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Oakland Tribune, January 26, 2003

Lack of unity doomed Oakland's only bid to host Super Bowl
Landing NFL's marquee event would take concerted effort from entire region

By Alec Rosenberg - BUSINESS WRITER

THE OAKLAND Raiders' return to the Super Bowl today is a glorious moment for the team, a thrill for fans and a pride booster for the community.

But the biggest financial boon is for San Diego, this year's Super Bowl host. When San Diego last played host to a Super Bowl in 1998, the event generated a local economic impact of $295 million, with $125 million in direct spending, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study.

"Obviously, we're hoping for more this year," said Rick Schloss, spokesman for the San Diego Super Bowl Host Committee.

This is the third time San Diego has been host to a Super Bowl and the 11th time in 37 games it has been played in tourist-friendly California. Los Angeles has been host to seven Super Bowls. San Francisco was host to the one at Stanford in 1985.

Oakland is California's only city with a National Football League team that hasn't been host to football's marquee event. In 2000, Oakland made a bid to host the 2005 Super Bowl, but lost out to Jacksonville, Fla. (and on that day watched as Houston and Detroit landed the 2003 and 2006 Super Bowl bids)

Its effort was hamstrung by clashes within the city; legal battles among the city, Raiders and the NFL; and a lack of agreements to use hotel rooms in San Francisco, which wants to play host to its own Super Bowl once it builds a new stadium for the 49ers.

Oakland has the potential to accommodate a Super Bowl. It has the weather, a stadium that could be upgraded, and ample hotel rooms in the region. And the Bay Area is a popular place to visit. It just needs to get everyone on board from the city, Raiders and San Francisco to lobby the cause.

When it made its unsuccessful bid three years ago, some of those elements were missing.

The NFL has a laundry list of requirements for being a Super Bowl host, but the four cornerstones of a bid are these:

The city has an NFL team.

There is a stadium with at least 70,000 seats.

It has an average January temperature of at least 50 degrees or a domed stadium.

There are 24,500 hotel rooms within an hour's drive of the stadium.

Network Associates Coliseum seats 63,000 people, but Oakland's bid called for adding 12,000 temporary seats, a $9 million project to be funded privately by selling naming rights.

Also, Oakland has only to worry about San Francisoc Mayor Willie Brown and now Gavin Newsom," said Zenophon Abraham, 40, a former city of Oakland economic adviser who spearheaded Oakland's bid to hold the 2005 Super Bowl. "If Willie Brown said, 'We'll support you,' we'd have gotten our contracts easily."

If Oakland had succeeded in its Super Bowl bid, the event would have attracted 140,000 visitors and likely had a local economic impact of $250 million, including $60 million for San Francisco hotels and $32 million for Oakland hotels, he said.

"They had more to lose, and lost it," Abraham said.

But getting San Francisco's cooperation wasn't Oakland's only problem. Oakland didn't believe enough in itself, said City Manager Robert Bobb, who tapped Abraham to lead Oakland's Super Bowl bid in 2000.

"There were more doubting Thomases than you could shake 10 sticks at," Bobb said. "Without belief that we could do it, corporate and political support, there was no chance."

Bobb, a cheerleader for the city's bid in 2000, supports another Oakland bid to hold the Super Bowl.

"We are a city that has major league facilities as well as three professional sports franchises," Bobb said. "The city and county need to decide whether we want to be on the sidelines or major league. Even though we have three major league teams, from a psychological standpoint we are still trying to make it into the big leagues."

Big-league battles

Oakland also has had big-league legal battles. In 1997, the city and Alameda County sued the Raiders to try to force the team to stay in Oakland. The Raiders countersued the next year, claiming the team was defrauded when it returned to Oakland in 1995 -- a $1.1 billion lawsuit is scheduled for trial in March. The Raiders also have had their share of legal disputes with the NFL.

The Raiders voted for Oakland's bid, but the team's rocky relationships made it difficult to get its active support. Also, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown provided reluctant backing.

"I think we need to get our internal act together," said Abraham, who was president of the Oakland-Alameda County Sports Commission, a 45-member board that coordinated Oakland's Super Bowl bid. "It's got to start with the mayor and the business community.

"You've got to have a shared vision. It's really that simple."

Oakland's bid presentation had "an awful lot of holes," from details on stadium capacity to use of hotels, said Jim Steeg, NFL senior vice president of special events.

Lack of cooperation

The lack of cooperation between San Francisco and Oakland over use of hotels was a key issue, he said.

"The Super Bowl is not just 10,000 rooms; it's 30,000 or 40,000," Steeg said. "It's a regional activity."

Indeed, other Super Bowl host cities have received help from neighbors. Miami has relied on Fort Lauderdale, Tampa has relied on St. Petersburg, and Los Angeles has relied on Orange County.

When the 1985 Super Bowl was at Stanford, the Miami Dolphins practiced and roomed in Oakland. Jacksonville sweetened its successful 2005 bid by promising 8,000 rooms on cruise ships to be docked within walking distance of its new stadium.

NFL owners chose San Diego this time partly because of its weather, plethora of hotel rooms, and tourist attractions, Steeg said. San Diego, which has successfully held two previous Super Bowls, also had an advocate in Chargers owner Alex Spanos.

"This game in San Diego would not be here if Alex Spanos didn't lobby the owners," Steeg said. "It's a key ingredient for the team and owner to participate. If you're talking what's the top 10 -- that's probably one through seven."

Still, Oakland has a chance to hold the Super Bowl, he said.

"We wouldn't have let them bid if we didn't think it was a possibility," Steeg said.

While California has been a popular spot, its outlook for holding future Super Bowls is uncertain. Los Angeles lacks an NFL team. San Francisco needs a new stadium. Even San Diego's 36-year-old stadium is considered outdated and a liability. The Chargers have said that without a new stadium they might leave.

San Francisco twice has been awarded Super Bowls only to not hold the games.

Its successful bid to play host to the 1999 Super Bowl called for up to $30 million in renovations of Candlestick Park. But in 1996, the 49ers and city officials decided it would be better to build a new stadium than it would be to remodel Candlestick, so San Francisco gave up the 1999 game with the understanding that it would get another one with a new stadium.

After San Francisco voters approved a measure for a new stadium and mall at Candlestick Point, the city was awarded the 2003 Super Bowl. But the new stadium was put on hold and this year's game was then awarded to San Diego.

"When the 49ers are ultimately able to build a new stadium, I think San Francisco will see a Super Bowl," said John Marks, chairman of San Francisco's Super Bowl bid and president and chief executive of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Obviously, there's a lack of clarity on when that will be."

Opening for Oakland

San Francisco's stadium delays gave Oakland an opening in 2000 to bid for the 2005 Super Bowl. But Marks didn't think Oakland had a chance to be host for a variety of reasons.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist," he said. "I just though there was too much unsettled between the city and the Raiders and far too much unsettled between the Raiders and the NFL."

Oakland's bid included several letters of support, including some from business leaders, local and state officials, and the president of the Oakland Raiders Booster Club -- but none from the Raiders.

"You need the complete support and leadership of your home team," Marks said. "Without that, the chances of getting rewarded a Super Bowl are slim and none.

"We provided very passive support for their bid because what Oakland lacked, San Francisco has -- that is an adequate number of hotel rooms to stage the game."

After two false alarms, Marks was wary of asking San Francisco hotels again to set aside rooms for the Super Bowl. The hotels had lost business twice because of the false alarms and "I didn't want to cry wolf three times," he said.

Also, he wanted to keep San Francisco at the front of the Super Bowl host line once it builds a new stadium.

"The city of Oakland does not have the number of rooms (the NFL) requires, but the Bay Area does," said Manette Belliveau, executive director of the Oakland Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We looked at this as a Bay Area bid."

Once the economy picks up, more hotels will be built in Oakland, she said. That would boost Oakland's efforts for holding a future Super Bowl, which she hopes will happen.

"I think we put in an excellent bid," she said. "The competition was very difficult.

"It's an amazing event for any city to host. The Super Bowl is the largest, the biggest. It's the greatest. ... It's good for the whole region."

The NFL picks Super Bowl sites for political and financial reasons, said sports economist Roger Noll, a Stanford University economics professor.

"Oakland is a reasonable choice financially," he said. "Politically, there is no good reason to pick it -- Al Davis is not a favorite among other owners, and there is no subsidy of the NFL on the table at the Coliseum. Part of the deal in building a new stadium for an NFL team frequently is to give the city a Super Bowl."

While there is no significant financial risk in holding a Super Bowl, the local benefit is not necessarily so big, he said.

"The NFL basically keeps all the profits; the city basically breaks even," Noll said. "The economic impact is virtually zero in cities that are winter tourist destinations. The local hotels do boost their rates; however, these are almost all national corporations, so the money just flows to the company. The only cities that benefit from mega-events are places that have little or no winter tourism (including conventions) like Detroit."

Super Bowl 2004

The 2004 Super Bowl will be played in Houston, 2005 in Jacksonville and 2006 in Detroit, which is estimating a local economic impact of $372 million. When Atlanta was host the 2000 Super Bowl, it had a $292 million economic impact on Georgia, according to a Georgia State University study.

The NFL estimates the local economic impact of holding a Super Bowl is $150 million to $250 million.

"Whether it's $150 million or $200 million or more, it's absolutely significant and furthermore, it's really an enjoyable time for everyone in the neighborhood," San Francisco's Marks said.

Holding a Super Bowl "puts the city and all the entire surrounding areas on the map and in the spotlight," said Beth Schnitzer, a board member for Oakland's Super Bowl bid and vice president of market development for Pier 39 in San Francisco.

She said Oakland has a good chance to hold a Super Bowl.

"There's got to be cooperation with San Francisco," said Schnitzer, a veteran sports marketing consultant who worked one year for NFL Properties and is attending today's Super Bowl. "It's important to have 100 percent support from the team, community leaders, political leaders, the convention and visitor bureaus and chambers of commerce."

Abraham, who has a ticket to today's Super Bowl game, remains optimistic about Oakland's chances of playing host to the event. He has a bet with an acquaintance that Oakland will stage a Super Bowl within 12 years.

Abraham is now chief executive of Sports Business Simulations. He resigned from the city in November 2000 after the NFL awarded Jacksonville the 2005 Super Bowl.

"It was the greatest experience and the worst experience of my life," he said. "We didn't fail. We were one of three finalist cities."

Staff Writer Laura Counts contributed to this report.