Casual fans of the Super Bowl may be wondering why this year's big game is being played in Indianapolis. Nothing against Indy, but isn't the Super Bowl usually played in party towns like Miami or New Orleans?
Often it is. But not always. Where the game is played depends a lot on which city makes the best offer to the NFL. A buzzy article from the New York Times explains that the NFL likes to award the Super Bowl to cities that, pardon the pun, are willing to play ball. The main factors the NFL considers, according to the Times: "Build or improve your stadium. Run a good franchise. Play well with others. Beg a little."
We can't say whether Indianapolis begged, but the city did build a new stadium. Lucas Oil Stadium, with its 63,000 seats and retractable roof, is commonly thought to be one of the best stadiums in professional sports. But it wasn't cheap. The $720 million stadium was mostly paid for by increased taxes on food and drinks. The Colts franchise put up $100 million. And you'd better believe that Indianapolis had the Super Bowl in mind when it signed on to pay for the majority of the stadium.
The NFL looks at the Super Bowl location as a kind of carrot to reward cities that are expanding the NFL's sphere of influence, either by fielding a winning team, building a fancy stadium, or, ideally, both. Cities bid for the honor of hosting the Super Bowl because it brings in tourist dollars and prestige.
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How much money is the subject of some debate. The NFL maintains that the Super Bowl brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to local economies. An article from the Indianapolis Business Journal says, "The NFL estimates Indianapolis will draw 100,000 to 150,000 visitors who could spend $200 million over a 10-day span."
However, some find that number to be misleading. An academic paper from Holy Cross titled "Economics of the Super Bowl" argues that these numbers are "'padded' at least as well as the players on the field."
Philip Porter, an economics professor from the University of South Florida, attempted to figure out the Super Bowl's financial impact in 2007. The Sun-Sentinel reports that "he said he examined data from the Florida Department of Revenue showing expenditures in Miami-Dade County were $3.318 billion in February 2006 and $3.308 billion in February 2007."
Regardless, there are some tangible benefits for citizens of Super Bowl cities. In the case of Indianapolis, "the city pledged to build a practice facility downtown that will be left in place for local residents to use." There is also an increase in jobs (even if the jobs are temporary).
So, what does the bidding process look like? It's actually quite secretive. Not quite Skull and Bones at Yale, but definitely not open to TV cameras. The league's owners participate in different rounds of confidential voting. According to ESPN, the 2014 Super Bowl, which will take place in New Jersey, "took four rounds of secret balloting to determine the host. New York/New Jersey won by a simple majority over Tampa. South Florida was eliminated after the second ballot."
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But even though the voting is secret, the wooing process is anything but. A 2009 article from NOLA.com explains some of the shenanigans that have gone on in years past:
"To secure the 2009 bid, Tampa offered all owners a golf outing and brought in golf legend Arnold Palmer, who gave each owner a putter. It also offered owners 150 tickets to an exclusive outing to Busch Gardens theme park.
Just three years after getting the 2007 game, South Florida promised the use of yachts during Super Bowl week during its presentation to land the 2010 Super Bowl.
North Texas, which already had a massive bid with its new 100,000-seat Cowboys Stadium and 150 suites, included in its successful bid for the 2011 game $1 million paid directly to the league to cover game-day costs."