Recently the NFL revealed the four cities it has invited to bid for the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls at the league owners meeting next May. The invitees include Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. The door was also left open for a possible bid by Los Angeles for the 2020 Super Bowl provided a team and a stadium are in place by the start of the 2018 season. So who are the contenders and who are the pretenders?
Perhaps the most obvious of the five is Atlanta. Their new $1.5B stadium is currently scheduled to open in the spring of 2017. With the NFL making a habit of giving Super Bowls to cities with new stadiums as a house-warming gift, it’s virtually guaranteed that Atlanta will win one of the two bids.
On the other end of the spectrum are Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. While a number of updates to the dining and retail areas as well as the suites at Raymond James Stadium have been proposed, reports have the Tampa Sports Authority who overseas the 17 year old stadium still scrambling for funding options. Even with the relatively minor upgrades that have been mentioned, they would still likely fall far short of making Tampa a true contender. As for the possibility of Los Angeles making a bid, the chances of it happening are slim and none. Of the three teams with rumored connections to Los Angeles, the Chargers are denying they may move, the Raiders are saying they are trying to stay in Oakland and the Rams are trying to force their way out of St. Louis while angering the league office in the process. As for the stadium situation, the only proposed site with a plan that would fit within the league’s time constraints is the location in Inglewood which is owned by Rams owner Stan Kroenke. With Kroenke wanting to move to the west coast it’s unlikely he would allow another team use of the property and with the league office reportedly angry about the Rams trying to force a move it’s unlikely the league would give in to their wishes. In other words, a bid from Los Angeles seems highly unlikely.
So with Atlanta almost guaranteed one of the two Super Bowls up for grabs and Tampa Bay and Los Angeles being long shots at best, that leaves Miami and New Orleans to battle it out for the remaining hosting slot.
Over the next two seasons Miami’s Sun Life Stadium is scheduled to undergo a two-phase $400M renovation. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross will fund the entire project after efforts to secure public funding for at least part of the price tag proved fruitless. The first phase will include replacing every seat in the stadium, renovating the concourses and concessions on the 100 and 300 levels and the addition of several new seating options throughout the stadium in time for the 2015 season. Some of the new options include high-top tables surrounded by swivel stools in the corners of the lower bowl, wider double-padded seats behind both team benches, and “living room” style seating including four 30-inch wide recliners, an iPad, and up to four optional tv screens. The thirty-two “living rooms” are located around each of the 30-yard lines behind the Dolphins’ bench.
Phase two is expected to be ready for the start of the 2016 season. It will include upgrades to the 200 level concourse and suites as well as the addition of a giant open-air canopy providing shade to approximately 92% of the seating and four high-definition video screens, one in each of the upper corners of the stadium. Each screen will be 5,600 square feet.
Even though the investment may be enormous and the improvements may be impressive, it still may not be enough to earn South Florida another Super Bowl. While the concourse and suite renovations will likely make a difference in future Super Bowl bids, the canopy seems less likely to help since it still leaves the stadium’s interior exposed to the elements Goodell expressed concern over. Doubling the number of video boards and upgrading their quality along with the audio system will be a positive, however there are no other technological upgrades mentioned. The biggest issue though has to do with the seating. With the installation of their four new video boards in the upper deck and the wider, more comfortable luxury seating along both sidelines, Sun Life Stadium’s overall seating capacity will decrease by more than 10,000 seats. The new capacity of 65,326 means that even if every seat were filled, it would still be the third lowest attendance in the history of the Super Bowl. In fact, the league would have to sell more than 3,300 “standing room only” tickets just to get out of the bottom five. For comparison, of the five Super Bowls that the stadium has previously hosted, official attendance has never been below 74,000.
Based on ticket costs for Super Bowl XLIX this past February, the 10,000 seats now missing from Sun Life Stadium would have carried a potential total face value between $8M and $19M. That’s before you even get into what an extra 10,000 people would spend on concessions, souvenirs and all the other little extras that line the league’s pockets. In short, those missing seats represent potentially tens of millions in lost revenue to the league over past South Florida Super Bowls.
While Ross spends the next two years and hundreds of millions of dollar trying to get Miami back into Super Bowl hosting contention, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be seeing some updates as well but for a tenth of the price.
Following the path laid out by Glendale and Houston that helped them win the hosting rights to their second Super Bowl in their current facilities, it was announced in mid-April that the Superdome and the adjacent Smoothie King Center would undergo a combined $40M in renovations and upgrades. New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson will contribute $25M out of pocket while SMG, which manages both facilities, will kick in $5M and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) will provide $6M. The remaining funds will come from other sources.
Much like in Glendale and Houston, the main focus in New Orleans will be on improving the game day experience for all in attendance. The most notable improvement will be a pair of brand-new high-definition video boards, one over each end zone. These will replace the screens that were installed during the post-Hurricane Katrina renovations which are currently among the smallest of any venue in the league. Along with the new boards, fans will be able to enjoy a significantly upgraded audio system as well as improvements to the Wi-Fi system. There has also been mention of a smartphone app that will allow fans to see four different replay views.
In addition to the game-day enhancements, there are a number of improvements planned for the facility itself. Some of these such as the remodeled suites and concession areas will be easy to see. Other updates such as the renovated video control room and visitor’s locker room as well as the upgrades to the building’s water, lighting and overall energy efficiency are likely to go largely unnoticed by fans but could go a long way to helping sooth any lingering concerns during the selection process over the power outage that occurred during Super Bowl XLVII.
One other key change to this coming spring’s bid that will differ from the past two is the timing. Super Bowl XLVII was held on February 3, 2013 with Mardi Gras coming nine days later on February 12th. While the thought of combining two of the biggest celebrations there are is an extremely appealing idea to fans planning to attend, it was surely a change of pace for the league. When it comes to the Super Bowl, the league isn’t exactly used to having competition in planning or execution as demonstrated by the 153 pages of host city specifications and requirements the league sent out regarding Super Bowl LII. With the amount of event-related resources a party the size of Mardi Gras consumes, the timing of both events undoubtedly caused some issues for the NFL. As a point of reference, this past February the weekend that fell nine days prior to Mardi Gras (Feb 6-8) saw in the neighborhood of 30 parades in the New Orleans metro area. The 2018 Super Bowl which New Orleans lost their bid for last spring is scheduled for February 4th, exactly nine days prior to Mardi Gras which falls on February 13th. While certainly not the main reason, it’s possible the NFL didn’t want to deal with the competition again. In both 2019 and 2020 Mardi Gras doesn’t occur until late February or early March, giving a 3 to 4 week buffer between the two events which should cut down on booking conflicts for venues, hotels, event services and such.
So how do the Big Easy and South Beach stack up in the end? Both venues are making significant upgrades in different ways for different prices. The difference is that in Miami the focus has been getting the building up to an acceptable standard for the NFL while the more significant improvements to the game-day experience appear reserved for those willing to pay top dollar while in New Orleans the focus is on improving the experience for all fans regardless of ticket price. As for the overall experience of Super Bowl week, New Orleans has long been praised as a destination for the big game due to the vast number of lodging, dining and entertainment options within walking distance or a short cab, bus or street car ride from the Superdome. The availability of venues such as Champions Square and the Smoothie King Center in the immediate area are also a plus. In Miami, there are very few options for fans in the immediate vicinity of Sun Life Stadium. Further complicating the situation is the fact that many of the fan events are held miles away spread all the way from South Beach to Fort Lauderdale to the north. As a result, fans are faced with the choice of either having to go to the expense of renting a vehicle or spend half of their visit on buses.
All other factors aside, there is one problem Miami faces that may end up handing hosting rights to New Orleans on a silver platter. Ironically, the problem is the result of their on-going $400M renovations intended to put them back in Super Bowl hosting contention. In the previously mentioned list of host city specifications and requirements, the very first item listed addresses stadium seating capacity. It states “The NFL requires a minimum fixed salable seating capacity of seventy-thousand (70,000), inclusive of club and fixed suite seating as represented in the regular season game day seating manifest.” That leaves Sun Life Stadium just about 5,000 seats short of the league’s minimum required capacity. The Superdome sits comfortably over the minimum threshold with a capacity of 73,208.
When it comes to the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls, one will almost certainly be in Atlanta and the other will almost certainly not be in Tampa Bay or Los Angeles. With the remaining slot coming down to either New Orleans or Miami, the Crescent City appears to have the advantage. Despite spending nearly half the cost of a brand-new stadium, South Florida is still severely lacking in it’s game-day experience, fans still aren’t fully protected from the elements, they are still facing significant traffic and transportation issues for fans and now they are facing a capacity issue of their own making. New Orleans is upgrading their fan experience to keep up with other stadiums, it provides lodging, dining and entertainment all within a short distance from the Superdome and there are more than enough seats to please the NFL. All things considered, it looks like New Orleans will be hosting its eleventh Super Bowl within the next four to five years. Breaking Down The Race For The 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls
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