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Super Bowl: Recession-Proof, At Least This Year

Thursday, 29 Jan 2009 | 11:21 AM ET
2009 Superbowl
CNBC.com
2009 Superbowl

This year's Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Florida between the surprising Arizona Cardinals and the hard-nosed Pittsburgh Steelers may be nearly recession proof, according to officials associated with the game.

But the key play to watch may be how the economy fares in 2009 and the impact that would have on 2010's Super Bowl.

"The Super Bowl and the community is not immune from effects of economic downturn," says Amanda Holt, director of public relations for the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee. "But one of our responsibilities is fundraising and corporate sponsors have stepped up. It took longer to secure our goal of $7 million of private corporate funds, but four weeks ago we were 98 percent there. We crossed the 100 percent mark last week. No one has bailed out."

The Business of the Super Bowl
The Business of the Super Bowl

And for the Tampa community, the timing couldn't be better. "The one thing I can say, we are glad to be having the Super Bowl this year more than any other year," says DT Minich, executive director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater. "We need the business now. We got a big shot in arm with World Series, with the Rays. We need these kind of events now, more than ever," says Minich.

The National Football League takes the 'recession proof' sentiment even farther. "If we could build a stadium for 300,000 people we would sell out the game," says Brian McCarthy, a spokesperson for the NFL when asked about the effects of a down economy. "The Super Bowl has always lifted the spirits of America and this year is no different."

Corporate 'Super' Downsizing?

There won't be the 300,000 McCarthy talks about but there will be some 100,000 people expected to attend the Tampa Bay area over the weekend.The game will be in Raymond James Stadium which holds more than 65,000 people. The rest of the visitors are fans from both teams or 'party goers', coming for the experience of sitting in a local bar and being part of the festivities as they high five each other in front of a big screen TV. Tampa officials say they expect to see an economic impact of about $300 million from everything surrounding the game.

Source: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

But will Corporate America, which buys almost all the Super Bowl tickets, show up after the year its had? The answer is mostly yes, according to one firm selling packages of hotel rooms and services for the game.

"Corporate wise, there's been no effect," says Kyle Kinnett a partner of SportsEvents.com, an online ticket broker. "We are one of the top five corporate package companies in the country. Our numbers for selling are greater than last year,."

Benefits Of A Recession

Demand for Super Bowl tickets through brokers or online platforms between buyers and sellers remains high this year according to Joellen Ferrer, manager of corporate communications at StubHub.com. "Interestingly, sales are considerably up from last year," says Ferrer. "In fact, more than double the number of tickets have been purchased compared to last year at about the same time. This has turned out to be the biggest grossing event in company history."

However, the cost of those tickets is lower than usual, says Ferrer, fetching an average of some $2,700 for re-sale tickets. "The economy is proving to be a positive for consumers when it comes to ticket re-sale prices," says Ferrer. "With prices decreasing, they are more attainable to the average fan who may have felt priced out in years past."

Not Everyone Giving High Fives

However adamant NFL, Tampa Bay Super Bowl officials and some firms may be about being immune from a recession, there are some game-related businesses being 'tackled' by the downturn.

"I've been doing the Super Bowl for 14 years," says Bill Roseman, CEO of Rose Tours, a Pennsylvania based tour and travel firm. "This is the worst. I would say it’s the economy and all downhill," says Roseman.

Roseman's company sells packages of hotel rooms for the game and says he's not selling nearly enough to offset what he's paid out. "I purchased hotel rooms in advance, I can’t give them back. I have to eat those costs," Roseman says.

Source: Tampa Bay & Company

Some companies with tickets to the game are cutting back on the extras.

"The economy is affecting everyone," says the NFL's McCarthy. "Some companies that are sponsors of the NFL may not have as large a presence in the Tampa area. GM is a sponsor [but] they won’t be entertaining as many guests as they would have. Our sponsors are still advertising but some of the ancillary parties we are hearing, parties like Playboy, Sports Illustrated are not happening or toned way down if they are."

But Next Year, A Super Bowl Bust?

Even before Super Bowl XVIII is played, Florida is gearing up for next year's game, as Miami will host the 2010 contest.

"We're not having any trouble when it comes to raising money," says Rodney Barreto, chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee. "We have solidified our governmental partners, local counties, the state of Florida. We just hosted one [Super Bow] in 2007, private partners express interest in 2010. With our respect to our obligations I feel very comfortable we'll raise $12 million to $15 million we need."

Sports Biz with Darren Rovell -- On the Ground Coverage of the Super Bowl
Sports Biz with Darren Rovell -- On the Ground Coverage of the Super Bowl

But even Barreto sounds a note slight caution when it comes to private business donors in light of the bad economy. "I think that some of them might not be around," he says Barreto, "but this is the largest sporting event in the world, we feel very comfortable with them."

Whatever happens in Tampa, Bill Roseman's downturn in 2009 could be repeated for 2010's Super Bowl, if the economy doesn't improve by then. "This will have an affect for next year," says Roseman. "I’ll cut my purchases in half. I can’t afford to buy the same amount of rooms."

Source: Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

And even though Super Bowl XLIII was a success for him, SportsEvents' Kinnett agrees with Roseman's play calling for 2010.

"We’ll be much more conservative," says Kinnett. "The last Super Bowl in Miami, we had 900 hotel rooms, this time we'll have 500. That's based on the economy and depends on how long we are in the mess we are in. If it’s 12 months of the same or worse, you better put your helmet on."