In February, the NFL pulled off its first outdoor Super Bowl in a northern city. Relatively pleasant temperatures greeted visitors in New York City and fans at MetLife Stadium, and a postgame snowstorm did little to tarnish the event.
So in its very next Super Bowl decision, the league awarded its 2018 game to the coldest market in the country. Minneapolis-St. Paul will host Super Bowl LII, a verdict that some observers believe will usher in a new era of climate-neutral positioning for the event.
For now, I would spread caution on the notion that the NFL has embraced the idea of a cold outdoor Super Bowl. There is no reason -- yet -- for places such as Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and Seattle to assume they are now on equal ground with warmer sites.
Both New York/New Jersey in 2014 and Minnesota in 2018 should be viewed not as a trend but with specific conditions. More than $2 billion was committed to construction of stadiums in those two markets, a total the NFL was obliged to reward while also sending a message to other municipalities that are stuck in stadium negotiations. It was important enough in New York to risk a one-time bad-weather game, but in Minnesota the game will be played inside a dome, and many events during the week will be connected by indoor skywalks and/or light-rail trains to minimize outdoor exposure.
There isn't much about either circumstance to suggest a jump in this trend to, say, Chicago's Soldier Field or Denver's Sports Authority Field. Both cities have suitable infrastructure to host a Super Bowl, but their stadiums are neither new nor domed. The same goes for Seattle's CenturyLink Field and Green Bay's Lambeau Field, among others. Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field is undergoing the final stages of a $125 million upgrade this offseason, but it's not the type of large-scale project the league would feel compelled to reward.
Those are the facts. Perhaps the NFL will one day shift to a more egalitarian system of Super Bowl distribution. It's just not there yet.
Speaking this week about Minnesota's winning bid, commissioner Roger Goodell was clear. The "distinguishing factor," he said, "was the stadium project and the effort they had to bring that stadium to completion. The plans that they have for it and the commitment that community has demonstrated is a positive influence on several owners."
Having awarded the game to a region with an average February temperature of 18 degrees, Goodell spoke diplomatically about cold-weather sites. "If you want to play golf," he said, "that may not be your first choice. You may play golf and then come to Minneapolis." But nowhere in his comments was an indication that Minnesota in 2018 is anything more than an expected quid pro quo for the $498 million in taxpayer money flowing to the stadium project.
I'm not as opposed to a bad-weather game as some, and the NFL missed one by about 12 hours in February. But if all things were equal, it's fair to assume the NFL would prefer the lower risk of a game in New Orleans, Miami, San Diego or another southern locale. At the moment, however, all things are not equal. The league had a debt to pay to New York and Minnesota. Soon, it will make good on Atlanta's new $1 billion stadium, set to open in 2017.
What could push the NFL over the (climate) hump? A lack of suitable warm options is one factor. Owners have made clear that South Florida's Sun Life Stadium must be upgraded before hosting another game. San Diego, meanwhile, won't get another game until it replaces Qualcomm Stadium. Los Angeles no longer has a Super Bowl-caliber facility.
Even so, the league has domed options it could choose rather than playing outside. Goodell said he believes New Orleans will get another game. Indianapolis, site of a great event in 2012, wants to remain in the rotation.
The only real reason to open bidding to northern sites with older stadiums, as you might have guessed, is if it can lead to additional revenues. Is that possible? Of course. There is nothing to stop an ambitious market from sweetening its bid with new tax breaks, bigger promises and other visionary perks that could elevate the Super Bowl's status and earning power. It's certainly possible, but we're not there. Yet.