The National Football League sent its six-member Super Bowl committee to the Twin Cities for 48 hours Friday to scout venues and advise civic leaders pulling together the pitch to play host to the 2018 game in a brand-new stadium.
League Senior Vice President Frank Supovitz called the two-day tour a “terrific experience.” Speaking to reporters at Orchestra Hall, he described the NFL panel as “guides and coaches” for the cities making bids.
And he had good news for Minneapolis: “We’re not really afraid of the cold, to be honest.”
Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen and Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said they came away feeling good about the Twin Cities’ capabilities and chances at luring the game.
“I feel like it’s ours to prove it,” Kelm-Helgen said.
The Twin Cities must submit to the NFL an extensive pitch by April 1 detailing everything from hotel rooms, event venues, volunteer support and transportation offerings. The region last hosted a Super Bowl in 1992, and the event has since grown into a weeklong extravaganza of events.
Along with New Orleans and Indianapolis, Minneapolis is vying for the game that supporters say raises a region’s profile and brings millions to a local economy. In May, the 32 NFL owners will privately vote on where to play the game. A majority of votes gets the Super Bowl, Bagley said. He declined to say how many owners have pledged to vote for the Twin Cities.
The tax-exemption question
A potentially prickly problem for the Twin Cities is the NFL requirement of tax exemptions on tickets to the game, related events and player salaries.
Some legislators are still stinging from passage of the bill to build the publicly subsidized $1 billion stadium and are squawking about prohibiting tax exemptions. New Orleans and Indianapolis, which hosted Super Bowls in 2013 and 2012, agreed to such exemptions.
Kelm-Helgen said the exemption matter must be settled for a successful bid. She stopped short of calling tax breaks a deal-breaker, but said that without exemptions, the Twin Cities’ bid would be at a disadvantage in a highly competitive contest.
She also argued that taxes from ancillary activities such as hotel rooms, restaurants and sales would be greater than the breaks given to the NFL.
The stadium advantage
The Twin Cities’ biggest asset in drawing the game is the new stadium itself. The massive project took years of lobbying to get through the Legislature, and NFL owners historically have rewarded communities with the Super Bowl after they publicly subsidize big new buildings for them.
Supovitz, however, said it’s not “fait accompli” that the game would go to Minneapolis and “there’s no quid pro quo” that says building a new stadium gets a town a Super Bowl.
But he and the other NFL committee members liked what they saw in the new stadium design. The NFL generally requires 70,000 seats for the Super Bowl — a few thousand more than the new facility will have. But Supovitz said the seat requirement can be waived, and he called the new facility “incredibly flexible” and capable of adding seats in a well-planned manner.
Ready for winter weather
As for the Minnesota weather at game time in late January or early February, Supovitz said he doesn’t consider it a negative, adding that the NFL has hosted “significantly successful events” in northern cities such as Detroit and New York. “One of the benefits is you know how to handle the cold weather … ice and snow,” he said.
But the cold would add to the cost, because volunteers would need coats and tents would need heat.
The Twin Cities will have plenty to show off by 2018 beyond the stadium, which will open in 2016. Nicollet Mall will have been redesigned. Light-rail transit will connect Bloomington, Minneapolis and St. Paul — something that didn’t exist in 1992. The panel visited local venues, such as the Union Depot and Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul and the Depot in Minneapolis.
Now the key is for the cities to put the story together. Kelm-Helgen said the NFL visitors gave suggestions, including their thoughts on weather, which she described as, “Yes, you’re in Minnesota. Embrace it.”