New stadium lures 2019 Super Bowl to Atlanta

The Super Bowl is headed back to Atlanta after a vote Tuesday by NFL owners to play the nation’s No. 1 sporting event in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in February 2019.

It will be the third Super Bowl played in Atlanta and the first since 2000.

The NFL owners, meeting at a posh Charlotte hotel, needed four ballots to award the game to Atlanta over three other bidders. Miami and Tampa were eliminated on the second ballot, leaving Atlanta vs. New Orleans. After neither got the required 75 percent on the third ballot, Atlanta prevailed with a simple majority on the fourth.

“I’m thrilled for Atlanta, thrilled for our bid team, thrilled for all the political leaders who have supported us along the way with a difficult (stadium) project in downtown Atlanta,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said.

Several members of Atlanta’s bid committee said they provided the NFL with a “fully funded” bid that budgets the local cost of hosting Super Bowl LIII at $46 million.

Of that total, according to the committee members, $20 million will come from pledged donations by two dozen Atlanta businesses; $16 million from a portion of the Atlanta hotel-motel tax designated for major events; and $10 million from a sales-tax exemption on Super Bowl tickets passed by the Georgia Legislature this year.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium — slated to open next year — is now 3-for-3 in bids for marquee events, having previously been awarded college football’s national championship game in January 2018 and college basketball’s Final Four in April 2020.

The NFL’s decision capped a year-long effort by the bid committee and the Falcons to land the mega-event for the retractable-roof stadium. The decision also marked a reversal of NFL votes from a decade ago that rejected Atlanta bids for the 2009 and 2010 Super Bowls.

“I think the difference this time is that we have a new stadium with a significant public-private partnership,” Blank said.

Some $200 million from bonds backed by Atlanta hotel-motel tax revenue is going toward construction of the stadium, and hundreds of millions of additional dollars from the same tax will go toward costs of financing, operating and maintaining the stadium over 30 years.

“We’ve got close to $700 million in public money, if you look at the net present value of the stream over a long period of time,” Blank said. “(There is also a) huge private commitment, $850 million.

“So I think that’s a big part of it. I also think downtown Atlanta is very unique (and) the stadium itself is very unique. I think it sends the right message to many cities in terms of public-private partnerships.”

Atlanta’s bid was presented to the NFL owners by the CEOs of two Atlanta-based companies, Rick Smith of credit-information firm Equifax and Doug Hertz of alcoholic-beverages wholesaler United Distributors.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Hertz said of the four-ballot vote. “You hope you win on the first vote and think you deserve to, but there are three other cities that thought they should win, too, I’m sure.”

“Utter joy,” Smith said of the victory.

The vote count wasn’t disclosed.

Atlanta Sports Council executive director Dan Corso, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau president William Pate and Georgia World Congress Center Authority chief commercial officer Carl Adkins also represented the city’s bid at Tuesday’s meeting.

The presentation included a video narrated by former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.

“I think his words carried a lot of weight, a lot of history, a lot of tradition and a lot of future hopes for our city,” Blank said.

The bid, entitled “Atlanta Transformed,” emphasized the close proximity of the new stadium to other downtown attractions that didn’t exist when the Super Bowl was played at the Georgia Dome in 1994 and 2000.

Falcons president Rich McKay said he felt a sense of “relief” at the outcome.

“One of the reasons you build stadiums and one of the reasons that we built the successor to the Georgia Dome is to continue to get the big events and to be able to deliver the economic impact to the community that you kind of promise when you go to the city council and the legislature,” McKay said.

“Yeah, I was nervous. And going to the fourth ballot, I was even more nervous. But it’s a really good result for Atlanta.”

The Metro Atlanta Chamber estimated the region will get approximately $400 million in economic impact from the game. That is roughly in line with estimates made by other recent Super Bowl hosts, but such projections are hotly debated and often rejected as too high by independent economists.

Surprisingly, Atlanta bid committee members said they got no questions from NFL owners Tuesday about the ice storm that paralyzed the city during Super Bowl week in 2000. Many owners had cited that issue when voting against Atlanta for the 2009 and 2010 games.

“I think it’s a thing of the past,” Smith said of the NFL’s weather worries.

Or at least it’s a worry the league is willing to overlook for new stadiums.

All five NFL stadiums that have opened since 2006 have already hosted a Super Bowl. Minnesota’s new stadium, opening this year, was awarded the 2018 Super Bowl two years ago.

Immediately after awarding the 2019 game to Atlanta, the owners awarded the 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls to Miami and Los Angeles, respectively. The exact dates for the three games haven’t been finalized.

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