Among the more than 100,000 visitors who flocked to the Phoenix area for Super Bowl XLIV were a group of very special guests: about 70 hand-picked high-level executives from around the country.
These VIPs were invitees of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, and the latest example of how sporting events can double as junkets for politicians, executives and policymakers—a controversial practice that has more than its share of critics.
The CEOs were guests of the Arizona Commerce Authority and other local and regional partners who created the event to pitch the benefits of locating or expanding business in the Grand Canyon State.
Organizers did not respond to CNBC's requests for comment on exactly which companies sent emissaries to the biggest sporting event of the year, citing confidentiality. Still, sponsors defended the invitations as legitimate.
"We had a very specific target list of companies across a number of different industries, revenue profiles, employment levels and technology positions," said Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, one of the forum sponsors.
"We scrutinized them heavily up front as to whether they had West Coast operations, or interest in the West Coast before making a targeted invite," he said.