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Super Bowl to kick off return to pre-Katrina tourism

9th July 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Chris Villere and Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writers

Eight months from now, New Orleanians will be hoping and praying for the Saints to have home field advantage in the Super Bowl XLVII.

Impacts of the suspensions aside, for the Crescent City to have earned another chance to host the most watched of American sporting events shocked much of the professional sporting world in 2009. Few believed that the Cypress boxes handed to NFL Search committee members, extolling the virtues and advantages of coming to New Orleans, would be anything more than a gimmick.

“Long Shot” was the specific term bantered about on ESPN describing the chances for the Big Easy to beat out Miami for a record 10th hosting of the Big Game. New Orleans had fallen from 49th to 54th in market size post-Katrina. The city’s slow advance back into top 50 status seemed far too glacial to appeal to NFL Commissioners seeking to increase television dollars.

What made the difference, ex­plained Jay Cicero, Chairman of the Host Committee for Super Bowl XLVII was simply, “New Orleans is tailor made for this event.” The Superdome’s proximity to food, entertainment, and cultural opportunities, not to mention thousands of hotels within walking distance has provided an advantage that few other cities can match.

Still, the fact that the NFL will be returning for a tenth Super Bowl, a record of which only Miami can equally boast, also shows that small media markets can compete for major events in this era so dominated by television ratings points and advertising market share.

Charlotte, North Carolina will soon be on display as this summer’s Democratic National Con­vention comes to that city’s new­ly renovated basketball arena. The Tar Heel State managed to parlay the fact that Barack Obama won North Caro­lina four years ago, and could again, into an expected economic boost of $200 million.

For over 60 years, the city of Omaha has held on to hosting the College Baseball World Series, despite several efforts to move the event to larger markets out of the Midwest. In fact, the Nebraskans have parlayed their experience in hosting large sporting events into attracting the U.S. Olympic Swim­ming Trials in previous years.

Contrast those successes with the Capitol of California. Sacramento is roughly the size of New Orleans, and has spent millions in expanding its downtown and entertainment districts. Yet, the city’s prolonged struggle with the owners of the National Basketball Assoc­iation’s Sacramento Kings about the exact terms for building a new arena, may have arrested its efforts to attract major sporting events.

The Kings have played their home games in the dilapidated Power Balance Pavilion since 1988. The aged, second-hand facility means that the NBA All-Star Game has passed by the California town year after year, as has any real chance to showcase how the Sacramento region has grown during the last decade.

It is a mistake that New Orleans has sidestepped due to bad luck, as much as good. The capital investments that the city and the state made after Hurricane Katrina provided the kind of state-of-the-art facilities for sports teams that have the potential of paying for themselves several times over in attracting major events—according to Jay Cicero.

During the last six months alone, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome has hosted the All-State Sugar Bowl, the All-State BCS National Champion­ship Game, the NCAA Final Four, and, of course, will serve as the site for the 2013 NFL Super Bowl.

“New Orleans is even better prepared to host because of the major renovations following the Hurri­cane, “Jay Cicero noted ironically in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly.

Catastrophic damage forced updates and improvements to the Morial Convention Center, Super­dome, and local hotels. “With the growth of the event, certain aspects become a bigger deal, like security. Everything is bigger.” Therefore, the city needed to provide vast capital improvements to keep just with the demands of an ever-increasing Super Bowl attendance. Without the storm, there might not have been the political will to spend millions on infrastructure.

If the city had relayed alone on its culture appeals of past years, New Orleans might not have won next year’s game. Now, the Super Bowl gives the city a chance to “showcase New Orleans positively, and what needs to be done” before a national television audience.

And, that means money for the local economy in the short and long term. The expected economic benefit from Super Bowl XLVII is $400 million. Moreover, the more than 5,000 credentialed members of the media who descend upon New Orleans to cover the event will go far in shedding light to a national audience on the progress of the city’s recovery since August 2005.

Aside from the large economic windfall seen within the “triangle of activity”—the French Quarter, Convention Center, and Super­dome—Cicero also contended that Minority-owned businesses, especially women, will benefit in ways unseen in past Super Bowls.

After a minority firm has registered with the host committee—and has been certified as a minority or woman owned business—that company is eligible to, “procure business from the Super Bowl as well as other events,” according to the rules outlined on nolasuper Small and minority companies in 58 different categories could win vendor contracts under what is being called the “Emerging Business Program,” promising to direct an “impactful portion of the Super Bowl economic activity to local businesses.”

Enthusiastically, Cicero even pledged that parking will not be a problem next year, so well has the planning been going. Since “New Orleans is tailor made for the event,” he said, the Crescent City shall be uniquely positioned to do what it does best: Entertain and excite.

Not all of the work is completed half a year out, though. Roughly $1 million still needs to be raised for New Orleans to execute everything promised in 2009 when the bid for the game was accepted.

Of the thousands details remaining before the City can return to its pre-Katrina tourism levels in 2013, Cicero joked to this newspaper “please don’t remind me.” Never­theless, the Super Bowl Host Com­mittee Chairman remains confident that the big game is the proverbial kick off to a return to tourist normalcy.

Of all the grand events New Orleans has hosted in recent months, he contended that Super Bowl XLVII will most emphatically make the statement to the rest of the country that the city is “open for business and awaiting your arrival.”

This article originally published in the July 9, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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