Houston hosted the Super Bowl in 2004. Local leaders hailed it as a major success and claimed more than $300 million in economic impact for Harris County. But they’ve bid since then for the chance to host two more Super Bowls, and have come up short each time.
The smallest city ever to host the big game was Jacksonville, Fla., in 2005. Organizers there had to dock cruise ships in the waters near downtown to house guests, because the region was far short on meeting the typical number of hotel rooms needed. In addition, many visitors were forced to scramble for limited rooms even an hour or more away.
Atlanta has hosted the NFL’s championship a couple of times. But in 2000 the area was struck by an ice storm that disrupted transportation and operations around the game. When the Georgia Dome failed to win the 2009 Super Bowl, local leaders pegged the loss on the NFL’s memories of the bad weather.
North Texas doesn’t want to wind up like Houston, or Jacksonville, or Atlanta—cities that have found themselves shut out of bringing the country’s biggest sporting event back to town. Instead, North Texas wants to join the likes of Miami, New Orleans, and Tampa—cities that have firmly established themselves among the rotation of host cities preferred by the NFL. Miami has had the game 10 times. New Orleans will host its tenth in 2013. And Tampa has hosted twice in the last decade. Leaders of the Dallas-Fort Worth area don’t want to have to wait long to bring a second championship game to Arlington—perhaps as soon as 2016, for Super Bowl L.
But Roger Staubach, chairman of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee, cautions local organizers to not get ahead of themselves. To make the region a repeat host, it will have to show visitors from around the world a good time when they come to town next February.
“The biggest thing will be the success that they see here and experience here and their families experience here, and I think that we’d like to get lucky with the weather—because it could be beautiful weather that time of year,” Staubach says. “They’ll want to play golf and do things like that here, too. We really want to get it back. We want to get into a rotation, but we’ve got to do the first one right first.”
Leaving An Impression
It’s not just about pulling off the game, experts say. Upwards of 200,000 visitors are expected to arrive in North Texas during Super Bowl week, but only about half that number will actually attend the game. The other tens of thousands still need to be entertained and to have great places to stay, restaurants to patronize, and attractions to visit. The experience had by each of these fans—along with the experience of members of the media who will report stories from the region for days leading up to the game, and the experience of the NFL brass who come to town—all will feed into the impression that North Texas leaves in the minds of the team owners. And it’s entirely up to those 32 team owners whether they decide to grant another Super Bowl to Cowboys Stadium.
That fact is all too apparent to Denis Braham, the CEO of the law firm Winstead, who has been part of successful Super Bowl bids (Houston in 2004, North Texas in 2011) as well as unsuccessful efforts (Houston in 2009 and 2012). It’s hard to know what’s in the owners’ minds when they’re making their decision, he says.
“I take a lot of pride in [the unsuccessful Houston bids], because I know how good they were, and I know how good the staff of the NFL said they were,” Braham says. “There have been a lot of things going on in the NFL, beyond the Super Bowl, that have an effect on how NFL owners vote for a particular city.”
It could be that Miami has led the pack among host cities for no other reason than that the team owners and their families like having a chance to visit the beach in the middle of winter. Along the same lines, it’s tough to imagine cold-weather Detroit (whose new stadium got the game in 2006) or Indianapolis (which will host in 2012) ever joining the NFL’s roster of regulars. The North Texas climate at the beginning of February is a crapshoot: it could be 70 degrees and sunny, or 20 degrees and sleeting. The prospect for future Super Bowls in Arlington could depend upon which one we see in February.
Beyond that, the host committee is going to great lengths to ensure that the NFL staff, the team owners, the media, and all other guests are cared for. They’re working out transportation plans (see story, p. 114) and creating redundancies in the system in case of bad weather. In other words, they’re doing all they can to ensure that everyone has a great time.
But once they’ve done that—once the game is over and (they hope) declared the biggest and best in the league’s history—the North Texas Super Bowl host committee is scheduled to disband. Its staff will return to other employment. When it comes time for the region to make another bid, a new team will have to be assembled, and in some ways the effort will have to start from scratch.
Bill Lively, the host committee CEO, and Tara Green, the COO, believe that would be a mistake. They would prefer to have the host committee instead morph into an institution that North Texas has never had: a regional sports commission.
“It is one of the huge missing pieces of the puzzle here,” Green says. “I hope one of the legacies of hosting Super Bowl XLV will be an entity left in place, hopefully with some seed funding for staff, that can be that. [They could] put the next Super Bowl bid together, manage the preparations for the Final Four in 2014. And just kind of keep that pipeline of events coming through North Texas. This is the right time to make it happen.”
Reinventing the Wheel
Green, who previously worked for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, says a commission would be vital to helping the region land large events like the World Cup or the Olympics, and would allow institutional memory to be maintained about how to host all manner of sports, from youth league championships on up the scale.
“Whenever you bring a mega-event, you need an entity outside the facility, outside the CVBs, which can raise money to put on the event, have the legal authority to enter into a contract with the rights holder to host the event, and the operational experience to pull off the event,” Green says. “CVBs are not set up to do that. They’re sales and PR entities; they’re not operations and event-production entities.”
Miami-Dade has a sports commission, and so do Tampa Bay and New Orleans. So Dallas-Fort Worth might also need one in order to compete effectively with those regions, the concept’s supporters say. Such nonprofit organizations are often funded largely with private donations, along with some public support.
Charlotte Jones Anderson, a vice president with the Dallas Cowboys, says it would make sense to create such an institution since, as it now stands, organizers are unnecessarily starting over each time there’s a new opportunity to bring a major event to the region. Anderson was part of the Super Bowl bid effort and the successful effort to bring the NCAA Final Four to Cowboys Stadium in 2014. She’s also helping with the push for the World Cup.
“We did the Super Bowl bid, and we went to go get the Final Four, and there were the same few faces calling the same people, doing the same thing,” Anderson says. “There’s definitely a synergy here that requires an effort on the part of cities to participate to bring these big events in. It’s one thing to have the facility to host it in, but there’s a lot more to it than just hosting the game.”
Green isn’t just trying to guarantee herself a job after her work for the Host Committee wraps up next spring. She stresses that it’s important that the region find a way to permanently coordinate its efforts to bring these events—and the millions of dollars that come along with them—to town.
“There needs to be an entity in place that will book in the Cowboys Stadium, in the American Airlines Center—maybe even partner with Texas Motor Speedway and Lone Star Park,” she says. “Every time we’re trying to bring events to North Texas, we’re reinventing the wheel.”