Super Bowl Musical Chairs

In May the NFL owners are expected to award the Super Bowl L (50th Anniversary in 2016) to either Miami, or San Francisco/Santa Clara. The loser will get to square off with Houston for the right to host Super Bowl LI in 2017.

Officials in Miami are scurrying to make improvements at Sun Life Stadium that will make it continue to be viable for future Super Bowls including L/LI. Recently, the NFL had been hinting that Sun Life Stadium could end up out of the game’s regular rotation (every 5-7 years) if changes weren’t made. That’s possible now that the Marlins have left, allowing the Dolphins to remake the stadium as a football-only facility.

Improved viewing distances to the sideline and displays should make Sun Life Stadium more appealing

Improved viewing distances to the sideline and displays should make Sun Life Stadium more appealing

To accomplish those goals, the Dolphins plan to add seats along the lower level to reduce the 90-foot gap between the first row and sideline. They’ll also replace all of the existing seats, which will be colored turquoise instead of orange. (I think we’ve all learned over the years that orange seats don’t do well in the sun.) Sections in the upper deck corners will be reduced to accommodate large video board. Sun Life received two of the largest boards in sports a few years ago. Those will probably be moved with two others added. The big addition is a free standing canopy that will cover much of the seating bowl and upper concourse.

Will that be enough? While Miami is a veteran of putting on big events like the Super Bowl, it lacks ancillary features at Sun Life that could bring in more revenue, such as a convention center. South Beach is 18 miles away from the stadium, closer than the distance between the Santa Clara stadium and what is expected to be the media hub in downtown SF.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has pledged to pay for the “majority” of the project’s $400 million cost, with no new taxes as part of the promise. Some public funds could come from a sales tax rebate on items sold in the stadium. 8 of the 9 pro teams in Florida already receive this benefit. The Dolphins are the only ones that don’t. The team estimates that this will raise about $3 million per year, which would go towards debt service on the improvements for 30 years.. Additional funding could come from hotel taxes.

The 49ers and the City of Santa Clara are being asked to make their own concessions, though the requests are not of the stadium. Instead, the NFL wants the nearby Santa Clara Convention Center, Soccer Park (next to the 49er HQ), blocks of hotel rooms, and perhaps a cut of different revenue streams.

It’s all part of the laundry list of items the NFL usually asks for from host cities. The NFL has the leverage in this relationship, and their M.O. has always been to pit cities against other every year to get the best deal possible. We discussed this laundry list a year ago. The league asks for a lot, and in most cases, they get it.

Santa Clara is also unique in that it controls its own power utility, Silicon Valley Power. City backers have been quick to note this as a way to cut costs. However, the NFL could just as easily make demands of the City to extract the lowest possible cost for power during the week. Down in the Phoenix area, Salt River Power is giving a $1 million sponsorship for 2015′s Super Bowl XLIX, which includes numerous services the utility controls.

It’s also unclear how the Super Bowl could affect operations out of SJC on gameday. When planes take off during good weather, they head north before quickly turning east for the most part. If the weather is bad, SJC reverses its approach, having planes land from the north. That puts those planes rather low and – as I noticed over the Thanksgiving weekend when I flew in from SoCal – directly over the stadium.

Neither city should expect to get much in the way of direct tax revenues. They’ll be able to tout an immense amount of acute economic activity, and for most cities, that’s plenty.

Other cities are working to keep up appearances. Houston’s bringing in new scoreboards, while Charlotte is looking to state legislators to approve $125 million in improvements at Bank of America Stadium. The NFL sees this and loves it. It’s all part of the game to get The Game.

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