Why Cold Weather Super Bowl Could Be a Financial Boon
Senior Editor, CNBC
The weather forecast in New Orleans for Sunday's Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens is a balmy 67 degrees. Inside the Superdome, the temperature will be a calm and controlled 70.
But next year, instead of wearing T-shirts and shorts, fans at the game could likely be wrapped up in parkas and earmuffs and slurping hot chocolate instead of cold beer.
That's because in 2014, the Super Bowl will be played in the uncovered MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey --the home of the NFL's Jets and Giants—where temperatures this time of year average 32 degrees and a snow fall of nearly 3 inches.
It's the first time a Super Bowl game will be played in an open air stadium in a cold weather city. Metlife was awarded the game in 2010 after four rounds of voting by team owners following a big public relations push by local officials who claimed they could handle any type of weather.
Voted down were bids from Tampa and South Florida, both traditional Super Bowl sites.
National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell said at the time: "It will be a great experience for our fans. It will be a great experience for the NFL. New York is a unique market." And Goddell said it could set the tone for more games in open air stadiums in colder weather.
Nearly $6 billion is spent each year on Super Bowl game related events—food, clothing, hotel and travel fares and media advertising. Officials in New York and New Jersey say they expect the 2014 Super Bowl game to generate some $500 million to $600 million in local revenues from spending on items like hotel rooms, alcohol, meals and gifts.
But will the colder temperatures—along with the possibility of major snow fall—put a damper on fan enthusiasm and cut into the game's economics?
Scott Minto, director of San Diego State University's Sports Business MBA program said bad weather could actually be a financial boon. (Read more: For Super Bowl Ads, It's Go Viral or Go Home)
"TV ratings and advertising revenues could actually be higher as more fans tune in to watch the game during a storm," said Minto. "It might not be so much fun for the people in the stands, but they are such a small part of the overall economics of the game. The casual viewer might just watch to see something historic like a Super Bowl in snow."
"The excitement of being in New York and the ability to combine the Super Bowl with other attractions outweighs the risk of bad weather," said Jim Andrews, senior vice president of IEG, a media consulting and research firm. "Certainly they will miss the opportunity to plan the type of outdoor events they can host in Miami or Southern California, but they will gladly trade that to be in New York City."
Cold weather and football games are hardly strangers to each other.
Perhaps the most famous game is the 1967 'Ice Bowl' NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys in Lambeau Field where the temperature was a minus 15 degrees with a windchill of minus 47. Long before ice melting machines and sophisticated sideline warmers, players on both teams huddled on benches with blankets to fight off the bitter cold and struggled to dig through the frozen turf for better footing. The breath of fans spurted out like arctic geysers.
But until now, the National Football League has avoided open air stadiums for Super Bowls. New York and New Jersey officials lobbied for the game with a newly refurbished MetLife stadium that now has more luxury suites. And they promised to be ready for whatever the weather brings. They're planning giveaways to warm hands and seats, having hundreds of folks ready to shovel away snow.
"They're making sure everything is in place to handle a storm," said Chris Rogers, director of risk control at Aon Risk Solution's Entertainment Group, which has organized events at previous Super Bowls in Jacksonville, Florida and San Diego.
"They'll have shelters in place for people at the stadium, as well as plans for traffic and safety control. They take up to two years to plan this all out and the NFL takes over 30 days before the game to make sure everything is in place," Rogers said.
"If things go well, this could be a big boon for the NFL," said Mark Conrad, director of Sports Business Specialization at the Gabelli School of Business. "There are some good reasons to try this in NYC, the major media market in the world."
But some analysts see potential downfalls to an open air stadium seeped in snow. (Read more: 12 Unusual Super Bowl Bets)
"The possible TV visual of snowy, icy empty seats will have a devastating impact on the NFL," said John Goodman, head of John Goodman Public relations. "And the sporting press will be writing about the fiasco weeks after the game. Playing in a cold weather site is a huge gamble for the NFL and Roger Goodell that could have sky high or devastating PR results."
Bad weather means bad economics said Arthur Fleisher, professor of economics at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
"Fewer people will show up if it's snow and cold," said Fleischer. "It's like voting. If there's bad weather fewer people vote and bad weather could keep the number of people showing up from out of town and spending their money. And if there's a cancellation of the game because of the weather, that would obviously be a disaster. Rescheduling it and all that's involved would be a nightmare economically."
Even some players don't like the idea playing a Super Bowl outdoors in colder weather. (Read more: Bowl-Bound Jets Stock Up on Dom Perignon and Wings)
"I think it's retarded," said Joe Flacco, starting quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens at his Super Bowl news conference Monday. "I probably shouldn't say that. I think it's stupid. If you want a Super Bowl, put a retractable dome on your stadium. Then you can get one. Other than that, I don't really like the idea. I don't think people would react very well to it, or be glad to play anybody in that kind of weather." Flacco later backtracked on using the word "retarded" but stood by his initial reaction.
Statistics do show a difference in a game, playoffs or regular season, played in cold weather -- if ever so slightly in some areas.
Teams in sub 40 degree weather score on average 41 points a game while games in 70 degrees or higher average 42.5 points a game according to Stats.com.
Games in warm weather are naturally better for passers, with a quarterback rating of 81.6 in 70 plus temperatures, while sub 40 degree weather shows QB ratings at 76.5.
Teams turn the ball over more often in 40 degree weather and perhaps the worst performance comes from kickers, who have a 66 percent average of making their field goals in 70 degree weather and only a 58 percent average in sub 40 temperatures.
But Flacco might want to think again. Stats.com says the Ravens have a .599 winning percentage in cold weather as opposed to the 49ers at .572. And If the game at MetLife Stadium goes off without a hitch, you can expect more cold weather Super Bowls in the future.
"The precedent will be set for other cities like Chicago, or Boston to host these games" said Scott Minto. "It won't be a Lambeau field because they're not able to handle all the needed accommodations, but cities that can will try to get the games in the future. I think you'll see more Super Bowls in colder out door stadiums."
Just before Green Bay's Bart Starr won the game against Dallas in 1967, he ran over to coach Vince Lombardi and said he wanted to run a quarterback sneak. "Just run the ball in and let's get the hell out of here," Lombardi said after more than two hours of pacing up the sidelines in sub-freezing temperatures.
The NFL's hope, say analysts, is that history won't repeat itself.
"It will either be a PR goldmine or debacle," said John Goodman. "I don't foresee anything in-between."