|St. Petersburg Times, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 6, 2005 - TAMPA -- When the Super Bowl first came to Tampa in 1984, hotel rooms were so scarce that thousands of local residents offered to lease their homes to make up the difference.
Tampa has since become one of the National Football League's favorite hosts, and two weeks ago won its fourth Super Bowl, the 2009 game.
Still, rooms remain hard to find. And heading into NFL spring meetings in Washington, many people discounted Tampa because of the hospitality handicap.
But members of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee, which included Mayor Pam Iorio and chairman Dick Beard, persuaded the NFL not to worry: Tampa Bay had the necessary number of rooms, they said.
"Where we lack in inventory, we make up ground in variety," said Norwood Smith, the vice president of sales for the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. "A room in Tampa Bay can overlook a golf course, a beach, or the downtown."
That Tampa beat out Houston, Miami and Atlanta was a neat sleight of hand. An examination of Tampa's bid reveals the city doesn't meet the hotel standards the NFL says it requires of hosts.
"It's a smaller city, and people have to stay in Orlando and these other places, and they don't have the facilities," Houston Texans owner Bob McNair told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The stadium is fine, and the weather is fine, but that's it."
So why did Tampa get the Super Bowl again?
"I have no explanation."
For the NFL, memories are still fresh of January's Super Bowl in Jacksonville, where thousands of fans crammed into five cruise ships docked along the St. Johns River because of the lack of downtown hotels. Thousands more ventured north of the Georgia line or stayed as far away as Orlando.
"It's my hometown, and they did as good as they could do with what they had," said William Talbert, the president and CEO of the Miami Visitors & Convention Bureau. "But the Super Bowl won't go back to Jacksonville."
According to an NFL document that was sent to all of the cities seeking to host the 2009 game, there had to be 19,000 hotel rooms in full-service hotels located within an hour's drive of the football stadium in "peak traffic." These rooms were for NFL-related groups to use.
Tampa Bay's task force provided the NFL with a list of 19,000 rooms. Karen Brand, vice president of marketing for the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that list quelled concerns about the area's hotel inventory.
Yet it hardly satisfied the league's requirements.
Only about 12,000 of the hotel rooms were in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The rest, 7,368, came from a dozen Orlando and Kissimmee hotels. According to the American Automobile Association, they're at least 75 minutes away from Raymond James Stadium, exceeding the NFL limit by 15 minutes. Normal rush hours add up to 25 minutes to the 75-minute trip, said Joan Myers, a department manager with AAA.
For an event like the Super Bowl, it would take even longer. "Travel time could easily be doubled," Myers said.
The NFL called for another 24,675 "quality" hotel rooms within an hour's drive of the stadium for the general public. So the NFL required Tampa to provide a total of 43,000 quality hotel rooms within an hour of the stadium.
But Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have only 39,111 hotel rooms in all, according to industry tracker Smith Travel Research, and that includes hotels like Econo Lodges and Red Roof Inns that don't provide full service, such as a restaurant.
Brand said Smith Travel Research doesn't count all hotels. The task force estimated there were 50,000 hotel rooms in the two counties.
"Super Bowl people are looking for a concentration of high quality hotels," said Peter Keim, a vice president at the PKF Hospitality Group in Atlanta. "Your high rollers and corporate spenders aren't going to stay in Hampton Inns or Holiday Inn Expresses. They want to go to the Hyatts, the Ritz-Carltons, places like that. That's what Tampa needs if it wants to avoid sending all of its guests to Sarasota and Orlando and wherever else."
Houston, by comparison, has 46,450 hotel rooms just in the city, including a city-built 1,200-room Hilton hurting for business. Since Miami last hosted the Super Bowl in 1999, more than 50 hotels have opened in Miami-Dade County, which has a total of 50,000 hotel rooms, Talbert said.
Atlanta has 92,000 hotel rooms, according to the Ernst & Young Hospitality Advisory Group, capped with a half-dozen "super tankers" -- hotels of 1,000 rooms or more within walking distance of the football stadium.
"Each community has different positives," said Michael Kelly, who has served as executive director for Super Bowl task forces in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville. "One of Tampa's struggles to overcome has always been: Are there enough rooms?"
The opening of the 250-room Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in March 2004, the 717-room Marriott Waterside in Channelside in 2000; the construction of a new Embassy Suites across from the Tampa Convention Center; and two Westins, a Hyatt and a Hilton in the pipeline in the bay area have industry insiders buzzing about a small hotel-construction boom in Tampa.
But while much was made of Iorio's pledge that 7,000 new downtown hotel rooms will be built by 2009, the NFL didn't consider that in making its decision, Karen Brand said.
League officials don't count hotel rooms that are planned or haven't been built yet, Brand said. They consider only the ones that have already been constructed.
When it comes to picking Super Bowl sites, hotels appear to be just one of many factors that can clinch it for a city.
Tampa's host committee agreed at the last minute to pick up more than $700,000 in costs for NFL parties. The weather, entertainment options and the local team owner's relationship to the other owners also play a role. And the Glazers are well regarded by the league.
"The league makes a political decision based on the owner they have a relationship with," Talbert said. "If you build a new stadium, like Detroit and Houston did, you're going to get a Super Bowl."
Another key factor is the timing.
For instance, it wasn't likely that the NFL was to pick Miami so soon after hosting the 2007 game. Also, Houston, where Janet Jackson had her wardrobe malfunction, hosted it in 2004.
So Atlanta, which hosted in 2000, was next in line, ahead of Tampa, which last hosted in 2001.
That's why many were surprised when Tampa leapfrogged over Atlanta. The ice storms that bedeviled Atlanta in 2000 appeared to have penalized that city more than Tampa's shortage of rooms.
"Listen, the NFL would not have gone to Tampa again if it didn't have the inventory and the quality inventory," said Scott Berman, a partner in the hospitality and leisure consulting practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Miami.
Visitors just need to gear up for long commutes, he said.
"I hope all the lanes of (Interstate 4) are open."
By Aaron Sharockman and Michael Van Sickler
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