- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | The sagging economy has put a hit on plans for this year’s Super Bowl, not that visitors here for the game and hundreds of millions watching on TV will be able to tell the difference.

America’s festival of football will still roll for the TV cameras with its over-the-top glitz. Yet there are signs - fewer and smaller parties, maybe not quite so many reporters and traveling fans - that the overall shine will be a little less bright.

The game will still be sold-out. The town will be crawling with party-hopping celebrities. Hotels will be busy, fans wearing Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals garb will be ubiquitous on the streets and hundreds of media members will descend to cover the event, which will still likely be the nation’s most-watched TV broadcast this year.

The impact of the nation’s economic woes on the event are more subtle.

The Super Bowl Host Committee had to lower its fundraising goal by $1 million. Corporations sponsoring the game are sending fewer bigwigs to town. A couple of the big Super Bowl parties and other events were bagged, others are downsizing and some media companies - especially hard-hit by the downturn and the changing habits of consumers - are sending fewer scribes to the game.

“No one is immune from the economy - not the NFL, not the host committee for the Super Bowl,” said Reid Sigmon, the host committee’s executive director.

The committee lowered its local fundraising expectation from $8 million to $7 million after sponsorships lagged, but it will still meet its financial obligations to the NFL, Sigmon said. The committee started early and got a lot of the money raised before the economy took a hard turn in late summer, he said.

The auditing firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers predicted the economy would be an influence on game week, resulting in “fewer visitors and media, a shorter average length-of-stay per visitor and less spending in the hospitality and related industries throughout the Tampa Bay area.”

The projected $150 million in direct spending tied to the game will be about 20 percent off what it would have been if the economy were stronger, the company said Wednesday. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league tried not to spare any expense for this year’s event, adding that “we’re bullish on the Super Bowl and what it means to America.”

If the NFL’s private sponsors’ party seems smaller this year, it’s simply because some sponsors are sending fewer people to the game, which the league sees as its pinnacle event, McCarthy said. As an “acknowledgment of what our fans are going through,” a block of 1,000 game tickets were offered for $500 each - $300 less than the face value of most game tickets, he said.

Tourism officials said it’s still too early to tell how well Steelers and Cardinals fans will travel and whether the area’s more than 50,000 hotel rooms will fill up. Tampa Bay & Company, the area’s tourism bureau, is reaching out to media outlets in the Pittsburgh and Phoenix areas to drum up business.

“We’re still expecting 100,000 fans in Tampa Bay,” bureau spokesman Travis Claytor said, citing the estimated number of visitors expected for a typical Super Bowl.

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