It was nineteen years between Super Bowls for Atlanta. They hosted Super Bowl XXVIII in 1994, Super Bowl XXXIV in 1999 six years later and then not again until 2019 For Super Bowl LIII. For a major metropolitan city with a diverse population, a solid corporate base and a vibrant social scene, that’s a long time between hosting the NFL’s biggest party. I’m not sure why it took so long for Atlanta to get the Super Bowl back and that question was asked to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at his annual “State of the League” press conference last week.
“As it related to when we are going to come back, as you know they’ve become more competitive for cities to host the Super Bowl, which we think that is great,” Goodell said. “I also believe is that not the city, which is an important city for us, the new stadium is one that everybody is going to marvel at on Sunday.”
For decades, the game was held in warm-weather sites like LA, New Orleans and Miami. But the league has used the game as a reward for owners and places with domed stadiums like Minneapolis and Detroit were included in the process.
A couple of the real reasons were very obvious why the game didn’t return to Atlanta for nearly two decades. It snowed there the week of Super Bowl XXXIV and it was known as the game where Ray Lewis was accused of killing two guys in Buckhead. But back with Super Bowl LIII, Atlanta was the ideal host. The Georgia Congress Center is big enough to land airplanes in let alone host the media center and the NFL Experience. The Omni hotel is attached and had plenty of lounge and meeting space for corporate get-together’s and after- (or during) hours socializing.
But the reason Atlanta got the Super Bowl back is because Arthur Blank, the Falcons owner, wanted it there and they had the new $1.6 billion Mercedes Benz Stadium to show off and host the big game.
And that’s how it works. If an owner wants their city to host the Super Bowl, they get behind the local effort to put together a plan and lobby the other owners to vote for their bid. Miami and Tampa will host the next two Super Bowls, followed by the new NFL stadium in Los Angeles. The NFL owners in the early 2000’s liked then-Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver and got behind Jacksonville’s bid for the game. Weaver controlled the temporary seats in the south end zone for the game, kind of a “thank you” from his fellow owners.
So will Jacksonville host another Super Bowl? The short answer is yes, but not for a while.
Current Jaguars owner Shad Khan doesn’t see the city hosting the game any time soon. He said in 2016 that hosting a Super Bowl would, “Set up Jacksonville for failure. The requirements now for hotel rooms and some of the other infrastructure amenities we don’t have here so let’s not kid ourselves.” In fact, Shad has more often talked about the league hosting a Super Bowl in London.
It’s a popular national narrative that Jacksonville was the worst Super Bowl host city ever and that we’ll never get another game. First of all, that’s not true on a lot of levels but it makes for a good story line when you can pick on a place you like to pick on anyway, which we all know the national media likes to do.
Remember, we’re an outpost to most of the national commentators. You have to make a trip here. You’re not stopping by Jacksonville on your way anywhere else and for that crowd, we don’t have enough late-night cocktails or strip clubs to suit their taste. None of them make it to the beach or even to the Southside for that matter.
Hall of Famer and Fox commentator Howie Long bashes Jacksonville as the worst Super Bowl city in corporate speeches complaining that we ran out of hot dogs at the game. I don’t know if Howie even eats hot dogs, but a little research would let him know that we had nothing to do with that. The NFL runs the game and makes those kind of decisions. Clearly the New England/Philadelphia crowd at our game liked hotdogs.
A look at the facts of Super Bowl XXXIX here showed that the NFL Owners stayed at the Ritz-Carlton at Amelia and other beachfront resorts. And they made a lot of money. The Host Committee and the city of Jacksonville bent over backwards to make things easy for the league and being mostly a non-union town in a right to work state, the venues and the labor costs were minimal. The Super Bowl in Minneapolis last year pumped an estimated $350-$400 million into the local economy.
If you remember the weather that week, it was our typical Nor’easter, Sunday to Thursday with very “un-Florida” like temps and a decent breeze blowing on the St. Johns. On Thursday at noon, as predicted, the front moved off-shore and the average temperature for the rest of the weekend was 65. And sunny. But that doesn’t fit the narrative so the media, looking for something to talk about for the four days they were here at the beginning of the week, focused on what a terrible time they were having. According to the local host committee, 90% of the people coming to the game that year arrived after noon Thursday. So they had a great, Jacksonville, Florida experience. The weather was great, we closed Bay Street and put on a big party. (Something we should do for Georgia-Florida and the Gate River Run.)
The host committee even treated the visiting media to a try at the 17th green at TPC Sawgrass on Tuesday night followed by a concert by Hootie and the Blowfish in a huge hospitality tent. The whole island green, lake and tee area was lit and it was fun. Complaints about the free, luxury bus right out there from the Hyatt downtown ensued, but it was no different than the bus rides in other host cities like Miami and San Diego.
I even heard one commentator complain on Monday after the game about the bus from the Hyatt to the stadium. “There were people walking to the game holding the bus up,” he told a national radio audience. “I mean; they were holding up traffic!” Which got me thinking about him leaving his free hotel room for a free ride to a game where he had a been given free admittance.
Bringing in the cruise ships to house visitors for the game was a great idea. It worked at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and it worked here. Until the ships had to pull out at 8AM Monday after the game following a night of partying.
“You people in Jacksonville really know how to blow stuff up,” a friend from a national cable network said to me while the post-game fireworks were going off. From my broadcast position atop the parking garage near Berkman’s Place, I was able to see the fireworks every night off the Main Street Bridge and over the river and they were spectacular. My friend was right: we know how to do fireworks.
“You needed better transportation,” one scribe told me that week. I don’t disagree with that. More cabs, more limos, more shuttles would be on the list next time. Uber wasn’t a thing in Jacksonville in 2005.
And another luxury hotel is a must to hosting the game again. The downtown Hyatt, with more than 900 rooms is a great base of operations, but variety makes it better. Indianapolis was lauded for hosting Super Bowl XLI, mainly because everything was tucked into downtown with several large hotels within walking distance providing plenty of gathering spots.
Shad has a plan to build a Four Seasons hotel on the river near where Metropolitan Park is right now, so that’ll be the first step to hosting another Super Bowl. But he has a lot of things he wants to get done before backing another Super Bowl bid by Jacksonville. The Shipyards, the Lot J entertainment district and stadium improvements, including a possible sunshade are all on the list. The first league event Shad would like to bring here is the NFL Draft, with Daily’s Place acting as the hub. That’s more likely than anything else in the near future.
So when will the Super Bowl come back? When Shad decides it’s a good idea, we’ll host the game again. If it was 19 years between games in Atlanta, that puts us at 2024. Probably not by then, but it’ll happen.