— Exodus 1:8
New Orleans missing out on landing a future Super Bowl, Final Four and College Football Playoff championship game within a year’s span wasn’t a tragedy of biblical proportions.
But for a city accustomed to continually having such events on the docket since the early 1970s — and which was coming off an unprecedented run of hosting them — it was a sobering reminder that there’s a new paradigm in the competition for some of sports’ biggest rotating attractions ... and that things will never be same.
For those closely involved in the pursuit of those events, it was a bitter pill to swallow, especially since the master plan was for a grand parade of New Orleans in the sports spotlight leading up to the city’s tricentennial celebration in 2018.
There seemed no reason to think it wouldn’t happen. After all, the city has been the site of 10 Super Bowls, seven college football championship games and five Final Fours.
“It was like ... we went from being a great sports city in 2013 to, in 2014, all of a sudden we weren’t,” said Doug Thornton, regional vice president of SMG, the company that runs the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Smoothie King Center. “We knew it couldn’t be because they didn’t like New Orleans.”
No, that wasn’t it.
In large part, it was because sports are cyclical. So, after hosting the BCS Championship Game, Final Four, Super Bowl and NBA All-Star game all within a little more than a two-year span, a gap was inevitable.
And even those who said “no” last time are reassuring that New Orleans’ turn will come again.
“We need New Orleans to be part of this,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the CFP, which in 2013 rejected the local bid for this season’s title game and whose group will be awarding three future ones later this year. “So we will welcome a strong bid from Louisiana.”
Similarly, New Orleans appears first in line for the next available Final Four — although that won’t be until 2022, and it is unlikely to be awarded until 2019.
And at this week’s NFL meetings in San Francisco, New Orleans is expected to be one of the cities receiving an invitation to bid on the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls, with the winners to be announced next May.
Although Atlanta and Miami are considered shoo-ins, that’s not deterring the local effort.
“We still feel like we can compete against anyone, so our hat’s always in the ring,” said Dennis Lauscha, president of the Saints and Pelicans. “Our attitude is, ‘We didn’t get the last one, so let’s go get the next one.’ ”
Also, local officials are enthusiastic about quickly bringing back WrestleMania and the NBA All-Star Game. But increasingly, finances are looming large in the equation.
The CFP is reportedly seeking bids of approximately $18 million from cities vying for the 2018-20 title games. That’s three times more than hosting the BCS title game cost and $5 million more than Dallas, Phoenix and Tampa paid to host the 2015-17 games.
In fact, New Orleans going after the 2019 and 2020 games (since the 2018 Sugar Bowl is a playoff semifinal, the city cannot host the title game that year) is dependent on the Louisiana legislature passing a bill that would dedicate extra sales taxes generated by “qualified” sports events in the state — such as the CFP title game, Super Bowl and Final Four — in order to help fund bids for the events.
The bill, similar to one in Texas, passed the state Senate last week by a 24-15 margin. But Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan has said the bill must get through the House and be signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal by the May 26 deadline for submitting a bid to the CFP for one to be made.
“We simply no longer can afford to underwrite the entire venture,” said Hoolahan, pointing out that was the case in the BCS days. “We never had a false sense of security based on our longstanding history with the BCS, but the landscape has shifted. We want to be involved in the championship, no doubt. But we’ve to see outside sources of funding going forward.”
New Orleans isn’t alone in having second thoughts about the cost of hosting the CFP game. Pasadena, California, home of the Rose Bowl, declined to bid.
Not bidding does not affect the Rose Bowl’s contract with the CFP to be a semifinal site three more times over the next 11 years. Neither would not bidding affect the Sugar Bowl’s semifinal status, although that would mean two of four BCS title sites would not host a CFP championship until at least the next decade.
Also dropping out after initially declaring an intention to bid were Orlando, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, New York/New Jersey and Dallas, site of the first CFP title game earlier this year.
Minneapolis, the city that beat out New Orleans for Super Bowl LII in 2018, and Atlanta, which is expected to land SB LIII in 2019, also are favorites to land CFP games, although the NFL’s reluctance to have cities host them in back-to-back years might complicate things.
Miami, Charlotte, San Antonio and Santa Clara are the other bidding cities. The winners will be announced in September.
“We knew there was going to be robust competition for these games,” Hancock said. “Opportunities to host major events like this only come along once in a blue moon, and the cities know that. It gives them the ‘warm fuzzies’ to do so.”
Hancock added that it could be that no city plays host to the game more than once over the next 12 years, the length of the current CFP setup. When the CFP was formed as the successor to the BCS in 2012, the initial thought was that cities such as New Orleans might host two or even three times.
And the NCAA, which has long kept its bid costs down because colleges are the official heads of the local host committee, could dramatically increase its bid specs next time around, especially considering that those running the CFP are the same as those who essentially run Division I: the Power Five conferences.
“The governing bodies that award these games are pushing the envelope on the cash bids they are expecting from cities,” said Steve Perry, president of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This is not unlike a similar trend we’re seeing in conventions and meetings. More incentives are needed in virtually every sector we work in now, and it’s really gotten to the point where you start sorting out the men from the boys.”
That’s nothing new.
New Orleans, as locals like to point out, has always punched above its weight class as a sports venue, especially compared to other Southern cities like Atlanta, Houston and Dallas. The Crescent City is universally regarded among the best, if not the best, in the country for a variety of reasons.
Even the Superdome, which turns 40 this year, holds up well against the younger models, thanks in large part to some $300 million in recent renovations with more on the way.
“The renovations have brought the Superdome up to speed with just about everybody else,” said Don Muret, senior writer for SportsBusiness Journal who specializes in writing about stadiums and arenas. “Plus, everybody loves to go to New Orleans. In fact, it’s not so much about the building as the city itself. It’s a party atmosphere.”
That approach couldn’t beat out Minnesota last year and probably won’t this time as Atlanta, whose new stadium opens in 2017, and Miami, which is putting a canopy over the seats in Sun Life Stadium, are considered the frontrunners for SB LIII and LIV. But Lauscha insists this is not a token effort with an eye toward the next realistic chance: SB LV in 2021.
“You see the track record of, ‘If you build a new stadium, you get a Super Bowl,’ ” he said, referencing Minnesota getting the 2018 game that New Orleans sought so hard to land. “But we’re not just filling out our paperwork just in case something happens.”
Lauscha also acknowledged that when and if Los Angeles gets an NFL team (or teams), the league will award it a Super Bowl — or maybe two. And while last year’s game in New York might be the last in an outdoor cold weather site for the foreseeable future, London is in the discussion somewhere down the road.
Also, Lauscha pointed out that teams that get Super Bowls are now expected to give up a home game to play in London — something the Saints are reluctant to do, even in a one-off situation.
“Our fans are so loyal,” he said. “It’s something to consider.”
There are other obstacles. The return of a robust convention business has made local hotels reluctant to reduce their rates for sporting events. In fact, sports tourism accounts for only 5 percent of the leisure, business and convention market in New Orleans. A Microsoft convention can fill the city’s hotel rooms with the economic impact of a Super Bowl and at far less cost.
But no matter the price, the lure of being the site of a major sporting event is irresistible — especially for a tourist-dependent city like New Orleans.
“There’s a brand elevation a Super Bowl brings that makes us a nationally visible city,” Perry said. “It’s always been pretty amazing to me that we’ve been able to do it, and it’s more than justified the investment we’ve made in the Superdome over the years because we are a national and international player in sports.
“But we’ve reached a realization that, no matter how good we are, we cannot take anything for granted. We’ve got to work to earn it every time.”