Despite Poor Economy, Super Bowl Won't Lose Luster

The sagging economy has put a hit on plans for this year's Super Bowl, not that visitors to Tampa for the game and hundreds of millions watching on TV will be able to tell the difference.

2009 Superbowl
2009 Superbowl

America's bacchanalian bash in honor of football will still roll for the TV cameras with all its over-the-top glitz. Yet there are signs — fewer and smaller parties, maybe not quite so many reporters and traveling fans — that the shine will be a little less bright this year.

The game will still be sold out. The town will be crawling with party-hopping celebrities. Hotels will be busy, fans wearing Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals garb will be ubiquitous on the streets, and hundreds of media members will descend to cover the event, which will still likely be the nation's most-watched TV broadcast this year.

The impact of the nation's economic woes on the event are more subtle.

The Super Bowl Host Committee had to lower its fundraising goal by $1 million. Corporations that are sponsoring the game are sending fewer bigwigs to town. A couple of the big Super Bowl parties and other events were bagged, others are downsizing, and some media companies — especially hard hit by the downturn and the changing habits of news consumers — are sending fewer scribes to cover the game.

"No one is immune from the economy, not the NFL, not the host committee for the Super Bowl," said Reid Sigmon, the host committee's executive director.

The committee lowered its local fundraising expectation from $8 million to $7 million after sponsorships lagged, but it will still meet its financial obligations to the NFL, Sigmon said. The committee started early and got a lot of the money raised before the economy took a hard turn in late summer, he said.

The auditing firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers predicted the economy would be a factor on game week, resulting in "fewer visitors and media, a shorter average length-of-stay per visitor, and less spending in the hospitality and related industries throughout the Tampa Bay area."

The projected $150 million in direct spending tied to the game will be about 20 percent off what it would have been if the economy were stronger, the company said in a report Wednesday.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league tried not to spare any expense for this year's event, adding that "we're bullish on the Super Bowl and what it means to America."

If the NFL's private sponsors' party seems smaller this year, it's simply because some sponsors are sending fewer people to the game, which the league sees as its pinnacle event, McCarthy said.

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As an "acknowledgment of what our fans are going through," a block of 1,000 game tickets were offered for $500 each — $300 less than the face value of most game tickets, he said.

Tourism officials say it's still too early to tell how well Steelers and Cardinals fans will travel and whether the area's more than 50,000 hotel rooms will fill up. Tampa Bay & Company, the area's tourism bureau, is reaching out to media outlets in the Pittsburgh and Phoenix areas to drum up business.

"We're still expecting 100,000 fans in Tampa Bay," visitors bureau spokesman Travis Claytor said, citing the estimated number of visitors expected for a typical Super Bowl.

The economic woes led Sports Illustrated and Playboy to pull the plug on their traditional high-end Super Bowl parties this year. Sports Illustrated spokesman Scott Novak said "it wasn't the right thing to do," given the state of the economy.

However, there will be no shortage of glitzy fetes and red carpet scenes around town in the days leading up the game. Among the hosts and other big names: Kevin Costner, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Jenny McCarthy, Carmen Electra, Pamela Anderson and T-Pain.

The Maxim magazine party is still on; it's just being downsized a bit. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend what has become one of Super Bowl week's most popular affairs.

"We're all cognizant of the difficult economic environment in which we operate, and our party reflects that," said Glenn Rosenbloom, co-CEO of Alpha Media Group Inc., which publishes the men's magazine. "So we're going to have it in a smaller venue and it will be more exclusive."

Viewers at home will get to see plenty of quirky Super Bowl commercials, as usual. Although Super Bowl regulars such as General Motors Corp. and FedEx Corp. opted out of advertising on the broadcast, NBC said it had sold 90 percent of Super Bowl ads as of mid-January.

Most ads have sold for about $3 million per 30-second spot — an all-time high price for the Super Bowl, which will be seen by about 100 million U.S. viewers.