New Orleans’ Super testimonial

Advocate staff file photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- New Orleans officials hope to attract the 2018 Super Bowl to the The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, It would mark the 11th time the city has hosted professional football's championship game.
Advocate staff file photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- New Orleans officials hope to attract the 2018 Super Bowl to the The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, It would mark the 11th time the city has hosted professional football's championship game.

A three-inch ring binder cradling the pitch to end this city’s 11-year Super Bowl drought rests neatly on a book shelf in Jay Cicero’s corner office along St. Charles Avenue.

Not that its intended audience, NFL owners, share a desire to peruse the minutiae of game-day operations for the Super Bowl.

“There’s a lot of tabs,” said Cicero, head of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. “They wouldn’t be interested in all that information.”

The league’s 32 owners awarded the Crescent City, revitalized after Hurricane Katrina gutted and flooded her in August 2005, its record-tying 10th chance to host the game after a 15-minute presentation in Miami four years ago.

At the time, it was a gift for the city’s recovery, a nod to the game’s heritage and a practical incentive for the Saints, city and state to pour $300 million into renovating the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Now, the host committee formally voiced Monday a not-so-veiled intention to bid for the 2018 Super Bowl — coinciding with its tricentennial celebration.

Under the league’s current structure, New Orleans wouldn’t be invited to bid until October, and a final vote wouldn’t be cast until May 2014. Yet the city believes its chances are burnished by a depth of experience hosting major events, compact size of its metropolitan area, nearly $ 1 billion in infrastructure upgrades and the waning trend of using its game as an enticement for franchises to build new stadiums.

“We don’t have to create anything in New Orleans,” James Carville said. “It’s been here for 294 years. We just have to take what we have and shine it up a little bit.”

The process

Now, back to those binders in Cicero’s office — the one with copious information more relevant to the NFL’s Special Event staff.

NFL owners do care about those facets of a city’s bid, but they need it distilled succinctly. Presenting it in a palatable manner is also part marketing and lobbying.

Feting owners isn’t new, either. Once, Tampa offered them a golf outing, flying in legend Arnold Palmer to hand-deliver each owner a putter. Miami promised access to yachts during game week. Dallas simply plunked a $1 million guarantee for all the league’s game-day expenses.

Four years ago, New Orleans took full advantage of the process, too. On May, 1, 2009 the sports foundation mailed its bids to owners in handmade wooden boxes fashioned from locally harvested cypress. It was embossed with a custom logo for New Orleans’ motto: A Perfect Ten.

“We’re in this hunt, and we need to impress them,” Cicero said. “We leave no stone unturned.”

Inside, three colorful binders with covers made of painted canvas outlined the bid: an introduction to New Orleans, the NFL’s bid specifications and letters of recommendation from local dignitaries. Housed, too, inside was a small drawer containing an iPod with a 21/2 -minute video overview.

The arms race stemmed partly from an open application process, one where committees could engage in a last-best bid atmosphere.

Two years ago, the NFL changed its process, though. Instead of an open process, the league now invites a few stadiums — usually two — to submit proposals.

The new structure is relatively straight-forward when it comes to the 15-minute final pitch made before the owners, meaning no longer could former Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach make a pitch, as he did in 2007 for North Texas’ 2011 bid.

“They’re trying to keep it to a business presentation,” Cicero said. “The owners are always stone-faced.”

That’s why it’s beneficial working in close coordination with the Saints.

“I never stop bringing it into conversations, or I’m taking notes,” Saints Vice Chairman Rita Benson LeBlanc said. “I’m with the owners. They’re influenced by their own families and their own experience.”

The committee

Don’t fret.

The death knell of the Good Ole Boy method might be a boon for New Orleans moving forward, largely because of how it approaches the bid process.

The city is well-versed in hosting major sporting events, using it as a pivotal focal point in marketing its hospitality and convention industry.

The sports foundation is the main arm, and it tries to space out major events such as a Super Bowl in five-year intervals. In between, Cicero’s group fills in its calendar with events such as the annual New Orleans Bowl, the SEC men’s basketball tournament, junior Amateur Athletic Union Olympics and even a BassMasters Classic.

“We may do up to 15 events in between a Super Bowl,” Cicero said. “Our model is much more efficient, but it’s what we do.”

Compared to New Orleans, other cities organize their efforts with the Super Bowl as the lone goal.

Dallas hired a real-estate developer, George Bayoud, as its bid committee’s president. Bayoud and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recruited Staubach as chairman. The committee found Houston-based lawyer Robert Dale Morgan, who had helped that city land the 2004 game, to assemble the rest of the group. It forged ties with civic leaders from Dallas, the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the Dallas Convention and Visitors bureau.

However, it’s only a four-year partnership.

“Three months after the event, though, they disband and disperse,” Cicero said. “They have no entity. That staff is back out hunting for other positions.”

Meanwhile, New Orleans’ sports foundation continues to visit other cities and keep copious notes.

The cost

The city’s experience also allows a leaner bottom-line relative to recent hosts.

Dallas’ bid put up roughly $40 million and netted a $7.5 million surplus. Indianapolis’ bid came in around $30 million. New Orleans’ original projection hovered around $12 million in 2009 and may land somewhere closer to $13 million when all is said and done.

“There’s an economy of scale and expertise with us that you don’t always get in other cities,” Cicero said.

The simplest explanation is the city’s bidding for the Super Bowl projects what services it can provide to the NFL at no cost, with the figure comprising the final amount.

Again, New Orleans’ size stands in contrast to other cities, such as San Diego, which required 1,000 buses to ferry people to Qualcomm Stadium. New Orleans only required 240. That’s still a lot, but it’s one example of where it can pare expenses because NFL personnel can easily cover ground walking.

Last year, the sports foundation took note of how Indianapolis’ compact size allowed its stadium, convention center and entertainment district to fit into an area the size of the French Quarter.

But Cicero and his staff also noted how the majority of fans not staying in 5,000 downtown hotel rooms had to commute up to 90 minutes away. It’s a point they could contrast with New Orleans’ layout, which puts 22,000 hotel rooms, the Superdome and the French Quarter within a one-mile walking radius.

“Get crazy,” said Mary Matalin, a political consultant and host committee member. “You can walk everywhere.”

“More appropriately, you can stumble,” Carville said.

The current price has risen sharply from the $5 million New Orleans plunked down to host its previous Super Bowl in 2002, but the sports foundation thinks its expertise has blunted inflation.

“We’re just a lot more resourceful,” Cicero said. “It’s less expensive here, but those elements make it so it’s only $13.5 million to fulfill all the obligations in the bid.”

The infrastructure

The bid doesn’t represent the total cost to remain in the growing rotation for the game.

Estimated figures show the roughly $1 billion in permanent infrastructure upgrades to the city since an antiquated levy system failed during Katrina and swamped 80 percent of the city and left portions 15-feet under water.

If anything, luring the Super Bowl back served a dual purpose.

“It was an attempt to use the Super Bowl to build infrastructure,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.

Louis Armstrong International Airport underwent a $365 million makeover. The city opened a new, $145 million Loyola Streetcar line to ferry passengers between the Union Passenger Terminal and Canal Street.

Yet, the biggest facet was overhauling the Superdome and most importantly $85 million in work completed last fall.

“You have to build from the 50-yard line out, and that’s to make sure the Dome was really kind of kicking,” Landrieu said.

The money helped overhaul the lower bowl, adding 3,100 seats in the process. The concourse was expanded, while additional concessions and restrooms were installed.

Premium ground level plazas, each roughly 7,600 square feet, also were built under the east and west concourses. Featuring granite countertops, a plethora of flat-screen TVs and full-service bars, they can host roughly 4,5000 fans.

And LeBlanc didn’t couch what was in mind when the upgrades were discussed.

“Everything top of mind was making sure we were Super Bowl-ready,” she said Monday.

The NFL didn’t veil its desire to see the site improved three years ago, either. Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the time that New Orleans was a “great Super Bowl city,” but the Superdome needed to match sparkling new venues in Indianapolis, Dallas and New York.

With the mandate met, New Orleans is positioned to blunt a challenge down the line from a new $1.2 billion stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., for the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings’ planned $975 million facility.

“The advantage of a brand new stadium has been taken away with the renovations of the Super Dome,” Cicero said.

The soul

But sitting in front of reporters, among the 5,200 credentialed this week, Carville declared the crux of any argument put forth by New Orleans.

“We needed minimal intervention,” he said. “How do you have a place with more history, more beautiful, such a setting to have an event like this?”

Phrased another way: Who does it better?

“It is the preeminent global sporting event, and there’s no other place that hosts it like New Orleans,” LeBlanc said.

Serving as host this week is a clear billboard, too, that New Orleans covets it as a chance “to plant a stake in the ground and show what’s happened here is real and lasting,” Cicero said.

It’s why 17,000 volunteers signed up and why Landrieu said visitors will feel “the unconditional and undying love” for their city.

“What you will come away with is a profound sense that the people of New Orleans have found that very thing Americans have been looking for a very a long time, in terms of resilience,” Landrieu said.

The success of the Saints in recent seasons and the connection, resurrected with the reopening of the Superdome in 2006 and deepened with a Super Bowl title, certainly helps.

“That’s odd to say,” Cicero said. “Sports aren’t more important than education, aren’t more important than housing, but it gave us this positive thing amongst all this negativity to latch on to.”

Practically, it helps that the NFL has a mid-market team — the Saints were valued at $965 million in 2011, according to Forbes — flourishing financially and making a commitment to their on-field product.

Additionally, owner Tom Benson’s service on the league’s financial committee and close ties to the Super Bowl committee position the organization well to funnel feedback to Cicero’s operation.

“Owners respect his take on the overall business of being associated with the NFL,” Cicero said. “He’s pretty sharp when it comes to that.”

Ambitious as it might be to pursue a Super Bowl for the 11th time, Landrieu said the city’s nature ordains it.

“You continue to doubt New Orleans’ capacity to play at the top of its game,” he said. “When this came along, you said can’t they do this again. New Orleans continues to outperform expectations again and again.”