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Home field disadvantage
Super Bowl's neutral site helps corporate ticket buyers but does little to help game itself.
February 4, 2005: 9:16 AM EST
A weekly column by Chris Isidore, CNN/Money senior writer
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Penn State would be a better home than Jacksonville for an Eageles-Steelers Super Bowl.
Penn State would be a better home than Jacksonville for an Eageles-Steelers Super Bowl.
SportsBiz SportsBiz Column archive Sports Illustrated email Chris Isidore

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's too bad we're locked into having the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., this year.

If the game pits the Steelers against the Eagles, the fans who care most about it would vote overwhelmingly to hold it in State College, Pa.

Sure, Penn State's home is probably a bit short of hotel rooms. But since it's less than 200 miles to both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, there might not be as much need for overnight stays.

It's not like Jacksonville is flush with accomodations, either. The city had to arrange for cruise ships to dock there during the Super Bowl festivities to provide several thousand visitors with lodging in the days leading up to the Feb. 6 game.

With a 108,000-seat capacity, Penn State's Beaver Stadium holds a lot more fans than Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium, even if many of seats in State College are bleachers with no backs.

Eagles and Steelers fans probably wouldn't even notice that State College gets chilly in early February. Anyone who needs Jacksonville's average high temperature of 66 degrees to go to the big game isn't much of a fan anyway.

Besides, if the nation's biggest sporting event could be seen in person by its teams' most ardent fans, who cares about frost bite? That's really the point, more than my not terribly earnest suggestion that the game should be moved to rural Pennsylvania.

A more serious -- but just as unlikely -- suggestion is that the Super Bowl should be played like most other sports championships: on the home field of one team or the other.

Game bigger than the fans?

The Super Bowl has gotten bigger than the fans.

It's a corporate schmooze fest, a celebration of marketing and tax-deductible business entertainment. The game itself is secondary.

With the Super Bowl played on a neutral site, only 35 percent of the tickets are set aside to be split between the two competing teams. About the same size pool is set aside for the other 30 teams in the league. The NFL itself gets 25 percent of the seats, for corporate partners and the like.

Tour groups that snatch up seats for clients say that most of their packages are sold well before the season starts, let alone before anyone knows who will be on the field.

"I would say 90 percent of our bookings happen six to eight months prior to the game," said Patrick Aime, a partner with Creative Image Group.

In other words, most of the people in the stands don't have any personal rooting interest in the game.

Could it be done?

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy says that the game has become such an event that there is no way it could be staged in a city that is not known until a week or two before the opening kickoff. All that hoopla requires time and planning, he argues.

Fox Sports spokesman Lou D'Ermilio says that if the Super Bowl were played on one of the team's home fields, it would be a challenge for broadcasters, but not an insurmountable one.

"A viewer at home wouldn't necessarily notice anything missing," he said. "There would be fewer of the extras. We're going to have 12 turf cams embedded in the field for the Super Bowl. For the World Series we were only able to have two."

The hotel rooms would clearly be more expensive, as hotels in the city would know they could jack up prices once their team won the right to host the game, rather than guaranteeing blocks of rooms to the league so that their city can win the right to host. But depending on the ticket split, a Super Bowl played with a home field advantage might draw fewer out-of-town fans.

The real problem is what would happen if a cold weather city played host to the big game.

When the owners decide later this year which city will get the 2009 Super Bowl, they will once again weigh four warm-weather locations that have hosted the game in the past -- Atlanta, Houston, Miami and Tampa.

If it's a good game, fans will fill the stadium. They come out for New England's frigid home-field playoff games, as they did in Green Bay's famous "Ice Bowl" NFL championship in 1967. That one, played in 13-below weather, drew a sellout crowd, which is more than can be said about the first Super Bowl in Los Angeles two weeks later.

True fans know that football, like revenge, is best served cold. But would fair-weather corporate fans flock to Wisconsin or Foxboro in the dead of winter?

"That'd be a tough sell," said tour packager Aime.  Top of page

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