San Francisco paying price for Super Bowl bid secrecy

Artist sketch: Minnesota Vikings
We’re only two years away from hosting a Super Bowl in Minnesota so it’s worth paying attention this year to how things are going in Santa Clara, Calif., which hosts this year’s edition.

The committee that attracted the game here gave away plenty of freebies to the NFL without the knowledge of city officials.

In time the NFL’s 153-page list of perks it demanded was leaked, astonishing many people with the demands for 35,000 free parking spaces; access to “top quality” golf courses in the summer or fall before the game; access to bowling alleys; free police escorts for NFL owners; free presidential suites at top hotels; portable cellular towers at team hotels, if cellphone signal strength isn’t acceptable; free billboards, free radio ads and free newspaper advertising leading up to the game, it was reported.

“I don’t think anybody needs free bowling alleys. Anybody who can afford to come to the Super Bowl can afford to pay for their shoes and bowling ball and lane time,” Gov. Mark Dayton told MPR News at the time.

But they got the perks because the NFL is in a different league than local politicians.

And that’s the way it’s working this year in Santa Clara, too.

In its story on how the NFL is cracking down on counterfeit tickets for the game, San Francisco’s KQED provides this little insight into the brazen way the league has pushed its weight around.

Also at the request of the NFL, the San Jose City Council passed an ordinance limiting where local vendors can sell merchandise the week leading up to the Super Bowl. It’s called a “clean zone.”

Licensed San Jose sports street vendors will not be able to sell Super Bowl swag in their usual spots.

Steve, a licensed vendor who didn’t want to give his last name, sells what he calls “gray area merchandise” a few blocks from the SAP Center, where the NFL will hold a big kickoff event before the Super Bowl. He won’t be in his usual spot come Super Bowl week because of the “clean zone,” which he says is over the top.

“I can’t sell downtown, I can’t sell at San Pedro Square. There’s a blackout zone way and above what there should be on blackout zones. They’ve got all the areas covered,” said Steve.

The NFL, on the other hand, will open a store in downtown San Jose during Super Bowl week and have NFL vendors at all the hotels where the fans are staying, said Tammy Turnipseed, events director for the city of San Jose.

The San Francisco Chronicle this week questioned whether the assurance the local business will benefit from the game is legitimate, given that many locals are being kept at an arm’s length from it.

But Kim, Avalos and Peskin say that the air of mystery around the planning has been problematic, and that they only learned the true cost of hosting the Super Bowl celebrations a few days ago after asking their own analyst to dig into it.

They also said the claims that average workers would stand to benefit aren’t proving true for everybody. The street artists who sell their wares under white awnings at the base of Market Street are being moved several blocks west on Market for the duration of Super Bowl City, and the artists say they’ll lose money because of it.

Michael X. Trachiotis, who designs T-shirts, said the NFL could pay each affected artist a small daily stipend to make up for the lost costs for less than the price of a ticket to the Super Bowl. He said he’s written to the NFL and to the mayor’s office and has received no replies.

“No one will step forward to take responsibility or accountability for what they’ve done to the street artists,” he said.

Only a few of the events surrounding this year’s Super Bowl will be held in nearby San Francisco. But, the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik reports today, the city is on the hook for nearly $5 million in public services leading up to the game.

A city analyst in San Francisco is complaining that it was all done in secret.

The report prompted three supervisors to draft an emergency resolution requiring the city to recoup the money from the NFL or the Super Bowl 50 host committee, but it may be too late. That’s because there is no written agreement between the city and the league or host committee requiring reimbursement.

Indeed, in bidding to host the pre-game parties, the city committed to not ask for repayment of its fire, police or emergency services. In doing so, Campbell observed, San Francisco proved to be dumber than Santa Clara, which extracted an agreement from the host committee requiring reimbursement for all city expenses connected with the game, including police, fire and emergency services, a bill that’s expected to reach $3.6 million.

The issue with the costs to San Francisco isn’t merely the size of the bill. The $4.8 million in costs is a minuscule proportion of the city’s $8.9-billion budget. But the city is already facing a budget deficit of $100 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, and a projected shortfall of $240 million for the year after that. Mayor Ed Lee has ordered city departments to cut costs by 3% over the next two years.

Then there’s the thought of being taken for a ride by the NFL, which collects $10 billion in revenue a year, making it a larger economic entity than the city itself. “Santa Clara got the Super Bowl, and San Francisco’s getting the traffic and gridlock,” Supervisor Jane Kim told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Of course, this is typical of the NFL’s relationship with communities that it pretends to be playing for partners but really plays for suckers. The league banks on municipalities bending over backward to grab a bit of reflected glory from its events, especially the big annual championship game.

The Super Bowl Bid Committee in Minnesota has not released the details of what it gave away to the NFL. They say state law allows it to keep it a secret until after the game is played.

By the way, here’s the contract, signed in 2011, for last year’s Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Officials there, released the contracts before the game was played, including this one with the city of Scottsdale.