- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Sunny, warm-winter cities such as Glendale, Arizona, the site of the Super Bowl showdown on Sunday between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs, have traditionally been the NFL’s preference for the big game. But the NFL wants new stadiums and has been using the game over the past decade to reward cities that build them — even cold-weather cities such as New York. If the Commanders can ever get a new stadium, Washington would be almost assured of hosting the Super Bowl.

Eight of the nine newest stadiums in the NFL have hosted a Super Bowl, and it will be nine out of nine next year when the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas hosts Super Bowl LVIII.

“When you build a new stadium, they really like to take that market and give it the big bump that goes with that new stadium and have a Super Bowl in that area,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a Dallas-based radio interview last year.

The Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, which opened in 2009, hosted the 2011 Super Bowl in the midst of a severe ice storm. The game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers went on under the venue’s retractable roof.

Three years later, the NFL was looking to celebrate the new home of the New York Giants and the New York Jets. It rolled the dice and brought Super Bowl XLVIII to the open-air MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, which the two teams share. Temperatures for the Denver Broncos-Seattle Seahawks game were mild on game day, but a major snowstorm hit the region a day later.

Minnesota, another cold-weather site, hosted the big game in 2018.

Washington, like the other cold-weather cities that have hosted the game, can be messy in February. The forecast for Sunday calls for rain and a high temperature of 42. One of the stalled proposals for a stadium in Northern Virginia called for “a translucent roof that would allow both natural light and climate control.”

Those plans were put on the back burner when Commanders owner Dan Snyder became embroiled in workplace misconduct accusations that have dogged the franchise for more than two years. The embattled billionaire put his team up for sale a few months ago, and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signaled that a new owner would jump-start stadium negotiations in the state.

Look for Maryland and the District to also weigh in once the ownership question is settled, as soon as next month.

With a new owner In place, the Commanders could shift their focus to the need for a new home. FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, is widely seen as one of the most unappealing venues in the league. The team’s lease expires there in 2027.

Dangling the prospect of hosting a Super Bowl would give an incoming owner extra leverage in negotiations with D.C., Virginia and Maryland lawmakers.

The past nine NFL stadiums built have all hosted (or will host, in Las Vegas’ case) a Super Bowl no more than five years after opening.

In some cases, the event was on the NFL schedule before construction was fully completed. The big game was played within two years of opening at six of those nine stadiums, including Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.

Organizers and local leaders say the NFL’s marquee game represents an economic boon for communities. The Los Angeles Super Bowl Host Committee released a study that touted economic benefits of $232 million to $477 million, tax revenue of $12 million to $22 million and the creation of as many as 4,700 jobs in the region.

This year’s game — the third Super Bowl in 15 years for Glendale — has inspired similar claims among chamber of commerce types in the Phoenix area. Jay Parry, the president and CEO of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, told CBS News that more than 100,000 visitors are expected to descend on Arizona for the game and spend money on tourism, hospitality and food. She pointed to an Arizona State University study that said the game made an economic impact of $719 million in 2015, when the region last hosted the Super Bowl. Of that, $295 million was generated in direct spending.

What are the numbers for this year’s game?

“We anticipate this one to be a magnitude that we haven’t seen before,” Ms. Parry said.

Not everyone drinks the Super Bowl Kool-Aid.

Some sports economists say the ASU report and other studies are little more than lofty projections and misleading accounting.

Economist Michael Farren, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center who specializes in stadium subsidies, told The Washington Times that many of his peers say a Super Bowl’s economic impact is overstated. He pointed to a 2020 research paper from Berry College’s Frank Stephenson and Lauren Heller that found the benefits of past Super Bowl sites were “heterogeneous.”

“It’s a really fancy way to say in some places, they show large benefits,” Mr. Farren said, “and in some places, they show negligible or even negative benefits.”

Victor A. Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross who has studied the impact of the Super Bowl for more than 20 years, told The New York Times in 2018 that the event usually generates a modest $30 million to $130 million in economic activity for the host city.

Some politicians also are skeptical. When Glendale hosted the Super Bowl in 2015, Mayor Jerry Weiers told ESPN: “I totally believe we will lose money on this.” He said the city lost $1 million by hosting the game in 2008.

A 2015 study conducted by the city of Glendale determined that the Super Bowl impact amounted to a net loss of as much as $1.2 million for city taxpayers. The most “objective outcome,” the report said, was a loss of $579,000.

“It’s more of a value to the whole state, isn’t it?” Glendale Vice Mayor Ian Hugh told the Arizona Republic in 2015. “We just happen to bear the brunt of a lot of the cost.”

Marty Conway, a Georgetown University sports management professor and a former marketing executive who helped guide MLB All-Star games in Baltimore and Texas, said the amount of local revenue a Super Bowl can generate is up for debate, but “I don’t think there’s any question about” the impact it can have for a community.

Mr. Farren said the Super Bowl is often a source of pride for local politicians who want to show off their city with a new state-of-the-art facility and a spectacle of an event.

If the Super Bowl is the carrot the NFL is using to tempt teams and municipalities into building billion-dollar arenas, then Maryland, Virginia and D.C. officials aren’t biting — not yet, at least.

When the Virginia General Assembly heard proposals for a new Commanders stadium last year, state Sen. Chap Petersen said the prospect of hosting a Super Bowl was never discussed. The bill died in the late stages last summer.

Mr. Youngkin’s interest in reviving talks hit a snag this week when the Virginia Senate Finance Committee rejected his proposal to spend $500,000 to study “economic incentives” for the Commanders.

“I think you’re making a leap of faith about Commanders getting a stadium,” Mr. Petersen said when asked about the Super Bowl. “Nothing really has changed since last year.”

The conceptual drawings that the Commanders showed Virginia lawmakers detailed plans for a 55,000-seat venue, which would be the smallest by far in the NFL.

Though stadiums have scaled smaller in recent years — Las Vegas’ stadium holds 65,000, while Minnesota seats 66,000 with a capacity of 70,000 — would the NFL entertain the idea of a Super Bowl in Virginia?

Accommodations could likely be made if a Super Bowl is on the table, Mr. Conway said.

“You can expand or contract with temporary seating or whatever it is to satisfy the NFL,” Mr. Conway said.

The Commanders declined to comment.

Mr. Snyder added tens of thousands of seats at FedEx Field in his first few years of owning the Commanders, though the franchise has dramatically scaled back the venue over the past decade. This season’s capacity was 62,429, a reduction from 67,617 in 2021.

State Farm Stadium, this year’s host, holds 63,400 but can expand to 73,000 for megaevents such as the Super Bowl.

The jurisdiction for Washington’s next stadium, of course, would also have to be on board with hosting a Super Bowl.

The NFL gives host cities a lengthy list of demands to accommodate the event, often at no cost to the league. For the 2018 Super Bowl, the NFL sent Minneapolis a 153-page bid book that included requests for free police escorts for teams, 35,000 free parking spaces, free billboards across the area and thousands of accommodated hotel rooms, according to the Star Tribune. The host committee “agreed to a majority of the conditions but would not elaborate,” the newspaper said.

The Atlanta bid committee estimated in 2016 that it would cost the city $46 million to host the 2019 Super Bowl. That was after the state and the city contributed $700 million in public money to fund the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

First, the Commanders have to find a new home — and likely a new owner.

“I think everyone agrees the franchise needs a reboot,” Mr. Petersen said. “I’ll leave it at that. There’s no quid pro quo for me. I think the franchise needs a reboot. … The current model is not working, in my opinion.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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