The headline in the New Orleans Times Picayune was “Minnesota Scores Stunning Upset to land 2018 Super Bowl.”
The first paragraph of that story read: “Make no mistake this was a punch to the gut. New Orleans simply does not lose Super Bowls. … And by all accounts Big Easy was the big favorite to win the bid for 2018 event.”
The writer, Jeff Duncan, called the failure of New Orleans to get the Super Bowl the biggest upset since Joe Namath’s Jets shocked the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Yes, you have to agree with Duncan for one big reason among others, and that is the Saints, with the Superdome that seats more than 80,000 fans is owned by 87-year-old Tom Benson, one of the most powerful owners in the NFL who could have had his last shot at hosting another Super Bowl. In fact he collapsed while giving a pitch for New Orleans and was rushed to a hospital.
If you want my opinion, Minnesota didn’t actually buy the Super Bowl, but organizers offered concessions that a bankrupt city such as New Orleans couldn’t match.
Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president who played a big part in getting the Super Bowl to the new stadium, described it as a great team effort.
“There’s no secret formula to getting the Super Bowl awarded to a community,” Bagley said. “While we heard from the media and others in the NFL that this is going to be in New Orleans, you’re never going to get it, maybe you guys will get it next year or some other time. We focused on our deal, on our package, our bid. We have a strong community, great community. We had corporate and civic leaders, Richard Davis, Doug Baker, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, they were key.’’
Bagley admitted that the Vikings were “a major underdog going in,” but that new stadium and other non-money venues helped get the vote.
“The great airport we have here — far superior to New Orleans and Indianapolis — practice facilities at the University of Minnesota and the Vikings, superior to the competition,” he said. “We stuck to our story, and one of the keys was our ownership making the calls to other owners. We’ve heard from a couple owners that they didn’t hear from other owners, but Mark and Zygi and Lenny [the Wilfs] all contacted every NFL owner, more than twice, and got their votes. So going into the vote we felt pretty good because of our package, our corporate leadership, and the lobbying effort that we did to secure the votes.”
And Bagley admitted that the finances that New Orleans couldn’t match were a factor.
“Well we had a very competitive bid, we were competitive financially,” Bagley said. “Even though their stadium was bigger, we’re going to have a beautiful, great new stadium. Our corporate leaders have gotten commitments in excess of $30 million from the private sector in Minnesota.
“One of our strengths is the corporate leadership. We have 19 Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota. New Orleans can’t come close to that. Our corporate leaders are involved and engaged civically and that was a huge deal. But the new stadium and the public/private partnership that the public put in half and the Wilfs and the Vikings put in half, that was a big factor, too. We were a major underdog, and we pulled it off. As Richard Davis said, ‘We slayed the dragon.’ We went down there, and we weren’t expecting to win, but we knew we had a great community, a great stadium, a great organization with the Vikings pushing this within the NFL, and we pulled it off.”
Bagley also pointed out that these types of events are exactly what the Vikings said would come to Minneapolis if the state Legislature worked out a deal to build the stadium.
“This stadium was designed to host the Super Bowl, and that was something that we argued for many years at the Capitol, that this stadium will deliver a Super Bowl and a myriad of events into this market,” he said. “We went down to Atlanta and did battle with Indianapolis and the Saints, and we slayed them. We pulled it off. It was a wonderful moment for this organization and especially this community that we were able to bring this great event to this market.”
Does Bagley believe that this should quiet some of the stadium naysayers?
“Well, they won’t listen anyway, but we’ve made the case for many years that this stadium was needed to secure the Vikings and more than that to have a great venue that everybody can be proud of that all these different events can come,” he said. “Now we’re going to go after a Final Four, a [college football national] championship game, so here we go. Our first out of the blocks we get the biggest event in the world, and we get it in our new stadium in 2018.”