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Who Fumbled the Super Bowl Deal? 

Wednesday, Feb 10 2016
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The party is over, the NFL owners are gone, and Super Bowl City is (partially) dismantled. Now the real games, over San Francisco's hosting of the Super Bowl, can resume at City Hall: Was the deal that brought us the Super Bowl sneaked past the elected officials who spent the last month raising a fuss, or did the naysayers fail to notice until it was too late to do anything about it?

Recall that the Board of Supervisors voted in 2012 to allow the Host Committee, a collection of local luminaries — including former Mayor Willie Brown, tech magnate Ron Conway, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and various others of our betters — to bid to host the Super Bowl.

A bid, narrated by Mayor Ed Lee and some 49ers personnel, was submitted on an iPad Mini to the NFL, which announced Levi's Stadium would get the big game in 2013. Terms of the bid were never returned to the Board, including the signed agreements from city officials like police Chief Greg Suhr and fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White not to recoup any of the $5 million-and-counting in costs from the NFL.

This is in stark contrast to the city's agreement to host the America's Cup, which received a thorough grilling. Ergo, the Super Bowl deal snuck through without public review — or did it?

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for the Host Committee, insists that any public official who wanted a briefing on the Super Bowl deal — including the agreement to foot the NFL's bill — received one. And eight supervisors, including Supervisor Jane Kim (who authored a resolution to try to get the NFL to re-negotiate) were briefed.

"Their concerns over absorbed city costs were not raised during the 38 months between formally signing on for the bid in 2012 and Jane Kim suddenly making this an issue on December 7 [2015]," Ballard wrote via email.

Kim remembers it differently. "The first time [Host Committee CEO] Daniel [Lurie] came into my office was Nov. or Dec. 2015," she says. And as for the costs? Kim has "no recollection" of any meeting outlining the cost, with anyone.

"We tried to get a briefing in December — we weren't getting any info," says Supervisor John Avalos, who also criticizes the deal, alleging it was specifically engineered never to suffer an America's Cup-like final review.

"I expected a deal would come before us [for final approval]," he says. "It never did."

This could be because nobody knew what the bill was. Tasked in December figuring out how much the Super Bowl would cost, Harvey Rose, the city's Budget Analyst, found himself stymied by city departments, who only coughed up figures in early January after he started ringing supervisors to complain about the stonewalling. (Those numbers subsequently grew.)

Post-game, fans of the deal are pulling a Cam Newton and opting for silence. Mayor Ed Lee did not respond to a request for comment sent through his press secretary. SF Weekly was promised an interview with Supervisor Mark Farrell, the Super Bowl deal's main cheerleader — who claimed on KQED that the budget figures Rose could not find received a thorough vetting last year at budget time — but he was mysteriously absent at press time.

But with a $100 million budget deficit for the next year to fill, they may have moved onto other things.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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