Inside Atlanta’s Super Bowl bid: NFL sought, got a lot

Updated June 03, 2016

Atlanta’s bid committee agreed to a lengthy and pricey list of NFL requirements — and tacked on a few other things the league didn’t request — in securing the 2019 Super Bowl for the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained hundreds of pages of bid documents that provide a rare window into the complex and costly competition to host the nation’s biggest sporting event. Atlanta was named the site of the February 2019 game in a vote by NFL owners late last month.

The documents, obtained through an open-records request, demonstrate the NFL’s aggressive demands for potential Super Bowl host cities and the league’s expectation that the cities will comply to get the game. For Super Bowl LIII here, public and private money will be used to provide the following, and much more, to the NFL at no charge:

Those were among many NFL “specifications” sought from all cities bidding to host the Super Bowl and accepted in the Atlanta bid.

Another key requirement, also accepted in the Atlanta bid, was that the league will retain all revenue from ticket sales. Even the host committee will have to buy its tickets — up to 750 of them — at face value.

In addition to meeting almost all of the league’s specifications, occasionally with slight revisions, Atlanta’s bid added a short list of “enhancements” — sweeteners intended to make the bid stand out from others.

The enhancements included a $2 million contribution for use toward certain NFL expenses related to the game; a possible $1 million contribution to “complement” state and city efforts in the event of inclement weather; a party for 2,000 media members at a cost of $375,000; and a pledge to provide NFL owners with “VIP private airport accommodations.”

The total value of the Atlanta bid, as previously reported, is $46 million.

Of that amount, $20 million will come from donations that have been pledged by two dozen Atlanta businesses and $16 million from a portion of the Atlanta hotel-motel tax that is designated for major events. The other $10 million is the estimated value to the NFL of a sales-tax exemption on Super Bowl tickets passed by the Georgia Legislature this year.

In addition to the sales-tax exemption, Atlanta’s bid agreed to an NFL requirement that the host committee reimburse the league and its teams for any other state or local taxes they pay in connection with the Super Bowl here. The bid estimates that reimbursement will total $2 million.

Among the documents obtained by the AJC are an outline and an early draft of remarks prepared for presentation to the NFL owners by the co-chairmen of the Atlanta bid committee, Equifax CEO Rick Smith and United Distributors CEO Doug Hertz. They addressed the owners behind closed doors May 24.

According to their prepared remarks, they spoke about the financial backing the “fully funded” bid had received from the city, state and businesses; the public funding of three Falcons stadiums over the past half-century, including the new stadium slated to open next year; and the close proximity of various downtown attractions and hotels to the stadium.

About 90 minutes after the presentation, the owners voted by secret ballots. Miami and Tampa were eliminated on the second ballot, leaving Atlanta vs. New Orleans for the 2019 Super Bowl. After neither got the required 75 percent on the third ballot, Atlanta prevailed by a simple majority on the fourth. The vote count wasn’t disclosed, an effort to minimize hard feelings among owners.

The Atlanta committee, which includes representatives of the Atlanta Sports Council, the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Falcons, has said the effort and expense behind the bid are more than justified by the economic benefits of hosting the Super Bowl.

“There’s probably not any single event that has the economic impact on a city or on a region as the Super Bowl does,” Hertz said.

While the owners have tended in the past decade to award Super Bowls to new stadiums — all five NFL stadiums that have opened since 2006 have hosted the big game — the league pushes cities throughout the bid process to make their best proposals in a competitive environment. That was evident in the Atlanta bid documents.

The bid covered a wide range of issues, including public safety, security, transportation, stadium operations, insurance, decor, promotion, hotel commitments, practice sites, ancillary events, parking and even 16 pages on winter-weather preparations.

“Both the City and State have made substantial investments over the past few years in emergency preparedness, winter response coordination and road-treatment capabilities,” the bid documents state. The 2000 Super Bowl here was marred by an ice storm.

The bid that landed the 2019 game proposes Centennial Olympic Park as the site of “Super Bowl Village,” potentially featuring concerts, fireworks and “as the main attraction hot air balloon rides on Super Bowl branded tethered balloons.” The bid proposes the Georgia World Congress Center as the site of the “NFL Experience,” an indoor interactive theme park.

The documents show the seating capacity of Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Super Bowl will be 75,324, including nine rows of temporary seats added at the top of the upper bowl along the sidelines and behind one end zone.