Saturday, February 1, 2020

Miami Spent $20 Million Hosting This Year's Super Bowl, but at Least Taxpayers Got Free Ferris Wheel Rides

By Eric Boehm - February 01, 2020 at 12:50PM

On one hand, taxpayers in Miami-Dade County are on the hook for an estimated $20 million in costs associated with hosting this year's Super Bowl.

On the other…at least they got to ride a giant Ferris wheel for free this week.

As it does every year, the NFL's annual championship game came with plenty of expensive strings attached for this year's host city. The $20 million price tag, The Miami Herald reported this week, includes about $10 million in security and infrastructure costs related to the big game and all the other events leading up to it—including the weeklong fan extravaganza on the city's waterfront, which includes concerts, lots of NFL merchandise, and free rides on a seaside Ferris wheel within the Fox Sports compound.

Other costs are far less defensible. Like the $4 million that's going directly to the owners of the Miami Dolphins—a team that won fewer than a third of its games this year, hasn't been to the Super Bowl in more than three decades, and has serious trouble attracting fans these days. Why try to be successful when you can make that kind of money merely by owning a franchise in a city where it's warm during February? The Herald describes that payoff as a "bonus agreement negotiated with team ownership as a reward for landing the big game," even though Miami has hosted more Super Bowls than any other city. It's not exactly a hard sell.

Taxpayers are also shelling out more than $1 million to pay for hotel rooms at J.W. Marriott Marquis and Turnberry hotels for the Kansas City Chiefs' and San Francisco 49ers' players, coaches, and staff in the week leading up to the game. That's something the NFL demands of every Super Bowl host city, because why would teams owned by billionaires and full of millionaire players be expected to pay for their own lodging?

"These are basically things we have to do to get them to come," Rodney Barreto, the chairman of Miami's Super Bowl host committee, a nonprofit that handles local organizing for the event, told the Herald. "If we're not doing it, another city is."

Then maybe let another city do it.

The actual public cost of hosting the Super Bowl is likely much higher than Miami or the NFL are willing to admit. The Herald reports that the city and league both refused to turn over the so-called "bid book" that covers all the specific demands made by the NFL in exchange for bringing its championship event to Miami.

When the Super Bowl was held in Minneapolis in 2018, that year's "bid book" was leaked to local media. At more than 150 pages, the contract demanded everything from 35,000 free parking spaces within a mile of the stadium to priority snow removal in the event of a storm. Miami won't have to worry about snow on Sunday, but other demands—including free access to nearby golf courses for months in advance of the game for NFL and team officials, free access to bowling alleys and other event spaces, and free billboards for advertising—are likely still part of the deal.

In all, Minneapolis' Super Bowl contract contained almost 200 instances of the phrase "at no cost to the NFL."

Of course, the NFL has tremendous leverage when it comes to picking Super Bowl hosts, which is why the league can get away with making rock star-esque requests. And the public officials who sign those agreements don't have to use their own money to pay for the hotel rooms, security arrangements, and free rounds of golf, so they have little incentive to push back. In fact, they often benefit from getting free tickets to the game—unless they publicly rebuke the NFL, as the mayor of Glendale, Arizona, found out the hard way in 2015 when he was not given a ticket after complaining about the difficulties of hosting the event in a city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

The best thing that can be said about this year's Super Bowl is that it probably won't drive Miami into bankruptcy and doesn't include any obviously wasteful public spending outside of the cost of the event itself. Last year, you may recall, Atlanta blew $23 million on a fancy pedestrian bridge connecting its downtown football stadium to a nearby public transit hub—only to have the bridge closed on Super Bowl Sunday because it was determined by officials from the Department of Homeland Security to be a security risk.

Oh, and there's that Ferris wheel. That makes everything totally worth it, I'm sure.


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