The NFL is the Worst House Guest Ever. Look at These Demands

January 31st 2015

Mike Vainisi

The Super Bowl will be played in Glendale, Ariz. on Sunday. 

And the city's mayor doesn't seem thrilled about it.

"I totally believe we will lose money on this," Mayor Jerry Weirs told ESPN the Magazine.

How so? According to USA Today, Glendale will spend $30 million to host the game on Sunday. Last year, New York and New Jersey spent a combined $70 million for the game, which was played in East Rutherford, NJ.

Where does this cost come from?

If you're a city looking to win the heart of the NFL and mount a successful bid to host the Super Bowl, you must comply with the league's demands. The Minneapolis Herald-Tribune, home newspaper to 2018 Super Bowl host Minneapolis, posted the documents listing these requirements, and writer Neil deMause went through them and summarized the highlights:

  • A city must provide a free squad of city police officers to stop the sales of counterfeit tickets and unauthorized merchandise...
  • A one-mile-wide 'clean zone' around the Super Bowl stadium and a six-block one around the NFL’s hotel where nobody can do anything that isn’t approved by the league. (Sell stuff or protest, presumably.)
  • At least 20 free billboards.
  • Travel costs for 180 people to take a “familiarization trip” in advance of the Super Bowl.
  • Use of 35,000 free parking spaces.
  • Hotels where the teams will stay must televise the NFL Network to guests for one year before the game.
  • Free cellphone towers, if the cellphone service isn’t good enough.
  • Installation of ATMs at the stadium that accept the NFL’s preferred credit and debit cards, and removal of ATMs for conflicting services.
  • Free ad space in local newspapers and air time on local radio stations to promote the game.
  • Free police escorts for team owners.

And here is the kicker:

Full exemption for the league from city, county, and state taxes

That stuff costs money. New Jersey and New York spent millions last year on extra security and transportation personnel in order to make Super Bowl gameday run smoothly. (It was not very smooth, though.) There were 700 New Jersey state troopers patrolling the Super Bowl last year.

The state picked up that cost plus provided the NFL with an $8 million tax break.

Why do cities and states agree to these deals?

Because a lot of people want to host a Super Bowl. Local businesses like the extra traffic it brings. Voters appreciate the excitement of the NFL rolling into town. 

And some claim there are great economic benefits to the Super Bowl. League officials and politicians who have struck these deals will cite various studies that say hosting a Super Bowl is a net positive. But those numbers have never been proven:

[T]he actual benefits of a Super Bowl bonanza are unclear. A study funded by Arizona's Super Bowl committee found that visitors spent $218 million around the 2008 game, but some economists say the actual profits were much lower because football fans crowded out other tourists. Little of that money aids the city directly. -- ESPN The Magazine

To be fair, there's no fool-proof way to value the prestige that comes with hosting the Super Bowl. Maybe more businesses or tourists will show up to your town if they heard about it during the Super Bowl. Maybe not.

What's most important, though, is that the public is aware of both the potential benefits of hosting a Super Bowl and the costs. Those costs include not only the actual cost of, say, more police and bus drivers, but also the opportunity cost. The millions that New Jersey spent on the Super Bowl, for example, could have gone toward schools or road repairs. 

If the public debate actually includes discussions of those costs and the public still wants a Super Bowl, great. But we should at least be aware of the full picture.