Thursday, May 20, 2010
Cold reality: Economics favor N.Y. bid
By John Clayton
All you have to know about Tuesday's vote to determine the host city for the 2014 Super Bowl is that the NFL Network is doing a 90-minute special on the decision.
The fact that the league is turning the vote into a mini-game show tells you the Super Bowl is probably heading to the New York area. They didn't have a Super Bowl selection show when South Florida and Tampa, Fla. -- the areas bidding against New York -- made their successful bids in past years. The league wants a New York Super Bowl. The Giants and Jets want a New York Super Bowl. Finding owners from 15 other teams to follow those leads won't be hard.
The cold, hard facts are how much having a New York Super Bowl would help the sale of premium seats at the expensive new Meadowlands stadium. It would help the economies of northern New Jersey and Manhattan, with estimates of a $500 million impact. It's going to happen. Persuading a majority of the 32 owners -- 17 votes are needed to pass -- won't be that hard.
Amazingly, the thought of a New York Super Bowl was almost laughed out of the owners meetings just a few years ago. Traditionalists brought up the problems of staging a February game outdoors. Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle created the Super Bowl with firm ideas. He wanted a warm-weather site for neutrality, stressing the quality of the game and the fairness of the conditions to the two participants.
The mandate was that no Super Bowl be held outdoors in an area in which the average temperature at that time of year was less than 50 degrees. Rozelle made one exception. To bring the game to fans in northern cities, the league would have a northern Super Bowl once every 10 or 12 years, but it had to be in a domed stadium (San Francisco, with reasonably warm winters, was included in that mix).
But reality and economics changed the thinking among league decision-makers and owners. The new stadium for the Giants and Jets cost $1.6 billion, and the timing was all wrong. The economy took a downturn, making it much harder to sell premium seats. While the Giants are getting closer to selling out most of the top inventory, the Jets reportedly still have about 10,000 high-priced seats to sell.
If those seats remain unsold, it raises the possibility of blackouts, though Jets owner Woody Johnson insists that won't happen. There are creative ways within the league rules of making sure the visiting team is paid enough to insure home games will be televised to local fans. But getting a Super Bowl in the stadium would only help Johnson and the Jets market unsold premium seats.
To get the bid, representatives from New York and New Jersey had to make an all-out pitch and be creative. The pitch was New York City itself.
Fans at the game would get hand-warmers and seat-warmers. There would be fire pits in the parking lots for tailgating. A thousand taxis would be made available for transportation. Public transportation is a selling point: The New Jersey Transit Station is close to the stadium entrance and can move 10,000 fans per hour from New York's Penn Station to the stadium. There would be 800 people on call with shovels ready to remove any late-arriving snow.
For the teams, the accommodations should be first-class. The AFC team would practice at the Jets' plush new headquarters, less than a half-hour from the stadium. The NFC team would get the Giants' new indoor fields.
And don't forget the parties. The Super Bowl host committee could offer every Manhattan attraction to hold parties and entertain people.
To make this all happen, the host committee accepted responsibility to raise $40 million for the bid. The numbers work. February isn't a big tourist month in New York. It would give the NFL the chance to showcase its newest stadium. Those selling the bid stress that 36 percent of the 20 million people living in the region were born outside the United States, and this game could help promote the sport to that demographic.
The weather issue could cost New York some votes from NFL traditionalists. Sure, longtime NFL owners will speak of the great cold-weather games of the past, but they have enjoyed the consistency of the weather conditions in warm-weather or domed Super Bowls.
In the bid material, the host committee lists the average high for February as 40 and the average low as 24.1. Precipitation is listed at 2.7 inches. But no one can forecast how the weather will be in February 2014. The area is coming off one of its coldest and snowiest winters.
What can't be argued is the potential impact on the game itself. Peyton Manning is a career 64.8 percent passer who averages 7.68 yards per throw. In temperatures lower than 40 degrees, his percentage drops to 60.1 and his yards per attempt to 6.71. Other quarterbacks would experience even bigger drops, and the style of play in a New York Super Bowl could be different from the trends in the league.
The league is quarterback-driven. The use of more three-, four- and five-receiver formations has added more excitement to the game. More quarterbacks can move offenses quicker in the fourth quarter, creating great comebacks and exciting finishes. But a cold-weather Super Bowl could give an edge to a cold-weather offense that plays in those conditions late in the season. It could force more of a running offense, which may go against the passing style that got that team to the Super Bowl.
Another argument against a New York Super Bowl could be made if New Jersey goes for sports betting in casinos. That would be a problem for owners and the league.
But if the sports books were open, it would be a good call to bet on New York getting the bid next Tuesday.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.