Stadium size, hotel space to be issue in Indy’s bid to host 2018 Super Bowl

If you’re a savvy politician—and 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee Chairman Mark Miles is nothing if not a savvy political player—you’re always counting votes.

Politicians don’t make a move unless they have reasonable belief that they have the votes. Not just the votes to get elected, but the votes within a political body to get things done. Politicians ranging from small town mayors to presidents are constantly counting votes.

So I’m sure Miles and other Indianapolis leaders think they have a reasonable chance to obtain the votes to secure the 2018 Super Bowl. Because as good as Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard looked at Wednesday’s press conference, a failure two years from now to get Indianapolis’ second Super Bowl will hang on the incumbent Republican mayor as the next election approaches.

The problem is, the NFL owners club is a political body different from any other. And savvy or not, Miles, Ballard and other city and state leaders simply don’t have the kind of access to this group as a mayor would have to his city council or a president would have to Congress.

And even if they did have that kind of access, it’s difficult to gauge the whimsy of this group of 32 multi-multi-millionaires.

In terms of winning the bid for the 2018 Super Bowl, WXIN’s Russ McQuaid asked the most important question at Wednesday’s press conference. Amid all the glee expressed over the millions raked in by the city and its businesses, McQuaid asked: “Are NFL owners happy with the money they got from the Super Bowl?”

The answer was the expected—but purely anecdotal. The real answer is, “We just don’t know.” We do know this: Lucas Oil Stadium is impossibly small when it comes to competing with stadiums incities like New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Those cities can easily offer the NFL and its owners $10 million more in revenue than Indianapolis ever can. If deep-pocketed owners like Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones let their egos get involved, Dallas can probably outbid Indianapolis by close to double that.

As generous as the Indianapolis corporate community was in ponying up funds to help host the 2012 Super Bowl, asking them to throw in another eight-figure amount is crazy.

“I don’t think the size of the stadium strictly limits us,” Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay told IBJ Wednesday, noting Lucas Oil Stadium could be expanded to seat as many as 72,000.

But 72,000 would be 9,000 more than normally fit inside LOS for a Colts game. That’s close to a 15-percent increase, and while stadium officials might be able to seat that many in LOS, the stadium’s concession stands and restrooms could be overrun like they were in Dallas during the 2011 Super Bowl, when Cowboys Stadium was expanded nearly 20 percent to 100,000.

Officials for Dallas-based HOK, which designed LOS and Cowboys Stadium, told IBJ that Lucas Oil Stadium could be expanded “comfortably” to 68,000. The NFL wasn’t even comfortable with that this year, opting to put just a few hundred more people inside LOS than would normally be on hand for a Colts game.

The money issues are why people like Miles and 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee CEO Allison Melangton are already pondering alternative ways to raise money for the NFL. The Super Bowl Village—more popular for the 2012 Super Bowl than event organizers dared to imagine—is being looked at for revenue generation opportunities.

Money generation isn't the only issue when it comes to stadium size.

"It's as much about the NFL's ticket commitment, the number of tickets the league has committed to sponsors, its broadcast partners to players as part of the collective bargaining agreement, coaches and a number of other parties," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based SportsCorp Ltd., which counts several NFL teams as clients. "And that number of committed tickets is going up every year. When you get into a stadium size below 75,000, it gets very, very difficult to host a Super Bowl."

There’s one other major issue Indianapolis must wrestle with to score another Super Bowl.

Many locals want to know why Indianapolis isn’t trying to go after an earlier Super Bowl. First, there is already a long line of cities vying for the 50th Super Bowl in 2016. That’s a no-win battle for Indianapolis. But there may be another important reason why Indianapolis is waiting until 2018.

That gives developers another year or two to build another large downtown hotel. The most likely site is the Pan Am Plaza. Several high-up team and league officials complained that there weren’t enough downtown hotel rooms for this year’s Super Bowl. The league’s big-dollar sponsors and promotional partners were not pleased with being forced to camp out in central Indiana suburbs.

“Another downtown hotel would definitely be a big plus,” Irsay said. “But a lot of that discussion is just constructive criticism.”

And just any new hotel wouldn't do.

"It would have to be a big four- or five-star hotel," Ganis said. "Anything below a four-star hotel would be irrelevant in satisfying the league and its partners."

Despite its success in hosting various national and international sporting events and being a darling of the NCAA Final Four, Indianapolis figures to need all the big pluses it can get to land another Super Bowl and the $150 million plus economic impact it brings with it. 

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