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Tampa Bay's warmth lures '09 Super Bowl

The area's winter sunshine and a fun-filled package of hospitality helps sway NFL owners away from Atlanta.

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
Published May 26, 2005

WASHINGTON - Wearing snappy suits and anxious looks, Tampa Bay community leaders leapt from their chairs, whooped, hugged and pumped their fists. It was as if they had just won the Super Bowl.

And they had. In an upset.

Tampa Bay was awarded Super Bowl XLIII by a vote of NFL owners Wednesday at the league's spring meeting, narrowly beating out Atlanta with temptations of roller-coaster rides, golf courses and sunshine.

Lots of sunshine.

The game in early February 2009 will mark the fourth Super Bowl in Tampa, which also hosted in 1984, 1991 and 2001.

"We put together an unprecedented bid," Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman said. "I've pitched four of them and I've seen them all. This was the best."

Many considered Atlanta the front-runner among four competing sites, including Houston and South Florida. The Atlanta bid included a $150-million renovation of the Georgia Dome.

But Tampa Bay offered a first-rate facility in Raymond James Stadium and enticements such as a party for league owners and personnel at Busch Gardens the night before the game. Each owner will receive 150 tickets.

Ultimately, owners were swayed by the promise of warm weather. The last time Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl in 2000, an ice storm spoiled festivities.

"Everybody understands that Tampa has great weather in early February and that's why they won't give us one in Denver," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said. "Tampa has put on a couple of Super Bowls that have been pretty good. It's a nice place to be."

Popular Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who lobbied actively, denied being the favorite but was clearly dejected.

"I don't know that I was shocked," Blank said. "When people come for a Super Bowl, they're there for about a week and a half with the NFL Experience, certainly five or six days, and so the weather is certainly a factor."

Getting the 2009 game was critical because it might be several years before the Super Bowl is available again, according to Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau president Paul Catoe. With new stadiums expected in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles, the league's habit of rewarding cities with new facilities indicates the Super Bowl could be sewed up until 2013.

"The conventional wisdom that was shared with me all along was that, really, Atlanta had the edge and we needed to go in there and give it our best," Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said.

"We promised the NFL we would make 2009 a first-class Super Bowl that they would be proud of and that every sports fan in America would be proud of. That's what we pledged and that's exactly what we'll do."

Though estimates vary, the economic impact of hosting a Super Bowl could be as much as $350-million.

"It's an absolute major windfall of business for us," said John Marks, general manager of the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa. "This is nothing short of terrific."

During the 2001 Super Bowl, the hotel was fully booked at a time of year that's typically slow.

"The whole mood of the community is just really very positive during that time," Marks said.

Tampa Bay spiced up its bid Tuesday with an additional $1-million, including $759,000 for tending the NFL Experience, bringing the bid total to about $11-million. But Catoe believed the strength of the bid was the fun-filled enhancement package.

"At my age, this is my Super Bowl," said Catoe, 61. "This is great. This is wonderful. This ranks right up there with childbirth."

Dick Beard, Tampa Bay's task force chair, credited the behind-the-scenes work of Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer and sons Bryan and Joel, who called each of the NFL's other 31 owners personally during the past two weeks to campaign for Tampa Bay.

"It's such a wonderful community and wonderful weather, what a combination," Malcolm Glazer said. "We love the people. We love the area."

The Tampa Bay group was the last to make its 15-minute presentation to owners and liked hitting cleanup in the four-city lineup. The presentation team of Beard, Iorio and Norman felt good about its effort, and emerged from the room smiling as remaining delegation members applauded.

Then, the long wait.

The 14-member delegation spent more than an hour in a private dining room of the Ritz Carlton hotel drinking coffee and drumming their armchairs while awaiting word on a project five months in the making.

An hourlong discussion among owners followed the presentations, during which time Bryan Glazer lobbied for the city. Glazer kept it brief, highlighting the enhancement package, the weather and plans to treat the owners right.

The tightly contested vote required four ballots to pick a winner, with Houston eliminated in the first and South Florida in the second. Houston hosted the 2004 game and Miami will host in 2007, and owners were reluctant to award the game to either so soon again.

When neither Tampa Bay nor Atlanta received the required three-fourths vote among the 32 owners in the third round, the final head-to-head vote was decided by simple majority. The tally was not disclosed.

"The voting process with so many ballots, you're getting nervous," said Bryan Glazer, who skipped dinner at a fancy Washington restaurant Tuesday night to help the presentation team rehearse over a hamburger and fries from room service.

"But we left everything on the table. The community put an amazing bid together that could not be beat. We worked behind the scenes to talk to the owners and they were all very impressed with the bid package. You're just sweating it out."

When Tampa Bay was awarded the 2001 Super Bowl, it had the leverage of a new stadium. This time, the victory was based entirely on merit.

"Our community, we competed," Norman said. "There was no stadium out there. More than that, we were going against a community with a popular owner putting up $150-million. We competed. This was a big nod from the league for us. To win this is incredible."

Times staff writers Janet Zink and Kevin Graham contributed to this report.

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