,” Melangton explained. “Minneapolis focused on the new stadium. New Orleans focused on their 300th birthday. We stayed true to what we are.

“We stressed the legacy project, community investment, volunteerism and engagement. Those are the things that are important to our community, and we let the [NFL team] owners know that.”

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