On Sunday, New Orleans will host the NFL's biggest game for the 10th time, tying it with the Miami metro area for most ever.
When it comes to these games, no other city is even in their league. But what's interesting is that Miami -- a beach paradise -- and New Orleans -- a rugged city with Old World charm (and a permanent party hat) -- couldn’t be more different.
So, why have the NFL owners and executives fancied Louisiana’s largest city for the Super Bowl, especially when many of their own cities could use the revenue and limelight?
We asked someone who would know: Chuck Day, author of “The Making of the Super Bowl: The Inside Story of the World’s Greatest Sporting Event.” He told HLN that the late Don Weiss, the book’s co-author and the former longtime director of operations for the Super Bowl, called New Orleans “a 30-minute city.”
“You could get almost anywhere in the area in half an hour," Day said. “Generally speaking, the Super Dome is right next to the headquarters hotel [the Hyatt], you can walk to the French Quarter from the dome and there’s lots of activities along the way, then there’s the presence of Bourbon Street, it’s just ideal.”
The city seems to think so, too. Speaking to USA Today recently, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said hosting the game -- the first in the city since Hurricane Katrina -- is "our biggest global moment."
To pull off the gargantuan effort, the city has invested more than $1 billion in infrastructure improvements, Mark Romig, president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., told HLN. "This is our first Super Bowl since we hosted it after 9/11 and we wanted to make sure our community was back [after the storm]," he said. Romig cited improvements to the airport, hotel renovations and a new street car line (Loyola) as part of a coordinated overhaul to welcome Super Bowl visitors.
But even all that is not enough, according to Day, who spent long hours crafting his book with the Super Bowl's planning architect, Weiss, before the latter's death in 2003. “What people don’t think about when it comes to the Super Bowl is that it’s not just the game venue that’s important; it’s the practice facilities, it’s the more than 20,000 hotel rooms, and accommodations for media -- New Orleans has it, plus all the extra charm,” he said.
“They’ve developed over the years, Super Bowl-related things like Taste of the NFL, and what other places would you like to have Taste of NFL than New Orleans?" he said.
Inside Scoop: How a Super Bowl city is selected
“When the game was created, [founding NFL Commissioner Pete] Rozelle’s concept of the Super Bowl was built on just three factors: Warm weather, neutral field, big crowd,” Day said.
“What Rozelle was envisioning with the Super Bowl, it’d never been tried by professional sports. The only thing you could compare it with was a college bowl game, the Rose Bowl and things like that.”
“Lamar Hunt, [founding father of the American Football League and owner of one of the inaugural Super Bowl participants, the Kansas City Chiefs], wanted it in New Orleans,” Day said. “Rozelle wanted the Rose Bowl, but they told him to get lost. This was 1966.”
Rose Bowl executives “thought any ballgame after New Year’s Day was an abomination.”
When the league finally came to the Rose Bowl -- in 1977 -- they quickly came to realize that the stadium had not kept up with the times. “They haven’t played there since 1993 because the venue doesn’t have all the amenities,” he said.
In the Big Easy, a star is born
“Now, New Orleans has had its share of problems. The first Super Bowl played there, in Tulane Stadium, well, the expectations were that it was really just kind of a dump -- and they had rain problems. They had to hire buses to take people out of there and the bus drivers got confused and it was just a mess.”
But New Orleans is distinctive for one other thing: The day after that Super Bowl in 1970, Rozelle looked at the TV ratings and he was stunned, Day said.
“The ratings was 39.4 and the share was 69. That was unheard of. Almost four of every 10 television sets in the United States were on watching the Super Bowl and of the television sets in use -- that’s the share -- almost 70% of them were on the Super Bowl," he said. Day's math is spot-on, according to Neilsen figures. The Super Bowl as TV juggernaut was born.
More people watched Super Bowl IV in New Orleans in 1970 than had watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon the preceding July, he said. "Remember, Armstrong walked on the moon about 10 at night or something like that, I watched it. So that’s some factor. But even still, the game ratings got everybody’s attention – they said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, everybody’s watching the Super Bowl -- we got to be a part of that’.” (Day is correct that the Super Bowl beat any individual network broadcast of the moonwalk, but with broadcasts combined, Neil Armstrong's feat got a 93 share, according to former AOL executive Bill Gorman's TV by the Numbers).
Other venues for the Big Game
Day said other cities have tried to copy New Orleans' success through the years, with mixed results.
“Jacksonville [near Day’s Florida home] got one game and it was a nice setup. The problem with Jacksonville is it doesn’t have the hotel space,” he said. “Truth be told, Tampa doesn’t have it either. Only Miami.”
“Atlanta’s not too far off,” he said. “Atlanta posed a problem years ago when they had that ice storm and planes got stranded; they [NFL executives] don’t like that. Transportation is critical.”
“Weather was a problem in Dallas. When that happens, the owners get a little skittish. Of course, with the new venue they have now…”
“And God help New York next year if the weather is bad, and Newark is not the easiest place to get into any way.”