What it would mean to bring the big game to the suburbs

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The mere mention of the phrase scares the heart of even the toughest Super Bowl host city.

“No charge to the NFL. “

As momentum builds for Arlington Park to become the future home of the Bears, a multi-billion dollar domed stadium anchoring the site is the next logical thought. The goal would be to bring the biggest gigs, NCAA Final Four basketball and, yes, the Super Bowls to Arlington Heights.

But between skyrocketing accommodation budgets and the long list of freebies requested by the National Football League, an offer from the Bears for a future Super Bowl could cost anywhere from $ 70 million to $ 100 million.

Recovering that would be a challenge, especially if visitors flocked to Chicago hotels, restaurants, and sights instead of spending their money in the suburbs. Former organizers, however, say that with careful planning and an eye for future benefits, the entire region can reap the rewards of a successful Super Bowl.

“It kind of kindled another entrepreneurial fire under people as they dream of how to capture the excitement of this possibility,” said Jon Ridler, executive director of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce. “We want to take this opportunity to showcase the entire region.

While there is a lot of heartbreak in the process, the opportunity for fame does exist. And local planners see a wide range of possibilities for the future.

Open arms

Heather Larson, president of Meet Chicago Northwest – the convention and visitors bureau of Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Itasca, Rolling Meadows, Roselle, Schaumburg, Streamwood and Wood Dale – said she knew the area was going to s ‘intensify.

Its footprint includes 64 hotels. Restaurant and retail choices abound. There is also a marketing team who will spend $ 500,000 this year to make sure the necessary players know what the region has to offer.

“This is what we do all day,” Larson said. “Most of the advertising we do is not in the suburbs of the northwest. We are advertising in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Detroit. We are already focused and know how to attract people to our destination. We are quite sophisticated in the way we market ourselves. “

The trick, in the case of a Super Bowl, is to keep these visitors away from the bright lights of Chicago. Once they land at O’Hare Airport around the world, it can be difficult to get them to spend time and money in the northwest suburbs.

Frank Stephenson, chair of the accounting, economics and finance department at Berry College in Georgia, co-authored a study assessing hotel occupancy for recent Super Bowls. What he found is not good news for Arlington Heights and the surrounding suburbs.

When Santa Clara, 80 miles from San Francisco, hosted the 2016 Super Bowl, an area within a 30-mile radius of the stadium experienced an increase in hotel occupancy from just 10% of what other recent hosts such as Houston and Minneapolis have enjoyed. The study found that many fans spending $ 1,000 on a game ticket chose to stay in luxury hotels in San Francisco.

Many events and sites associated with Super Bowl week, including parties and the Fan Experience Center, took place in San Francisco. Exterior TV shots focused on the Golden Gate Bridge and streetcars as opposed to the Santa Clara sites.

Stephenson wonders if Arlington Heights and the surrounding suburbs can distract economic activity and attention from Chicago.

“I think the Santa Clara and San Francisco example would be a big concern here for Arlington Heights,” Stephenson said. “Arlington Heights might have a few upscale hotels, but most of them are in Chicago. It won’t be zero traffic, but most of the traffic will be downtown. “

The auction book

That’s not to say the suburbs wouldn’t benefit from a Super Bowl, but organizers need a clear plan and realistic expectations, especially in the short term.

Professor Victor Matheson of the College of Holy Cross, a renowned sports economist, cringed as he read the many financial regulations imposed by the NFL in Minneapolis-St. Paul’s nomination book for the Super Bowl 2018.

Over 100 times he saw the phrase “no cost to the NFL” in an agreement that said the host pays for everything from security to an entire hotel for each competing team and a week of use in various facilities. The league paid no rent for the use of the stadium while receiving every penny from ticket sales, parking revenue and pretty much everything in between.

“There’s no real reason to believe Arlington Heights is going to make a lot of money,” said Matheson. “You’re about to make some potentially big money without a lot of ways to get it back. All the things Arlington Heights could make money on, the NFL says, ‘No, we’re going to make that money at the square.'”

Minnesota, however, had no trouble getting back the $ 50 million it had invested. Officials estimate that a $ 450 million shake-up came to the local economy, 266,000 hotel nights were booked during this week and Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport set a one-day passenger record.

Matheson said it was unrealistic for the suburbs to bet on a similar financial windfall during Super Bowl week. The goal, he said, is that the region is not led to a false sense of investing in new hotels and other projects.

“How many hotels do you want to build for an event? ” He asked. ” The answer is no. Your hotel must be 65% full year round, year after year, or that hotel must close. “

Even though Santa Clara, California was the host city of Super Bowl 2016, many of the events and venues that came with it, including Super Bowl City, took place within 50 miles of San Francisco.
– Associated press kit Photo, 2016

Winning game plan

Kevin Phelps, city manager of Glendale, Arizona, knows all too well the costs associated with hosting a Super Bowl and how to overcome the pitfalls. He joined the city staff in 2016, but he knows about the 2008 and 2015 Super Bowls held at State Farm Stadium and the spending that has gone from $ 13 million to $ 30 million in just seven years.

Phelps estimates that Glendale’s next Super Bowl in 2023 will cost more than $ 50 million.

“It’s not enough to give people a place to sleep,” said Phelps. “You have to give them something to do while they’re there, and we really focused on that.”

Similar to an Olympic committee team, a Super Bowl bid team consists of a group of local leaders who organize the event and raise a lot of money to make it happen. Whether they’re corporate CEOs, celebrities, or seasoned political actors, the key is to attract a mix of successful people.

Phelps said even the barricades around the stadium cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but future organizers of a Bears Super Bowl bid shouldn’t be intimidated by the spending den. If executed correctly, a suburban bid team can develop a plan that works, he said.

“There are custom Super Bowl packages that they could sell to businesses for $ 200,000 apiece, so there are plenty of ways to do that.”

The “Daring North”

Super Bowl LII committee CEO Maureen Bausch insists Minnesota’s $ 50 million investment for 2018 was worth the cost, and not just because the event was entirely privately funded . In a survey of Super Bowl week visitors, 83% said they would return to Minneapolis-St. Paul district.

That’s impressive considering the early February event turned out to be the coldest Super Bowl in history. The temperature during the game was 2 degrees and about a foot of snow fell during the week.

Similar temperatures and snowfall are possible in an Arlington Heights Super Bowl, but Bausch and his team embraced the idea, calling the location “The Bold North” and taking the narrative as a positive. Bausch believes the Bears committee could also catch the tale of a cold-weather Super Bowl.

In the dead of winter, when hotel occupancy and tourism slow to their lowest levels of the year, Super Bowl week is the occasion for a massive boost.

“It’s a little more complicated in cold weather markets, but it’s well worth every bit of energy invested,” she said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

“World stage … at your front door”


Super Bowl security, seen here during Super Bowl 2016 in Santa Clara, Calif., Is one of the major costs incurred by host cities.

Super Bowl security, seen here during Super Bowl 2016 in Santa Clara, Calif., Is one of the major costs incurred by host cities.
– Associated press kit Photo, 2016

Bausch said the success of a suburban Super Bowl bid will begin with setting goals and strategizing around those goals. For Minnesota, part of the success has been showcasing the state as a year-round tourist destination and using the company’s exposure to attract highly skilled employees.

In a strategy known as “The Roving CEO,” Glendale’s bid committee allocated a portion of its budget to CEOs across the country with the allure of Super Bowl benefits. Once the CEOs were in Arizona, local officials used the time to persuade them to set up their business there. Phelps said the strategy worked as several companies ended up relocating to the area.

Bausch said exposing the benefits of the region is a key long-term strategy.

“I can tell you that many communities see this as a five-day event, inside and out, and I feel bad when they miss the opportunity with the spotlight on them,” Bausch said. “The world stage will be at your doorstep.”

There are still many obstacles to overcome for the Bears to move to Arlington Heights, and many more beyond to host a Super Bowl. But it’s never too early to start dreaming and planning.

And while we’re dreaming, maybe the Bears will actually play in the game.

“If a Super Bowl takes place here in Arlington Heights, hotel rooms will be reserved and restaurants will be occupied until Cary,” said Ridler, executive director of the Arlington Heights chamber. “I think everyone benefits from it.”


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