NFL must reward Indy if it wants city in future Super Bowl hunts

ATLANTA—I was told many times this week by various sources that Indianapolis didn’t have much of a chance in its quest to host the 2018 Super Bowl.

I didn’t believe it. Or at least I didn’t want to.

The skeptic, cynic and perhaps conspiracy theorist in me thinks now, in retrospect, perhaps those people were right.

After all, Minneapolis will have its new $975 million stadium—half of which is funded by the public sector—by 2018, and New Orleans will be celebrating its 300th birthday that year. All Indianapolis packed was a stellar track record from hosting the 2012 Super Bowl and the best bid.

Minneapolis and its new stadium won out here Tuesday, with the 32 NFL owners making their decision on the fourth ballot. With the least number of votes of the three bidders, Indianapolis was unceremoniously tossed out after the first vote.

After learning everything I could about all three bids and about how Indianapolis’ bid was far more lucrative to the NFL than the other two bids, a thought kept creeping into my head. Why was Indy invited here at all?

NFL executives and team owners had other options. Dallas, Miami and Tampa also sought the game, but were nixed by the league in December.

The answer to that question is simple. Remember what I wrote just a few paragraphs ago. Indianapolis had the best bid. And it isn’t just me saying that. A half dozen sources here this week told me the same thing.

What better way to push New Orleans and Minneapolis to put their best foot forward than throwing the Paul Bunyan of event bidders and hosters in the arena?

The NFL’s Super Bowl boss, Frank Supovitz, came into the Indianapolis bid committee’s war room on the second floor of the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead shortly after the vote Tuesday. I’m sure it was mostly a formality, but he seemed extra effusive in his praise of Indiana Sports Corp. President Allison Melangton and the rest of the Indy bid team.

“It was a great, great proposal,” Supovitz told Melangton. “You guys did a tremendous job. You raised the bar.”

Again, maybe it’s the cynic in me, but it was almost like he was begging Indy officials to bid again—to raise the bar some more. And why not?

Without Indy, there’s no Super Bowl Boulevard, now a mandate for any host city. And no Super Bowl social media command center, another NFL mandate for the game that was pioneered at the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis. Indy also set the standard for merchandise sales at the NFL Experience.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said when city and state officials are ready to make another Super Bowl bid, he’s ready to lead the charge.

But Supovitz and other NFL officials must know this; though Indiana often gets rapped for being a bunch of country bumpkins with an uncommon sense of hospitality, Hoosiers are not fools. They have a logical fiscal sensibility.

Despite criticism they get from some within their own borders, those in charge of putting together Indianapolis’ event bids are not so starry eyed over the Super Bowl that they’re going to disregard the cost in human resources and cash it takes to put a bid together.

The 900-page 2018 Super Bowl bid created by Melangton and her group took lots of time and resources away from other endeavors they could have been pursuing.

So here’s the deal. I think Indy would be willing to jump back in the ring, and even at times play pusher if the NFL needs them to. But certainly not for nothing.

There’s got to be a quid pro quo. If the NFL wants Indianapolis in the hunt, it’s got to give it a bone. It’s got to put Indy in a regular Super Bowl rotation. If the city can do the Final Four every few years, why not the Super Bowl?

The question is, how often would Indianapolis have to be awarded the game to make its pursuit worthwhile. Every 26 years—like the course Minneapolis is on—isn’t going to get it. I’d say some indication that Indianapolis would host a Super Bowl every eight to 10 years would be enough to keep the city coming back like Pavlov’s dogs.

But if the NFL keeps ringing that bell and doesn’t offer any food to absorb the salivation, eventually that dog is going to bite it.

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