As Super Bowl Week Begins, Even the NFL Is Feeling the Pinch of Economic Uncertainty

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Super Bowl buildup, traditionally a week-long round of parties and corporate opulence in the host city, could have a different feel this year.

Next Sunday's game between the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers in Tampa will be played against the backdrop of the national economic crisis, with the leaders of the National Football League still unsure about how deeply the country's financial woes will affect a sport that for decades has been a benchmark for popularity and prosperity.

"I still don't think we have a complete answer," New York Giants owner John Mara said. "Obviously, a number of teams have taken steps to control their costs. A number of teams have made decisions about ticket prices. But we still don't know what the total picture is, and I don't think we will for some time."

Playboy and Sports Illustrated announced in recent weeks that they would not be holding their annual Super Bowl parties. A celebrity golf tournament and party that was to be hosted by Tampa Bay Buccaneers players Warrick Dunn and Derrick Brooks was canceled because of a lack of sponsors, according to local media reports in Tampa. A few talent agencies also scrapped their party plans. Other big corporate parties, including the highly celebrated bash by Maxim magazine, are still on.

Visitors to the Tampa area this week are projected to spend upward of $150 million, a sizable sum but about 20 percent less than they would have spent under a healthier economy, according to a report by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Visitors will have shorter stays and will spend less in the hospitality industry and related businesses, the report said. The host committee has lowered its private fundraising goal from $8 million to $7 million.

"No one is immune, not the NFL or the Super Bowl or the host committee," Reid Sigmon, the executive director of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee, said in a telephone interview.

Just how much different Super Bowl week will look and feel remains to be seen, however. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that while the league wants to retain the excitement surrounding pro football's annual championship game, it recognizes it must guard against too much showmanship at a time of economic hardship.

"I think the word I would use is extravagant," Goodell said in a telephone interview Friday. "You don't want that. We understand that. That's not what the NFL is about. But we do want the event to be exciting."

Sigmon said the host committee has not revised its estimate that 100,000 people will visit the Tampa area this week. "We still expect our hotels to be full," Sigmon said. "We still expect our restaurants to be full. We will fulfill all of our obligations to the league and to the community."

NBC, which has set a top asking price of a record $3 million per 30-second advertisement during the game, still had not sold 10 percent of its available spots as of the middle of last week. Last year's game drew 97.5 million viewers, the second-largest television audience ever, behind the final episode of "M*A*S*H." The nine most-viewed TV shows since 2000 are Super Bowls.

According to the NFL, the number of media organizations with Super Bowl credentials is actually up, due in large part to Internet media companies, the international press and a large local contingent in the Tampa area. However, others say they expect most newspapers to send smaller-than-usual contingents.

The NFL, which reduced its average ticket price for this season's playoffs by about 10 percent, cut prices for a limited number of tickets to the Super Bowl, reducing the prices for 1,000 tickets by $200 apiece, to $500 each. All 72,500 seats at Raymond James Stadium have been sold, with approximately one-quarter of the tickets priced at a record $1,000 apiece. Most of the tickets were priced at $800.

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