That's how many times "at no cost to the NFL" was mentioned in the National Football League's Super Bowl wish list to Minneapolis. Now the game is here, and a herculean behind-the-scenes effort is underway to cover the costly tab the league will leave behind for the weeklong extravaganza.
Organizers will not release their final bid for the event. But the league's requests before Minneapolis was chosen were wide-ranging, from 35,000 free parking spaces on Sunday to free advertising in local media, police escorts for team owners, hundreds of hotel rooms, presidential hotel suites, 14,000 feet of barricades, and even the NFL Network on hotel TVs.
Much of the costs will be covered by the $53 million private fundraising campaign by the local host committee, while the league — at least according to its bid specifications — retains ticket revenue from the game. One prominent sports economist estimated the ticket revenue alone could be worth up to $100 million.
Notably, those tickets aren't subject to any taxes, which will be one of the largest public costs not covered by private fundraising. The Legislature last year expanded an existing tax break on Super Bowl tickets to other ancillary events and NFL parking sales. The break adds up to about $9 million the state can't collect and $1.3 million for local governments, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
"We're supposed to squeeze our taxpayers in the state and in the cities so [the league] can be exempt from a few pennies here and there," said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, an author of the tax bill. "It's not right. It's extortion. These are big shakedown artists."
As to why the break was expanded, Chamberlain said the issue was a holdover from past sessions, and he was focused on fighting for some bigger priorities in the bill than challenging the modest additional tax break.
The 154-page bid document was obtained and published by the Star Tribune in 2014, offering a glimpse into the NFL's demands for Super Bowl host communities.
Other items "at no cost to the NFL" include a venue for the NFL Experience, 10 premier quality buses for eight days, use of one stadium suite for the season leading up to the game, public safety costs relating to official Super Bowl events, and catering including 800 pounds of ice per day at team practices. The document even delves into details like covering certain soft drink fountain taps at the game, or replacing them with "generic taps," if the brand conflicts with an NFL sponsor.
Representatives for the league did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Victor Matheson, an economics professor at College of the Holy Cross who studies mega events, said the document offered rare insight into the league's demands on local communities. "It's pretty appalling," he said.
Matheson said the Super Bowl is an anomaly among pro-sports championships because the game's location isn't dictated by which teams are playing. That gives the NFL extra leverage to make demands of cities bidding on the event. "This does not occur in baseball or in hockey or in the NBA … none of these massive giveaways," Matheson said.
The league itself passes much of its profits on to its member teams and their wealthy owners, he said. Its revenue was estimated to be about $14 billion last year, according to Bloomberg.
Host Committee spokesman Michael Howard said the fundraising will be reimbursing the city and the state more than $6 million in public safety and public works costs.
But other public expenses were less clear. Metro Transit said that in addition to beefed up security paid for by federal security grants, it is spending about $1.1 million on extra transit service that will be covered by fares and advertising. Spokesman Howie Padilla said the agency plans to discuss reimbursement with the Host Committee after the game.
And the private fundraising effort wasn't without its own impacts.
Longtime fundraising consultant Mark Davy said other groups running campaigns — like the American Legion's efforts to raise money for its 100th anniversary in August — have had a hard time competing for the finite number of charitable dollars in the state.
"We thought it would be fairly easy to raise money for that event. And we've found it really difficult," Davy said. "And that's the largest veterans group in Minnesota."
Long wish list
Howard declined to release the final bid document Friday because it is "the product of private negotiations with the NFL." It therefore remains unclear which of the NFL's demands were met, and Howard did not respond to a question about how much made it into the final deal.
He said the donations pay for many activities around the Super Bowl, including the Super Bowl Live event on Nicollet Mall.
"Most of our donations have come from our community of businesses that have stepped up to make this Super Bowl and all the free and open-to-the-public events possible," Howard said in an e-mail.
Not everything occurred as outlined in the request document.
It says the caterer at the facility hosting the NFL Experience must agree to relinquish its license for the duration of the event and give the NFL the right to all concession revenue, for example. But Kelber Catering, which operates at the Minneapolis Convention Center, did not relinquish its license and is "operating as normal," said CEO Patty Lemke.
The document also demanded proposals from local media organizations providing "significant advertising and promotional time and/or space for the NFL Experience" at no cost to the NFL.
That included 20 pages of color space in leading daily newspapers. Star Tribune spokesman Steve Yaeger said the company did not make commitments based on the NFL requests, but after the bid was awarded "we negotiated an advertising and sponsorship agreement with the Super Bowl Host Committee that was mutually beneficial."
Then there are the massive parking specifications, like free use of 35,000 parking spaces within a mile of the stadium on Game Day. Minneapolis documents show the Host Committee has agreed to reimburse the city more than $160,000 for Sunday parking spaces, and a city spokesman said they have purchased parking at eight ramps.
The request document says the NFL is entitled to retain all parking revenue at the stadium and any NFL-operated parking facilities on game day and a period beforehand.
Marilyn Miller, director of sales and marketing at Radisson Blu Mall of America, the team hotel for the Eagles, said hotel TVs already carry the NFL Network. As for top suites, another league request, Miller said they can be the size of three regular rooms.
"It's not palatial," Miller said. "It's probably not like a Las Vegas suite, but for the Twin Cities area, very well appointed."