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Friday, January 22, 2016

Who Transformed the Super Bowl from a "Corporate Event" Into a "Civic Celebration" (That You're Paying For)?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2016 at 1:12 PM

click to enlarge super_bowl.jpg

Super Bowl 50, whose takeover of San Francisco has already begun, is a "corporate event." No less a San Francisco authority than former Mayor Willie Lewis Brown, Jr. — the man with his very own Bay Bridge — has deemed it thus.

Yet the Super Bowl — for which over a million tourists are expected to visit San Francisco, for the pleasure of watching out-of-towners' business interests flourish — is also a "civic celebration," city officials told us this week. That's why, literally, some San Francisco laws apparently do not apply to the Super Bowl and Super Bowl-related advertising.

That could also be why San Francisco agreed to swallow up front the $4.8 million cost of "hosting" the NFL's fan village and Super Bowl City — and why Santa Clara, which is merely hosting the game and not the "civic celebration," managed to get the Super Bowl Host Committee to cover its $3 million-plus bill.

Calling the Super Bowl a civic celebration is a bit like passing off Oracle OpenWorld as a point of local pride — but that, apparently, is where we're at as a city — thanks to the 42 leaders of society and business on the Host Committee, and whoever it was at City Hall who "negotiated" on our behalf (and have succeeded in getting Los Angeles to laugh at us, always a great look). 

Mayor Ed Lee first pitched us on the Super Bowl, remember, as an "enormous economic boost" in the neighborhood of $300 million. That promise was made in 2012, right around when similar promises were being made about the huge boost the America's Cup would bring us. After the Cup spectacularly failed to deliver — and in fact, cost the city money — Lee has tellingly not made that claim since.

Instead, the recent promises made by the press flacks for the Super Bowl — who also happened to be the press flacks for Lee's re-election bid this past fall — are just that the city will be made whole on the $4.8 million hit thanks to hotel, restaurant, and shopping spending made by our visitors.

The Host Committee, meanwhile, has managed to raise a reported $50 million from various Bay Area companies to cover... well, what, exactly? It's not clear, but one answer is "everything but San Francisco's bill." The committee plans to give $12 million to charity, and will also cover the cost of hosting the game to Santa Clara, but the rest of the spending is not subject to disclosure, and the committee is not saying.

Just who negotiated this deal on behalf of the city? Mayor Ed Lee's office won't say. The mayor's people refused to deliver to the city's Budget Analyst any bid document or other sign of who it was that secured us this deal, which has been described as a "taxpayer subsidy" for the NFL.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Aaron Peskin plans to use his question time to ask Lee directly just who is responsible for handing the NFL a public benefit. In the meantime, asnd as reported by Hoodline and SFist, Super Bowl-related advertising on some major downtown buildings appears to violate city bans on billboards, but are given a pass in part because the Super Bowl, which is being civic-funded, is now a "civic celebration."

Generally speaking, a civic celebration has to do with, say for example, the city. It involves a local achievement that fosters local pride, or has something — anything at all — to do with the people who live here (aside from those of us who manage to make money off of the event). 

So what happened to the other $295 million in economic activity the mayor promised us? And where's the civic celebration, exactly? It's all around us — it just has NFL branding.
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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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