But it’s not just the region’s reputation on the line.
By waiving the normal Super Bowl specifications to grease New York’s winning bid in 2010 — previously, bid cities were required to average 50-degree temperatures during game week — Goodell and his owners are out to prove the proposition Frank Sinatra laid out in “New York, New York.” Namely, that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Since taking over as commissioner in 2006, Goodell has made securing new stadiums or renovating existing ones for his already wealthy owners — almost always with some level of taxpayer-financing — every bit as much a signature issue as player safety. It’s no coincidence that all five of the stadiums that have, or will, come online during his tenure have already been awarded the big game.
Nor is Goodell above dangling the carrot of a future Super Bowl as a reward to cities and states willing to throw tax dollars into stadium pots. With 19 of the league’s 32 teams situated within winter’s reach — six already have domed stadiums — a successful Super Bowl outdoors could put the entire U.S. map in play for his pitch.
New York might seem like a tough place to set a precedent. It’s already a nexus for many of the world’s financial, entertainment and media empires, and chaotic on its quietest day. Just rising above that clutter is no small feat. And even if the NFL does a bang-up job, it won’t turn around and ask the region’s taxpayers for help anytime soon. MetLife Stadium opened for business in April, 2010, with the $1.6 billion construction cost covered jointly by the co-tenants, New York’s Giants and Jets, using private funds.
“The other thing that’s important,” said Giants co-owner John Mara, the third generation of his family to run the club, “is that all of us, across the NFL for many years, said over and over that so many of the most memorable games ever played were played in extreme weather.
“So why not here?”
The coldest Super Bowl on record was played in Tulane University’s stadium in 1972 — temperature at kickoff: 39 degrees — back when the big game was still a small event. More relevant in this case were the 2000 and 2011 Super Bowls, when late-arriving storms turned Atlanta and Dallas, respectively, into ghost towns. Though both games were played in domes, much of Atlanta was frozen over and inaccessible; Dallas did a face-plant in the four inches of snow that fell early in the week, mostly shutting down instead of shoveling out.
At the moment, the NFL is one of the slickest, best-run conglomerates on the planet. It has the kind of monopolistic hold on American sports that Microsoft once exercised over technology. The league takes the lion’s share of sports-related TV dollars, ad revenues and airtime, and routinely crushes rivals in head-to-head, time-slot matchups. That’s why the date of the Super Bowl has creeped from its traditional Sunday spot late in January to the first week of February, which just happens to be the start of sweeps month.
Next year’s big game will be viewed by 100 million-plus people in the United States, and depending on whose numbers are crunched, it’s already the most-watched annual sporting event around the world. Only the Olympics and the original futbol — with its World Cup and UEFA Champions League final showcases — can offer an argument. So no matter how many fannies are frozen off inside MetLife, the fans are essentially extras in a show practically guaranteed to be a hit.
Last year’s Super Bowl, matching Baltimore against San Francisco inside New Orleans’ Superdome, joined nearly two dozen of its predecessors on the short list of most-viewed television broadcasts in U.S. history. That despite a 34-minute stretch early in the third quarter when an electrical failure cut the lights over much of the stadium, delaying the game and sending fans at home scurrying to their refrigerators.
No one was surprised those fans returned in droves soon after to watch a game that wasn’t decided for the Ravens until the final play. But it mystified some, and outraged others, that the power went out in a building to which taxpayers have contributed, in installments over the years, about $1 billion to build and then renovate after Hurricane Katrina swept through in 2005.
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who retired after that game, and his old sidekick, Terrell Suggs, came up with a conspiracy theory of their own. Both pointed a finger at Goodell, suggesting without so much as a shred of evidence that he threw the switch so the 49ers could climb back into the game.
“You’re a zillion-dollar company, and your lights go out? No,” Lewis said. “No way.”
Apparently, he won’t have to worry about that this time around, no matter how cold it gets.