After success in New Jersey, can Pittsburgh host Super Bowl?
February 6, 2014
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh has hosted the World Series, AFC championship games, the NHL Winter Classic and the Stanley Cup finals, but never a Super Bowl. Steelers president Art Rooney II wants to see about changing that.
Mr. Rooney said Thursday he's interested in exploring the potential of bringing the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh -- as long as the community as a whole is prepared to rally behind the idea.
"I think it would be great for our city," he said. "This, in some people's mind, is the birthplace of professional football. We certainly have a great tradition of being a football kind of town. I think it would be a great thing for us to do at some point."
Interest in Pittsburgh hosting a Super Bowl has heightened since Sunday's big game, the first to be played outdoors in what typically is regarded as a cold-weather city.
The game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., went off largely without a hitch, and Mr. Rooney thinks it opened the door for other Northern football venues to host Super Bowls. Philadelphia, New England, Denver, Chicago and Washington already have expressed an interest.
"I think in the future there's going to be more opportunities for Northern cities to bid on the game. I think it would be great for our city to explore it. It's something we want to explore over the next year or so to see if there's an interest in pursuing it," he said.
But Mr. Rooney, who has served on the National Football League committee that awards the game to cities, stressed that an event of such magnitude would require an "enormous commitment of time and resources" from the business and public sectors.
And it would help if the team had those extra 3,000 seats at Heinz Field it has been fighting over with its landlord.
"When you look at the breadth and scope [of the bids], it really is a community effort. It's just a broad community effort and it takes a lot of work," he said.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said they are willing to explore a possible bid.
"It's always been said that Pittsburgh could not host a Super Bowl because of our weather," Mr. Peduto said. "Last Sunday proved that theory wrong. Pittsburgh is the home to football and it would be a fitting place to host a Super Bowl in the future. I look forward to working with Mr. Rooney, the Steelers, our county executive and others to make that happen."
Given the other major sports events the city has hosted in the past, Pittsburgh would be a "natural" for the Super Bowl, Mr. Fitzgerald said.
"Quite frankly, I think we would do a better job than some of those other cities," he said.
The city faces some big challenges, though, in putting together a bid.
A chief one is hotel rooms. The NFL has a "basic" requirement of 30,000 "quality" hotel rooms within a 90-minute drive of the stadium.
Pittsburgh probably would need every bit of that 90 minutes to hit the mark, said Craig Davis, CEO of local tourism agency VisitPittsburgh. Some fans probably would end up in rooms in the Seven Springs area, Ohio or West Virginia.
In reality, the region probably would need more than 30,000 rooms because not every one of them could be committed to the game itself. Mr. Davis noted that the city may have to bring in boats to house some guests. New York used a cruise ship to house guests in this past Super Bowl and Miami and San Diego have done so in the past.
"I think we would be able to creatively find a solution to accommodate the minimum requirements of the NFL," he said.
He noted the 900 hotel rooms in the works Downtown over the next few years could help in reaching the goal. Mr. Davis said that VisitPittsburgh definitely supports a bid.
"If the Pittsburgh Steelers would want to do this and they want community support, I feel very strongly that the hospitality community would be the first to be part of that community effort," he said, adding that February weekends typically are a very slow time for hotels.
While there is no minimum seating requirement for the Super Bowl, the "preferred" number is 70,000, said Greg Aiello, a NFL spokesman.
Heinz Field has about 65,000 seats and currently is battling the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority over a plan to add 3,000 more in the south end zone. The expansion and temporary seating could get Heinz Field to 70,000 seats, Mr. Rooney said.
"This will be a competitive bid. Just meeting the minimum request is not necessarily the target. Maybe we want to explore getting up to 72,000 to 75,000. I don't know how much is possible with temporary seating, but it's something that can be explored," he said.
While some may view his comments as a ploy to pressure the SEA to cut a deal on the Heinz Field seat expansion, Mr. Rooney said that was not his intent. He said it probably would be five to 10 years before the city would be in the position to bid for the Super Bowl.
"I think we're talking about a long-term situation. The current issue, hopefully, will be behind us before we get to that point," he said.
No doubt bigger stadiums are the preference. MetLife Stadium's capacity was 82,500, and 43 of 48 Super Bowls have been played before crowds greater than 70,000. But attendance at the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis was 68,658 and it was 68,206 at Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5, 2006, in Detroit, won by the Steelers.
There are other logistical issues that need to be addressed as well, including the need for practice facilities for the two Super Bowl teams and transportation.
Mr. Rooney said he sees Indianapolis as a model for Pittsburgh. It is a similarly sized city that has been able to attract a lot of national events, such as the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four in college men's basketball.
He believes Pittsburgh can do the same. The payoff is worth it, he said, noting that the Super Bowl typically brings in 100,000 visitors and tens of millions of dollars in economic impact, not to mention the prestige that goes along with hosting the premier event in sports.
With that in mind, he said he plans to "test the water a little bit" by meeting with community and business leaders to gauge their support. He said there may be a need to form a task force or sports commission to study the issue.
"It would require a broad spectrum of the community to come together. We'll start the conversation and see where it goes," he said.