This winter, the biggest NFL match-up in South Florida might be Super Bowl versus Boat Show.
As South Florida readies a bid for the 2016 Super Bowl, it must contend with a major potential conflict on the tourism calendar. The National Football League may move the Super Bowl to Presidents’ Day weekend, already home to the five-day Miami International Boat Show since the 1940s.
It’s a significant enough conflict that, in the past, local tourism officials have declined to pursue a Super Bowl if it fell on boat show weekend. But this time around they may have no choice. For the first time, the NFL is requiring that potential host cities agree to a Presidents’ Day weekend Super Bowl if they want to pursue the big game at all, said two people who have seen the NFL request for Super Bowl bids.
The NFL “invited South Florida [to bid] knowing there was going to be an issue with Presidents’ Day weekend and the boat show,” said Nicki Grossman, Broward’s tourism director. “In the past, South Florida has not responded to a Super Bowl date that included Presidents’ Day weekend. This package is different.”
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South Florida vies with New Orleans as the top Super Bowl host, with government and tourism leaders touting the game as both a boon to the economy and a publicity bonanza. But the notion of accommodating both Super Bowl and boat show — not to mention a major arts festival in Coconut Grove — strikes some top tourism officials as a bad idea.
“There is not sufficient hotel inventory available in Miami that weekend to host a Super Bowl,” said William Talbert, president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have taken a close look at that weekend, and it’s not physically possible in Miami to host Super Bowl during the Presidents’ Day weekend because of the boat show and the Coconut Grove Arts Festival. The hotel inventory is all being used for these two great events.”
His comments are at odds with the region’s top Super Bowl organizer and reflect the burden that the boat show may be to South Florida’s Super Bowl hopes for 2016 and 2017. The NFL invited Miami and San Francisco to bid for the 2016 Super Bowl by April 1, with the loser vying with Houston for the 2017 game. Talbert said the bid package states both decisions will be made in May.
For now, South Florida’s Super Bowl organizers face a largely hypothetical challenge, because the current NFL schedule has the Super Bowl occurring two weeks before Presidents’ Day weekend. The bid requirements for the ’16 and ’17 Super Bowls include three consecutive weekends as possibilities for the game, with the latest falling on the Presidents’ Day holiday.
Still, possible logistical hurdles may combine with political obstacles if the Miami Dolphins resume their push for a tax-funded renovation of Sun Life Stadium, the Super Bowl’s South Florida home.
Last year, the Dolphins proposed that Broward and Miami-Dade counties subsidize a $225 million renovation at Sun Life as a way to keep the region competitive for Super Bowls and other large events. The renovation includes a partial roof that would prevent the kind of drenching Super Bowl spectators suffered in 2007 when a rare February downpour hit Miami Gardens.
The 2016 bid is due at a time when legislators would be considering any bill allowing Miami-Dade to increase hotel taxes to renovate the stadium, as the Dolphins proposed last year. And with the last Super Bowl costing taxpayers at least $6 million in subsidies and government expense, critics can argue that the game is too costly for a weekend that needs no help on the tourism front.
“Having the Super Bowl the same weekend as Boat Show would be silly,” said Jeff Lehman, general manager of the luxury Betsy Hotel in South Beach and chairman of the Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority. “We already have unrestrained demand for Boat Show.”
Rodney Barreto, the longtime chairman of South Florida’s Super Bowl committee, said both events could coexist on one weekend. And with the NFL expected to bring extra hype to the host of the 50th Super Bowl in 2016, he said that game in particular is worth the effort.
Barreto said the NFL is requiring Presidents’ Day weekend as part of the Super Bowl bid, but Talbert, the Greater Miami tourism director, said the league’s language seemed to allow pursuing only two of three proposed dates. An NFL spokesman was not available for comment Friday.
While the boat show also takes place in downtown Miami, the expo’s largest event is at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Barreto envisions a Presidents’ Day Super Bowl steering clear of South Beach in favor of the Miami mainland and, perhaps, Broward. He noted that while the host committee balked at hosting a Presidents’ Day Super Bowl in past years, Miami now can offer the NFL Marlins Park and a Miami Art Museum for Super Bowl needs.
If more space is needed, organizers could set up tents outside AmericanAirlines Arena or even bring in barges to accommodate the events, Barreto said.
“The potential is wide,” Barreto said. “And by the way, having the boat show in town during Super Bowl weekend — what an incredible weekend. You give people something else to do.”
The last time the Super Bowl came to South Florida, in 2010, the media and NFL headquarters were in Broward. That was in part because the boat show was setting up in the Miami Beach Convention Center due to a quirk in the calendar that brought the events closer to each other than usual.
South Florida could reproduce that arrangement in 2016 or 2017, but a Fort Lauderdale-centered Super Bowl would touch a nerve after Broward commissioners last year voted against spending tax dollars on a Sun Life renovation. Still, the conflict gives Broward an opportunity to claim an even bigger chunk of the business, since its top hotels get almost no bookings from the Miami boat show while Miami-Dade’s beachfront hotels are booked solid.
“Broward County’s venues are available for all of three of those weekends,” Grossman said. “The difference is Broward’s experience would be a beach and oceanfront experience.”
In recent months, Super Bowl organizers approached the boat show about moving to another weekend, but so far both sides say that doesn’t seem to be a possibility.
The show, which debuted in 1941 and says it attracts roughly 90,000 visitors, does not want to share Miami with the NFL. Cathy Rick-Joule, the show’s director, said attendance will likely drop if vendors and buyers must contend with Super Bowl room rates during boat show weekend.
“It’s going to be a huge burden then. I would suspect it’s going to be a big turn-off,” she said. “A lot of our mom-and-pop [exhibitors] are a two- or three-person outfit. They can’t justify spending two or three nights in a hotel for those rates.”