A Super Bowl bid that helped roil politics from Miami to Tallahassee comes to an end Tuesday, when the National Football League will decide whether an aging Sun Life Stadium can once again host the biggest night in professional sports.
As they pick a location for the 50th Super Bowl, NFL owners will chose between a $1.2 billion stadium under construction near San Francisco and the 26-year-old home of the Miami Dolphins.
It is a contest that top Dolphins executives all but ceded to San Francisco during their campaign for a tax-subsidized renovation of Sun Life, warning that an upgrade was crucial for bringing Super Bowls to South Florida.
Now the NFL has a chance to disprove that prediction by awarding Miami either the 50th Super Bowl in 2016 or the 51st in 2017, a consolation prize to be announced at the same Boston meeting of team owners.
Given the warnings about how much Sun Life’s condition has soured the NFL on the stadium, Miami’s winning either Super Bowl would be considered something of a Cinderella story.
“I’m hoping for a Hail Mary,” said Rodney Barreto, the long-time head of South Florida’s Super Bowl committee. “Our biggest issue now is: How are the owners going to respond to what happened in Tallahassee?”
The NFL dispatched its commissioner, Roger Goodell, to lobby state lawmakers as the Dolphins sought a change in state law that would have allowed Miami-Dade to raise its hotel tax to 7 percent from the current statewide cap of 6 percent. Miami-Dade voters were already casting ballots on the proposal in what is believed to be the fastest referendum ever called — urgency tied to Tuesday’s meeting of NFL owners to decide Super Bowls 50 and 51.
When the Florida House failed to take up a Senate bill authorizing the tax hike and referendum, Miami-Dade canceled the election. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he would not fund the renovation himself, leaving the NFL to weigh the consequences of awarding a Super Bowl to a community so soon after it rejected public dollars for a franchise’s stadium.
Miami and San Francisco will make their pitches first for the 50th game, and the loser will take on Houston for Super Bowl 51. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said a city needs 24 of the owners’ 32 votes to be awarded the Super Bowl in the first round, and a simple majority if it goes into a third round of voting.
Jimmy Cefalo, a former Dolphin and current local radio host, will be the emcee for South Florida’s presentation at the 9 a.m. meeting with owners.
In pursuing the 50th game, South Florida proposed a pre-game celebration unlike anything the region has seen.
Anchored in downtown Miami, a “Super Bowl Park” would bring a football festival to the waterfront for as long as two weeks, including a ferris wheel, a zip-line ride over the marina at Bayside, temporary nightclubs on floating barges, and a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier anchored in the inlet by the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Thanks to an artificial-turf field on the carrier’s landing area, organizers promised celebrity football games throughout the event.
In San Francisco, South Florida faces the glamour and deep pockets of Silicon Valley. San Francisco’s organizers say they have pledged $30 million in corporate sponsorships, while South Florida has yet to announce any fundraising milestones.
The pledged dollars reflect San Francisco’s eagerness to host its first Super Bowl since 1985, and organizers have portrayed the corporate money as proof of a community ready to welcome the NFL with financial support.
“We had a goal of raising $15 million by the time the bids were due,” said P.J. Johnston, a spokesman for the San Francisco Super Bowl committee. “We doubled that.”
For its Super Bowl bid, San Francisco sent NFL team owners evidence of an alliance between two hometown tech rivals.
When owners open a customized iPad Mini by Apple, they will see a video endorsement by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and promises of the most tech-savvy Super Bowl ever.
San Francisco has a rough budget of $50 million for its Super Bowl plans, Johnston said, though the finances would not be finalized until after the bid is awarded. South Florida said it plans to spend about $21 million on Super Bowl 50.
Add in various government services (such as free police) and tax breaks (such as exempting Super Bowl tickets from state sales tax), and South Florida’s bid committee estimates its package is worth about $36 million for the NFL.
The core $21 million price tag is roughly double the $10 million raised for past Super Bowls in South Florida, which Barreto said was justified given the milestone status of the 50th game.
Should South Florida lose to San Francisco for Super Bowl 50 but beat out Houston for the 51st game, Barreto said the plan would be scaled back.
“We’re not going to go through this whole blowout [plan] for 51,” he said. “I want to do it for 50.”
Without the Sun Life renovations, Barreto said South Florida will rely on history to make its case. At the moment, South Florida and New Orleans are tied for hosting the most Super Bowls, each with 10 games in their past.
“It’s old school versus high-tech,” he said. “I think our bid is really, really hyped for what has happened over the previous Super Bowls. More of the history. That we’ve been partners. We’ve been part of the family.”