Super Bowl: Cold weather, cold cash
The '14 game will be the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold clime. The reason is money.
They have been sunburned in Los Angeles, soaked in Miami, and buffeted by winds at stops in between. Deafened during flyovers. Titillated at halftime, blacked out mid-game, and even moved to tears by tributes to servicemen, veterans and the victims of 9/11.
Even so, this next Super Bowl promises those in attendance something different: The chance to freeze their rear ends off.
On Feb. 2, 2014 - the date could still be changed if a Nor'easter rolls in off the Jersey Shore - every one of the 82,000 or so ticket holders entering MetLife Stadium will receive a gift bag. Inside will be a seat cushion, a muffler, ski gaiters, three pairs of hand and foot warmers, lip balm, and a package of tissues, plastered with enough logos to make a NASCAR driver jealous.
"We can't provide them with coats," said Frank Supovitz, the NFL's vice president in charge of preparations for the game. "But we will be strongly encouraging them to stay in their seats."
Which leaves open the question: If the game is for the fans, why stage it outdoors in the New Jersey-New York metro area precisely when the trusty Farmer's Almanac, hardly alone among forecasters, is predicting a blizzard?
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his owners are taking advantage of a lull in the tourism calendar to turn a swath of Manhattan into a playground and make cash registers sing. A 180-foot-tall toboggan slide will be plopped down in Times Square, and a stretch of Broadway from 34th Street to 48th will be closed to traffic, renamed "Super Bowl Boulevard," and converted into a rollicking theme park, merchandise shop, and concert venue called the "NFL Experience."
Already, reports are circulating about prices being tripled, with modest hotel rooms in Midtown jacked to $1,000 a night, and even more modest accommodations across the Hudson River in New Jersey, close to MetLife Stadium, offered at the princely sum of $600. That's on top of what are already the highest ticket prices ever, from $500 to $2,600, an increase the NFL candidly acknowledged was intended to make life tough on scalpers.
But hustlers won't be the only folks forced to improvise.
Plans for the event have been three years in the making, but depending on weather, they might not be finalized until the last minute. Moving fans across the region, even aided by the nation's most extensive public transportation network, presents a logistical nightmare even before security considerations are factored in.
"You've got two states, separated by a river, and people from the five boroughs and eight or nine counties in New Jersey all heading for the same place in a matter of hours," said Al Kelly, who heads the host Super Bowl committee. "What we have is a series of contingency plans where priorities shift according to the day and in some cases hour by hour. . . . If a storm hits one day, we'll shift resources to clearing certain roads and bridges; if it lands somewhere else at a different time, we could be forced to change the entire blueprint.
"The one thing we better be," Kelly said finally, "is nimble."
But more than the region's reputation is on the line.
By waiving the normal Super Bowl specifications to grease New York's winning bid in 2010 - previously, bid cities were required to average 50-degree temperatures during game week - Goodell and his owners are out to prove the proposition in "New York, New York": If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Since taking over as commissioner in 2006, Goodell has made securing new stadiums or renovating existing ones for his already wealthy owners - almost always with some taxpayer financing - every bit as much a signature issue as player safety. It's no coincidence that all five of the stadiums that have, or will, come online during his tenure have already been awarded the big game.
Nor is Goodell above dangling the carrot of a future Super Bowl as a reward to cities and states willing to throw tax dollars into stadium pots. With 19 of the league's 32 teams situated within winter's reach - six already have domed stadiums - a successful Super Bowl outdoors could put the entire U.S. map in play for his pitch.
New York might seem like a tough place to set a precedent. It is already a nexus for many of the world's financial, entertainment, and media empires, and chaotic on its quietest day. Just rising above that clutter is no small feat. And even if the NFL does a bang-up job, it won't turn around and ask the region's taxpayers for help anytime soon. MetLife Stadium opened for business in April 2010, with the $1.6 billion construction cost covered jointly by the cotenants, New York's Giants and Jets, using private funds.
"The other thing that's important," said Giants co-owner John Mara, the third generation of his family to run the club, "is that all of us, across the NFL for many years, said over and over that so many of the most memorable games ever played were played in extreme weather.
"So why not here?"