Super Bowl Might Prove to be Not-So-Super for New Jersey

Tara Nurin | January 21, 2014 | More Issues
As NFL marketing skews toward NYC, economic benefit to the Garden State may be much less than promised $600 million

metlife stadium
For all the hype over the Super Bowl kicking off its New Jersey debut on Feb. 2, some elected North Jersey officials are accusing the National Football League (NFL) of treating them more like losers than winners.

Though the biggest football matchup of the year will take place at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, advertisers and sports networks regularly trumpet a “New York” game, and marketing representatives from the Manhattan-based NFL formally place it in “New York/New Jersey.”

Adding insult to injury for local leaders is the fact that more than 100 state departments have spent two years of their own time and expense to work with federal, county and municipal agencies to plan and provide services like security (including approximately 500 state troopers on Super Bowl Sunday), traffic control and transportation, but the NFL is making it difficult for local businesses to reap financial returns or public relations benefits.

Plus, as is customary, the league won’t allow unapproved use of the “Super Bowl” name, meaning that neither bars hosting parties nor municipalities throwing tailgating festivals can promote their events by calling them what they are: Super Bowl parties.

There’s also talk that an anticipated $600 million in economic benefits may not materialize.

Is New Jersey Getting Enough Respect?

East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella is one elected official who’s outspoken in his complaints that “New Jersey isn’t getting the respect it should.”

“The one thing we have over New York City is that we have the Super Bowl and they don’t,” he said during a lengthy phone interview with NJ Spotlight. “But (look at) the TV commercials, look at all the banners up in New York City.

There’s nothing that even hints that we have it here in New Jersey.”

Indeed, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed to turn Broadway into the NFL-sanctioned “Super Bowl Boulevard” for four days leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, while East Rutherford has to sponsor its own party in a park half a mile from the stadium. In accordance with NFL legal department rules (which don’t technically allow non-licensed entities like reporters, sports bars and beer brands to use the term “Super Bowl”), the East Rutherford party is to be called the “Meadowlands Tailgate Party.” And Cassella says promised promotional banners that advertise the “Super Bowl” never arrived from the league.

“I take a little offense to that,” he said at a press conference last Monday. “In fact, I signed off on allowing them to put banners here in East Rutherford … along the highways. But I’ve never seen anything.”

Jersey City Councilman Richard Boggiano told a newspaper reporter Monday — after the City Council discussed temporarily changing the name of Christopher Columbus Drive to “Super Bowl Drive” — that he, too, feels NFL officials should do more to share the glory of the game.

“Everything is New York, New York, New York – it’s disgusting,” he said. “The teams are staying in Jersey City and festivities are in Jersey City. It should be publicized.”

On Thursday, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy countered that the league accepted a joint bid from representatives of both states, not New Jersey alone. He also pointed out that the NFL is hosting Media Day in Newark, pre-game tailgating at the Meadowlands Racetrack and NFL on Location concierge service out of the Izod Center.

The NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee — the community-affairs arm of the Super Bowl supported by the league, MetLife Stadium, the New York Giants and the New York Jets — is hosting the free Super Bowl Kickoff Spectacular concert and fireworks show in Liberty State Park featuring top musical stars on the Monday night before the game. The host committee has also worked with the NFL Foundation and Gov. Chris Christie to contribute to local charities working on Hurricane Sandy recovery, as well as to organize blood drives and create programs to connect local minority- and women-owned businesses to Super Bowl-related opportunities.

Local Businesses Get Short Shrift

But Cassella expressed indignation over the fact that many of North Jersey’s businesses might get cut out of the action. Despite the host committee floating regional economic impact projections as high as $600 million and studies of previous games touting the creation of well over 5,000 temporary (hourly) stadium and construction jobs, he’s disappointed with security regulations that forbid ticket holders to walk into the stadium complex or get dropped off.

What does this mean? To Cassella, two things: While ticket holders leaving from New York can hop on a subway at Penn Station, transfer onto secure NJ Transit trains at Secaucus, and end up right inside the stadium complex, North Jersey residents have to drive or somehow get to Secaucus station, and taxi drivers and bar owners — who normally charge fans to ride shuttles from their parking lots to Giants and Jets games — have to call off their plans.

And although hotels typically triple or quadruple their rates and still sell out for miles around, College of the Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson points out that money doesn’t usually stay in the community.

“The desk clerks and housekeepers aren’t seeing their wages tripled and quadrupled,” he said. “The money that’s coming in … goes back to corporate headquarters and shareholders around the world.”

Matheson is among a group of university academics who’ve studied the economics of Super Bowls over time and concluded that boosters almost always inflate the economic windfall to a host region.

While he acknowledges that too many variables make it impossible to predict with any accuracy the amount of money the big game will bring in, he’s found that communities should expect to ring up only a quarter of what they’re told to expect. Traditionally, he says, boosters dangle numbers in the $300 million to $400 million range. But after the camera lights snap off, business owners and political leaders are left counting receipts that typically add up to $30 million to $120 million.

“Nothing you would turn down,” he said, “but a fraction of the numbers we’re seeing thrown around.”

For Super Bowl 48, the most commonly cited financial figures hover between $550 million and $600 million in gross revenues for the Greater New York City metropolitan area. But even if those numbers do prove accurate or close to it, Matheson notes that within the context of a trillion-dollar economy, $600 million amounts to less than one-10th of 1 percent of the region’s output for the year.

“Trying to find any economic impact from the Super Bowl is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.

But as the NFL’s McCarthy noted, “The economic impact becomes obvious when we hear from convention and visitors bureaus that are informed by hotels, restaurants, and the travel industry about the influx of visitors.”

What taxpayers spend to host the Super Bowl

According to Cassella, the NFL takes a dour attitude toward sharing any of the public cost burden to stage what the league calls the biggest single-day event in the world: “We don’t give you any money,” he mimicked. “You should be honored the games are here.”

The amount of time and money spent to ensure a safe and successful series of events that will potentially draw 400,000 revelers, including 150,000 from out-of-town, is literally incalculable, even after the fact. When asked how many state agencies are involved in developing strategy and executing plans for the game and the two weeks leading up to it, New Jersey Sports and Expo Authority Executive Vice President and COO Jim Minnish quipped, “All of them.”

It’s not too far from the truth. Capt. Stephen Jones of the N.J. State Police, who are handling lead law- enforcement duties, said, “There’s no ‘local only’ and there’s no ‘state only.’ Everything has to be done as a team.”

By “team” he’s referring to more than 100 different public agencies, from the local to the federal level — including the Homeland Security Department, the Federal Aviation Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard – working together to protect land, sky and seas. State police will send 500 troopers to the streets on the day of the game.

“To the largest extent possible the state troopers working the Super Bowl will be working on their regular scheduled shifts – just in different locations,” he said.

The same can be said for employees at dozens of other departments whose bosses have tried not to let them accrue too much overtime as they’ve spent the past two years working out logistics.

But the planning – and the inevitable expense – has been intense. Off the top of his head, Minnish can tick off half a dozen state agencies that have been and will continue to be intimately involved: the state Department of Transportation and the Turnpike Authority, for signage and snow removal;, the state Department of Health, for licensing and inspecting food vendors at events; the Department of Community Affairs, for granting approvals and conducting code and fire inspections of any needed construction, including massive party tents for concerts, tailgates and parking lot activities; the Department of Environmental Protection, for overseeing the concert at Liberty State Park; and NJ Transit, for providing extra rail and bus service.

“We’re expecting to carry more people by trains, buses and light rail,” said NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder. “The NJ Transit police department is working with other law-enforcement partners at the municipal, county, state and federal levels.”

At the municipal level, East Rutherford’s police and fire brass have stretched their job responsibilities so much that they’ve attended the last two Super Bowls. Cassella is hoping to recoup some of his costs through the 3 percent municipal hotel tax.

But for all the budgeting and calculating and seemingly endless run of meetings and public conferences and conversations with reporters that Cassella has had to negotiate over the past two years, as the time of kickoff draws near, the mayor of East Rutherford is still missing one thing: a ticket to the game.