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Sports Business

Irsay's 'all-in' mentality key to Indy's Super Bowl score

February 3, 2012
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Oftentimes, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is an all-or-nothing kind of guy.

Never was that more true than in the case of Indianapolis winning the bid to host the Super Bowl.

According to several people in on the early efforts to bring America’s biggest one-day sporting event to Indianapolis for the first time, Irsay was one of the biggest engines in the effort.

Not only was his rising clout among the other 31 NFL owners critical, but his willingness to forsake his own financial interests might have been the extra point that won the day.

“Jim Irsay was all in from the very beginning,” said Indiana University Athletics Director Fred Glass, who was president of the city’s Capital Improvement Board in 2007 and led the first effort to bring the game here.

“Jim Irsay had an opportunity to make money off of this thing that he passed on to make our bid more lucrative,” Glass said. “Jim gave everything he could, access to suites and everything else he had rights to within the stadium.”

Irsay also agreed to let the AFC championship team use the Colts Complex for the week. Ironically, that turned out to be one of the Colts’ biggest rivals, the New England Patriots.

Yes, Irsay's Colts got a sweetheart deal to lease Lucas Oil Stadium. But contractually, he had the right to squeeze even more out if the Super Bowl was played there.

It’s also true that the money generated from the game itself and the NFL Experience goes to the league and is mostly divided among the 32 teams. So Irsay does get a share of the windfall.

But many NFL owners who have some control over their home stadium try to withhold some of the income-generating functions from the Super Bowl bid and keep all of that for themselves.

That was the case with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in 2007. The Cowboys’ stadium holds about 35,000 more people for the Super Bowl than Lucas Oil Stadium; in Dallas’ first bid, Jones withheld a lot of money-generating possibilities from the bid.

In bidding for a Super Bowl, a host city usually gives a preliminary bid, then amps it up as the competition warrants through another two or three rounds. It’s a lot like a high-stakes poker game.

“We probably didn’t know exactly what we were doing, so we gave our last and best offer right off the bat,” Glass said.  

Because of that and Irsay’s generosity, Glass said, “Dallas felt Indianapolis’ hot breath on their neck.”

Jones’ hand was forced when he heard a number of owners were favoring Indianapolis. He gave up much of his stadium inventory—some at the 11th hour—and Dallas’ bid ended up being close to $20 million more lucrative for the NFL than Indianapolis’.

Still, at the 2007 spring owners meeting, after several rounds of voting Dallas only beat out Indianapolis 17-15 for the 2011 Super Bowl.

Indianapolis carried its momentum over in 2008, and won the 2012 bid.

Irsay, as zany as he is, probably doesn’t get enough credit for being a community supporter. Much of his desire to help his adopted home stems from the memories of how people in Baltimore felt—and still feel—about his dad, Robert.

“I’m a part of this city and I love it here,” Irsay said this week from the Super Bowl media center at the JW Marriott. “I think it’s important for me to do whatever I can for my hometown.”

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