ATLANTA — Andy Kopplin, the chief administrative officer for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, first doubted his city’s chances to win the right to host Super Bowl LII when he watched a reporter interview Jets owner Woody Johnson on NFL Network on Tuesday.
Johnson was discussing the bids from Minneapolis, Indianapolis and New Orleans to host the NFL’s championship in 2018, and only one of those cities — the first — was building a futuristic, $1 billion stadium that was set to open in time for the 2016 league campaign and had secured almost 50 percent of its funding from taxpayers’ money.
Kopplin saw Johnson speak on a television screen in a Ritz-Carlton Buckhead conference room with the rest of the delegation representing New Orleans at a gathering in which NFL owners would choose the site of Super Bowl LII. As he recalls, Johnson asked the reporter something to the effect of, “Well, how much did the public invest in (Minneapolis)?”
The reporter replied, “Half a billion dollars.” Johnson remarked, “That’s correct,” in a fond tone that made Kopplin suspect the Jets owner — and many of his peers — would deny New Orleans what would be a record 11th Super Bowl and instead give it to Minneapolis, who had hosted the big game on a lone occasion in 1992.
“That was an owner talking before the vote but observing one of the key criteria,” Kopplin said. “It was clear that was something that was on the mind of a number of the owners.”
Kopplin was right. Soon thereafter, the NFL’s owners voted to grant Minneapolis the hosting gig for Super Bowl LII over New Orleans — whom many considered a favorite — and Indianapolis.
When it all ended, people involved with New Orleans’ bid reasoned their efforts failed solely because most of the NFL’s owners were determined to reward a city that had successfully lobbied public money to erect a premium stadium. Those who triumphed on behalf of Minneapolis didn’t necessarily argue with that, but they countered that — whether or not New Orleans likes it — other cities have plenty to offer enormous events such as the Super Bowl.
New Orleans headed to Tuesday’s meeting with a bid that played up the fact that 2018 will mark the 300th anniversary of the city’s being founded.
Not many American cities have achieved a tricentennial, and that milestone had the potential to garner New Orleans international attention the NFL could capitalize on, went the general reasoning of the bid, which sought an estimated $400 million worth of business.
Spearheaded by the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, that got the Crescent City past Indianapolis, which was eliminated in the second round of balloting, in which the bidder with the fewest votes was cut from consideration if neither of the other two commanded a super majority.
But it did not lift New Orleans past Minneapolis in the last round of voting, in which the victor required a simple majority.
In part, Minneapolis’ bid proposed to put the 2018 Super Bowl at the center of a celebration of winter in the region. There would be tie-ins with a carnival in adjacent St. Paul; outdoor fire pits; and heated canopies along downtown streets, all in the lead-up to that year’s edition of the Winter Olympics.
However, the crown jewel of the bid was the under-construction Minnesota Multipurpose Stadium for which taxpayers had footed nearly $500 million. And many were keenly aware that cities with relatively-new, similarly-funded stadiums had recently brought Super Bowls to hosts such as Jacksonville, Florida (2005); Detroit (2006); and Indianapolis (2012).
That disposition was to New Orleans’ advantage for Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, which was given to the city in 2009 after it pumped hundreds of millions of public dollars into refurbishing the building now known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina about four years earlier.
Yet, on Tuesday, that was to New Orleans’ detriment and Minneapolis’ favor.
“It’s clear how important it is to the league to incentivize major public investment,” said Steve Perry, who is the head of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau and delivered a 15-minute presentation Tuesday on the city’s Super Bowl bid to NFL owners alongside Entergy Chief Administrative Officer/Executive Vice President Rod West.
Perry continued: “We think that’s a good NFL policy. We support it. (But) we were hopeful ... that the power of the tricentennial and the destination quality we have (in New Orleans) would overcome that.”
Many could not resist the temptation to speculate whether a 35-minute delay in play during Super Bowl XLVII hindered New Orleans’ chance to host the big game again. West’s company provides utilities for New Orleans and the Superdome.
But, as they had previously, Perry and West said New Orleans would not have been among the finalists if the NFL had not moved on from that.
“The NFL has a history of rewarding those cities that have put their good faith toward building stadiums,” West said. “So, it’s not a shock; but, of course, we’re disappointed.”
West vowed New Orleans would bid for another Super Bowl as soon as possible. The league will invite cities to bid for the 2019 Super Bowl in October, but New Orleans may not be asked to do so. Costs are a deterrent for cities to bid for Super Bowls in back-to-back years, so it’s possible New Orleans won’t seek another until it’s time to vie for the 2020 game in 2016.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told The Advocate that Tuesday’s outcome was “just (Minneapolis) having the sentiment and the will of the ownership, but it has nothing to do with what a great place New Orleans is to have a Super Bowl.”
Minneapolis’ delegation, meanwhile, lionized the roles its taxpayers played in the city’s landing Super Bowl LII.
“This is a great example of public-private partnership,” said Richard Davis, the co-chairman of Minneapolis’ bid committee. “We have the greatest fans in the world; and ... the Super Bowl validates what we’ve done.”
Nonetheless, Steve Gordon, the executive director of the Minneapolis committee, said there was more to his group’s bid than the stadium. Aside from the winter celebration theme, he singled out Minneapolis’ airport — which has been rated the best in the U.S. — and nearby fixed-base operators which owners can arrive to and depart from in private jets with ease.
“We had to earn it,” Gordon said. “And the fact is we think the NFL wants to move the game around more.”