My relationship with the National Football League goes back to sometime in the 1950s. I have a vague memory of watching the Chicago (later St. Louis and then Arizona) Cardinals on a black-and-white console television in our living room on St. Paul’s Wheelock Parkway.
I was an impressionable 9 years old when the Minnesota Vikings beached their longboat in Minnesota. I’ve followed the team closely, but passively, never buying a game ticket but catching a majority of games on television, especially as the weather turns colder.
It has been a relationship of great joy, punctuated by abject disappointment. I’m old enough to have suffered through all four Super Bowl losses and countless playoff disappointments. But I’ve kept faith, despite increasing unease over long-term impacts on players’ brains, and reveled in this year’s success.
I give this history as a precursor to my fundamental opposition to the hosting of the Super Bowl as it has unfolded this time around. I’d have no issue with playing the game here if the teams simply showed up, played four quarters, and got out of town.
But the big cigars in the Twin Cities were bent on joining a long list of metro areas sucker enough to divert tens of millions of dollars from donors for the privilege of meeting a long list of demands by a league encrusted with wealth — impact on the public be damned. It’s a triumph for elitocracy.
Organizers typically flaunt two impressive numbers. Their economic analyses suggest that 1 million visitors will spend $340 million to line the pockets of the Twin Cities economy. Forget that many of those visitors likely are duplicates — the same people visiting multiple events. Or that many likely will go home to their own beds rather than a hotel if they venture downtown on a weeknight for the much- ballyhooed Super Bowl Live concerts on Nicollet Mall or the Super Bowl Experience (sans concussions) at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
But what’s the opportunity cost? What good could the more than $50 million reportedly raised by the local Super Bowl host committee have accomplished in addressing the metro area’s racial disparities, in financing innovative efforts to reduce homelessness, in improving school preparedness?
What’s the impact on public trust when the very pitch made by the host committee to the NFL is shielded from public view, a stunning lack of transparency?
How does one measure the impact of shunting dozens of homeless people from their normal shelter inside the Minneapolis security perimeter to makeshift quarters blocks away? Or of bouncing several dozen St. Paul homeless schoolkids from their normal motels to shelters and churches?
Or the diversion from more important tasks of the workforce at a public agency such as the Metropolitan Airports Commission, with 29 subcommittees working on the logistics of handling air travelers, or at Metro Transit?
What does it say to the regular Route 18 bus rider, newly restored to the Nicollet Mall, to be bounced back over the Hennepin Avenue again? Or to the commuter booted from the Blue and Green light rail lines to buses on game day so that those who can afford a Super Bowl ticket need not mix with the hoi polloi. Or that those ticketholders who can afford the $30 train ticket will ride in sealed trains, with all that connotes?
Or that freeway entrances running near the stadium will be closed?
What does it say that several hundred rollerbladers and runners are booted from the stadium for more than a month before the game while fans holding tickets for the New Orleans playoff game got access?
Or when a bar owner inside the security perimeter has to fight the NFL cartel for the right to sell booze in his own properly licensed building?
What does it say that the football stadium itself will be surrounded by five miles of chain-link fencing reaching 12 feet high? Or that surrounding rooftops will sprout law enforcement snipers?
Finally, what does it say when the NFL’s special events chief declares the 2018 Super Bowl the most complicated event in NFL history, due to its urban setting, weather and tight footprint. It’s an incredible statement, given that Minneapolis had the same urban setting, same weather and a smaller stadium the last time the game was played here.
That complication might suggest that the most reasonable course would be to forego holding the game in Minneapolis rather than shoehorning it into a complicated corner of downtown, public be damned.
Despite that, the host committee plays the event as a civic achievement for the Twin Cities. And it expects us to like it. That’s despite two-thirds of the planned events listed in the announcement of the bid submittal constituting pay-to-play or by-invitation-only events.
In other words, the public gets the privilege of forking over more money or being excluded while also being inconvenienced. People get to pony up $35 a head ($25 for kids) to traipse through the convention center, which the public built and subsidizes, “to get a feel for the game and the excitement of the NFL.”
But this ersatz experience is a bargain compared to the game itself. At this writing, tickets to The People’s Stadium on game day could be had for $4,200 a seat. High rollers could pay as much as $25,000.
Yet we rubes turn out by the thousands to volunteer to point them in the right direction.
The overarching selling point for hosting the game and its ancillary events is that we need the publicity. But if the Twin Cities hosted the Super Bowl in 1992 and that didn’t put us on the map, is the fame really that lasting? Quick, name a corporation that moved here because of the 1992 game. Name a co-worker or a neighbor who moved here for that reason.
If those gorgeous halftime shots all season of the Stone Arch Bridge or Minnehaha Falls aren’t enough to draw people, do we really want people drawn by artificial glitz?
Yes, I’ll be watching the Big Game, especially if the Vikings make it past Philadelphia. If not, at least there will be the commercials. But next time, let’s just say no.