ATLANTA — The last time New Orleans captured a Super Bowl, the final two obstacles were Minnesota and Indianapolis.
That’s the case again Tuesday. But instead of having to defeat the Vikings and Colts, respectively, this time it’s a battle with the cities they call home for the right to host Super Bowl LII in 2018.
The 32 NFL owners, including the Saints’ Tom Benson, will be choosing among the three finalists during the league meetings being held here. A decision is expected sometime in the midafternoon, and it will be announced live on NFL Network.
For New Orleans, it would be an 11th Super Bowl, breaking a tie with Miami for the most ever, which it achieved just a year ago. And it would be the city’s second in five years, marking the quickest return since Super Bowls XX and XXIV in 1986 and 1990.
Most importantly, in the view of local organizers, it would come just in time to be part of the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Orleans in 1718.
“I feel good about where we stand,” said Jay Cicero, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, which has spearheaded the local effort. “Our preparation has been the most thorough for any event we’ve pursued in my 24 years with the Sports Foundation.
“And the Saints have a tremendous job of talking up our bid to the owners. I don’t know what else we could have done better.”
Of course, the other two finalists feel the same way.
Minnesota, whose only other time as a host city was in 1992, is basing its bid on the new $1 billion stadium for the Vikings, which is being built on the site of the old Metrodome in Minneapolis and is scheduled to open in 2016.
“We delivered a great bid,” Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs/stadium development, told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. “That was our goal — to make it hard for NFL owners to choose someone other than Minnesota.
“We did that.”
Indianapolis is banking on the goodwill created by the city’s highly successful hosting of Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.
“To this community, the Super Bowl wasn’t just a game,” said Allison Melangton, president of the Indiana Sports Corporation. “It was much more in that it gave the entire community a chance to engage with each other and to really meaningfully work to make our community better.
“And so everyone wants to get it back. Everyone has praised the job we did in 2012, and it’s something we want to replicate.”
Tuesday’s voting will follow presentations by civic leaders along with team owners from the three cities plus one from Frank Supovitz, the NFL’s senior vice president for events, who will compare their financial details.
But they’re only the final acts of more than two years of preparation.
Dallas, Miami and Tampa were eliminated after the first round of bidding. After the three finalists presented their initial final bids to the NFL in April, they held meetings with Supovitz and other league staffers in order to suggest improvements.
“Every city that bids on a Super Bowl has a great story to tell, and each has something that causes them to rise above the rest,” Supovitz told the Pioneer-Press. “Some of those reasons have been financial, the amount of community impact or legacy-related.
“Some of them have been the ability to go to a warm-weather market after a cold-weather Super Bowl has been staged. The diversity of the three cities involved right now, you can imagine three different points of emphasis on what will make them the best site.”
New Orleans does have the weather advantage over its competitors.
Minnesota, in fact, is embracing its frigid Februaries by tying the Super Bowl into the St. Paul Winter Carnival, which precedes it by a week and is offering outdoor fire pits and heated canopies along its downtown streets to help warm up visiting fans.
Indianapolis doesn’t have as extensive a cold-weather plan, but the city does have walkways in the vicinity of Lucas Oil Stadium and in 2012 pioneered the concept of what is now Super Bowl Boulevard, a free outdoor entertainment and merchandise area.
Besides the tricentennial, New Orleans’ bid emphasizes the city’s compact footprint (although both of the other stadiums are in downtown areas as well) and the city’s history as a favorite site for Super Bowls and other major events such as the Final Four and, more recently, the NBA All-Star game.
There’s also the Sports Foundation’s reputation for staging those events, one that Cicero says has been strengthened by the fact that the same people who put on Super Bowl XLVII are the ones putting together this bid.
“The last time, it had been several years since we hosted (2002) and a lot of things had changed from the NFL’s perspective,” he said. “I think this time we’re much more in tune with what they’re looking for, and our bid reflects that.”
Finally, there’s the city’s world-renowned reputation for food, music and nightlife.
Still, all things considered, Cicero conceded that calling in favors and other horse trading might decide the eventual winner.
Owners vote by secret ballot, and it takes a supermajority (24 of 32) to win. That probably means more than one ballot, although after two, the bottom city is dropped and a simple majority prevails.
The NFL did not reveal how many ballots it took in 2009 when New Orleans beat out Miami and Phoenix for the 2013 game, but the contest was considered extremely tight going in.
That year, New Orleans gained a boost by increasing its financial incentives to the league on the eve of the voting. This time, that is not allowed.
Most observers have made New Orleans the favorite to win the bid. Minnesota may have its new stadium, they say, but the organization is still a year away, while Indianapolis, for its outstanding hospitality and organization, is viewed as another cold-weather city that’s already gotten its reward for building a new stadium.
Plus, New Orleans is 10-for-10 in successful Super Bowl bids.
That, Cicero cautioned, means little.
“You’ve got three cities that have put in high-level bids, just like the NFL sets it up to be,” Cicero said. “We’ve taken nothing for granted.
“But we won’t relax until we find out.”