What does hosting Super Bowl Sunday get you?
Dave Muth says Super Bowl XXX at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe in 1996 led to a record year at his Mesa hotel that has never been surpassed.
Restaurateur Michael Monti says the game carries too much hype and only the well-connected get a piece of the financial action. Those who come for the game fly in late, head for upper-crust catered events and leave early, he says.
Pollsters say the data is mixed on whether cities spotlighted in the biggest football game in the world get an image boost.
A San Diego-based research firm found Super Bowl XXXVII two years ago led to more people having a positive impression of San Diego. But the same survey done at last year’s Super Bowl in Houston showed no similar bump.
"Before the game we found that 52 percent of U.S. adults had no impression or were unsure of San Diego," said Job Nelson of Competitive Edge Research and Communication, a public opinion research firm that specializes in civil, political and public affairs polling.
"That dropped to 46 percent after the game. To give you an idea in terms of raw numbers, that’s 12 million more Americans developing a positive opinion on the city," Nelson said.
It was a different story in Houston where before the game 54.4 percent had no impression of the city. Following an exciting Super Bowl, 55.2 percent had no impression of Houston or were unsure of it.
"A lot of it is tied in to the city itself, how the city packages itself, what the city has to sell and how much media coverage the city gets in the process," Nelson said. "They didn’t sell the city as much in terms of their camera shots and the things that they did, but a city like San Diego, or a city like Phoenix, where they are a spot for tourism, there are places that they can go to get those special shots. They can talk about the weather and things like that. Those cities tend to do a lot better."
The Valley is between Super Bowls. The East Valley hosted one in 1996, and the West Valley will get one in 2008. And while the economics can be quantified, it’s difficult to say exactly what the big game does for a community’s prestige.
Still, economic development and tourism officials agree it’s better to have it than not.
"I know everyone talks about exposure and it’s hard to say what does that translate to, but I can tell you the following year after the Super Bowl was probably our best year," said Robert Brinton, Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director. "There was a definite spike in requests for information and people coming out. There was a definite awareness of the Valley that had not been here before that Super Bowl occurred."
Former Tempe city manager Gary Brown, who headed Tempe’s effort in 1996, said the game must be viewed from a business standpoint. He remembers wrangling with the NFL over expenses, particularly because Tempe was much smaller than the other cities where Super Bowls are typically held.
"We literally told staff whatever you do, let’s try to break even and people did a fantastic job coming up with ideas like the city leased out city rights-of-way for the selling of souvenirs and that sort of thing," he said.
Brown said the game helps market the urban area well.
"Whether it lives up to all the hype or not, I think you’ve got to see it as such another piece to the puzzle," he said. "It’s not the panacea, but Tempe did an overall pretty good job of positioning itself as more of destination spot. Fifteen years ago, people didn’t even know how to pronounce Tempe. My uncle used to call me from New York and he would call it Teepee."
The total economic impact of Super Bowl XXX and related events was nearly $306 million, according to a study by the Center for Business Research at Arizona State University. Those who bid for the 2008 Super Bowl say the number will grow to an estimated $400 million.
In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, an NFL official said not having a team in Los Angeles since 1994 cost the city three super bowls and close to $1 billion.
Even though January and February are peak times for Valley tourists and hotels are filled more than normal, the 1996 game brought an estimated 89,000 fans to the metro area, and about 50,000 of them stayed in resorts, hotels and motels, the study found.
"The game had tremendous benefit to our hotel and the whole area," said Muth, general manager of the Hilton Phoenix East/Mesa at U.S. 60 and Alma School Road. "It was far and away the best January that we’ve ever had. We were basically sold out for 10 days at the end of January and beginning of February. And there was all the spin-off, the banquet and in-house food and beverage business. People are here to party and they’re people that have money.
"All that was terrific, but the biggest benefit was not only to the hotel, but to the area. The people that you want to have see your area came and saw it and that resulted in 1997 being, still, to this day, the highest yearly revenue that we ever achieved. I think a lot of that was from exposure that we got from the Super Bowl."
Muth expects some positives in 2008, though the game will be played about 35 miles away in the Arizona Cardinals’ new stadium in Glendale.
"We don’t think we’re going to benefit nearly as well as we did before, but we think we’ll still sell out and we still want to be part of the Super Bowl experience," he said. "The fact that we’re a Hilton and people want to come to the Phoenix metropolitan area will help.
"Plus there’s no hotel rooms over there by the game. They’re going to stay in Scottsdale and they’re going to stay all over. But I think the events are going to be in Scottsdale and Phoenix and all over."
Restaurant and bar tax collections were up 14 percent and hotel-motel collections were up 20 percent in January 1996 compared to the same month a year earlier, the ASU study shows.
Sherry Henry, Fiesta Inn Resort president and general manager, said not only was the Tempe hotel full for four or five days in 1996, but there was a lasting effect on tourism once the NFL left town.
"The years of the mid-’90s were some of the greatest hotel profit years in history," Henry said. "That’s what I mean about that residual effect. That’s the part that’s probably the hardest to measure because people aren’t going to say at your front desk ‘Gee, I came here because I saw you on the Super Bowl.’ Unfortunately, most front desks won’t ask people so there’s almost no way to track that."
SHOWING OFF AREA
Gregg Holmes, 2008 Super Bowl bid committee chairman, said the Valley receives more than tourism dollars.
"It is one of the few venues in the world, including the Olympics, where you have a opportunity to bring people at an extremely high level who are CEOs and site selection specialists to influence the decision of where companies will locate and do business on an on-going basis," said Holmes, who was chairman of the Super Host Committee in 1996, a meet-and-greet group formed to sell the area.
"It’s a place to spotlight quality of life, it’s a place to spotlight the business environment and how well connected and technologically advanced this market is so as to connect to those assets in order to conduct business on a daily basis."
Brinton recalls surveys showing that somewhere between 20 percent and 30 percent of game attendees surveyed in 1996 had never been to the Valley before.
"These are Fortune 500 companies and Fortune 1,000 companies," he said. "In terms of things like that, it’s rather exceptional in terms of the exposure that you get."
Among those who went to the game, half said they would seriously consider holding future business meetings here, the ASU study found.
Still, those who attended the game were less bullish about expanding or establishing businesses here, with 33 percent saying they would consider it.
That compares to the 49 percent of owners or executives who did not attend the game — but came for other Super Bowl activities — who said they would consider expanding or establishing business operations here.
Monti, owner of Monti’s La Casa Vieja steak house on Mill Avenue in Tempe, remembers Super Bowl XXX being a mixed bag.
Because it’s a very elite event, there’s plenty of business for the high-end catering companies and restaurants, he said. But the game didn’t do much for the Tempe economy, he said.
The city, the NFL and the media hyped the Super Bowl and the traffic jams it would create so much that regular business dropped off drastically two weeks before the game, he said. The other problem was many people attending the game didn’t stick around long.
"The fact is, especially at that time because there’s been several significant large resorts built since then, a lot of the people attending the game were staying in Las Vegas and flew in on game day," he said, adding his parking lot was used for a party of 800.
"They had barbecue with T-bones and chicken, a full-bar and a band in a big tent," he said."Then they all marched up the street led by bagpipers, and I think Westwood High School’s marching band.
"They marched over to the stadium, had the game and then they marched back for a cookie break and refreshments. Then they all got a fleet of buses that took them straight to the airport to fly to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl."
Monti said the only reason he was able to book the party was because the adviser to the company holding it had worked with Monti’s dad in the late 1950s as a bar tender.
"It was an inside connection otherwise it was a huge party that would have gone to some elite catering outfit out of Scottsdale," he said.
Monti expects the 2008 game to go better.
"They hype that affected us in 1996 will effect them ,and it will probably place more regular snowbirds over toward our end of the Valley," he said. "I’m a firm believer that more bodies in the Valley is always a better thing in tourist season and I believe it will bring economic benefit. But the thing to be remembered is the typical Super Bowl goer is an elite traveler.
Mesa’s Brinton says the distance between the 2008 game site and the East Valley shouldn’t hurt much.
"Much like if we take Phoenix International Raceway, Cactus League or any other major sporting event here, it fills up rooms either from primary rooms, i.e. the event itself, or displaced rooms, the ripple effect of pushing out the demand of other people who do need to come here for other reasons than that," he said. "We know that still Scottsdale has the resorts and that Glendale doesn’t. And it’s doubtful that any major resort would be built over there, so I think Scottsdale should still do fine as far as an East Valley city."
Scottsdale and Paradise Valley have about a quarter of their rooms blocked for the game, said Rachel Sacco of the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. But Mesa didn’t block as many rooms as it did for the 1996 game.
"What I’m looking at more than anything is the bounce that you get that should come the following year after that in terms of just overall awareness of the Valley of people seeing it, and seeing the sunshine and the pictures and all of the things going on and saying ‘Wow, let’s add that to our list of possibilities,’ " Brinton said.
Pollster Nelson says we’re more like San Diego than Houston.
"One of the things that’s particularly important is weather, especially because the Super Bowl is always in January or February where it’s cold in the rest of the country," he said. "So selling tourism based on weather really is a factor.
"When they do those shots that show it being bright and sunny and they do those shots that show people on the golf course, yeah, a place like Phoenix is going to do very well because it is a tourist destination, especially in the winter months."