The National Football League had a long and expensive list of confidential requests before it awarded the 2018 Super Bowl to Minneapolis.
Free police escorts for team owners, and 35,000 free parking spaces. Presidential suites at no cost in high-end hotels. Free billboards across the Twin Cities. Guarantees to receive all revenue from the game’s ticket sales — even a requirement for NFL-preferred ATMs at the stadium.
Those requirements and many others are detailed in 153 pages of NFL specifications for the game. An official on the host committee that successfully sought the game — Minneapolis beat out Indianapolis and New Orleans — said the panel had agreed to a majority of the conditions but would not elaborate.
The document, which the Star Tribune obtained through sources, has not been released publicly but shows how the NFL will control the event and many of its public aspects. The NFL declined to comment on the document and host committee officials are declining to make it public, citing state data privacy laws.
Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson said “incentives” were necessary to host the Super Bowl, but Mayor Betsy Hodges’ office said it did not know what the city’s host committee ultimately agreed to. “We haven’t seen the bid, so we don’t know what was agreed to,” said Kate Brickman, Hodges’ spokeswoman.
The host committee, which was co-chaired by U.S. Bancorp chief executive Richard Davis, says it has $30 million in private pledges that will be used to help offset public costs for staging the game. But like the bid details, the committee has refused to release information on the private fundraising. A spokesperson said Davis was unavailable for comment.
Others are criticizing the secrecy of the process. “This is wrong,” said former Gov. Arne Carlson, who noted that the game will be played in a new $1 billion Vikings stadium built with a great deal of public financing. “This is a huge public event. It should be transparent. We should know how the NFL operates.”
The NFL’s requests covered everything from free access to three “top quality” golf courses during the summer or fall before the Super Bowl, to free curbside parking at a yet-to-be designated NFL House — defined as a “high-end, exclusive drop-in hospitality facility for our most valued and influential guests to meet, unwind, network and conduct business.”
Under a six-page “Government Guarantees” section, the NFL also asked that local police provide officers, at no cost, for anti-counterfeit enforcement teams focused on tickets and merchandise. Other provisions in the section ask for government resolutions requiring “high-level management” at local airports to “cooperate with those needing special services”, including those arriving on team charters and private planes. The NFL also asked that government licensing fees be waived for as many as 450 courtesy cars and buses.
The “Government Guarantees” section, in addition, also demands that public officials create “clean zones” that cover at least a one-mile radius around the football stadium and a six-block radius from the NFL’s headquarters hotel. Creating “clean zones,” according to the NFL, typically “restricts certain activities” and “provides for the temporary suspension of new, and possibly existing, permits for such activities.”
In other parts of the bid specifications, the league asked that at least 20 free billboards “in NFL designated areas” across the Twin Cities be made available. The host city also was asked to pay all travel and expenses for an optional “familiarization trip” for 180 people to come to the Twin Cities in advance of the Super Bowl to inspect the region.
TVs, ATMs, bowling
The NFL’s requirements strike at every phase of the game’s preparations.
For example, the document notes that if placing logos of the NFL, Super Bowl, and teams that are playing in the game on the field requires different turf to be installed in the new downtown Minneapolis stadium, there would be no charge for that to the league. Also, the document states that the hotels where the teams stay should be obligated to televise the NFL Network for a year before the Super Bowl — at no cost to the league.
The NFL asked that if cellphone signal strength at the team hotels is not strong enough, then the host committee — at no cost to the league — “will be responsible [for erecting] a sufficient number of portable cellular towers.”
Inside the stadium for the Super Bowl, the league asked that it be able to install ATMs that accept NFL preferred credit and debit cards — and for officials to cover or remove ATMs that “conflict with NFL preferred payment services.”
In another requirement, the NFL requested that as many as two “top quality bowling venues” be reserved at no cost to the league for the Super Bowl Celebrity Bowling Classic.
The league also asked for benefits in the local media “to provide significant advertising and promotional time” for the “NFL Experience” in the month leading up to the game. Among them: At least 20 color pages of free space, in aggregate, in leading daily newspapers to promote the game and four weeks of free promotions on at least six local radio stations, including at least 250 live or prerecorded ads.
The bid specifications are divided into 16 separate sections and require a potential host city to mark “Yes” or “No” after each section to indicate whether it “agrees to all conditions.”
The host committee, in a written response to the Star Tribune, said last week that “while the Minnesota Super Bowl Bid Committee did not agree to all of the NFL’s Super Bowl bid specifications, the competitive bid remains private.”
By winning the right last month to host the Super Bowl, the committee added that “we have guaranteed that [more than] 100,000 visitors will descend on this community, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity.”
An attorney for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority — the public agency that oversees the new Vikings stadium — said that it and the host committee are allowed to keep the data private under state law. State statute allows the authority to keep private “a letter or other documentation from any person” wanting to use public facilities like the new Vikings stadium, along with the response from the authority.
The law adds that the data can be made public when the event takes place, or five years after a contract is signed to hold the event.
Jay Lindgren, an attorney for the sports facilities authority, said the statute gives officials the legal footing to withhold the information.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined to say whether balking at any requirement disqualified a city from being considered. “There is tremendous value to a community in hosting an event of the Super Bowl’s magnitude and the competition to host one is significant,” McCarthy said in a written statement.
Prior to Minneapolis being named the host city, both the league and local officials emphasized the economic benefits that the city and state will receive. The NFL’s bid requirement, in fact, begins by saying that “the day of the Super Bowl game [is] America’s unofficial holiday, a day when the attention of an entire nation is focused on the game in one region.”
In the document, the NFL also said it would allow the host committee to buy 750 game tickets.
Airport said no
But there is at least one sign that the NFL’s specifications had not been completely accepted.
The NFL wanted — at no cost — the “exclusive right” to select vendors to sell Super Bowl merchandise at local airports and the “unrestricted ability” to put kiosks in multiple spots at an airport.
But Patrick Hogan, a Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman, said the commission was asked about the requirement before the bid was submitted, but had not agreed to the request. Typically, he said, the commission itself connects event organizers with existing vendors at the airport.
In Minneapolis, Hodges’ spokesperson said that even though she was uncertain on what had been agreed to, “what we know at the city is that whatever the committee agreed to will be covered by private fundraising.”
Johnson, the Minneapolis City Council president, said critics needed to face reality. “We’re in competition with every other city in the United States for convention visitors,” she said.