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NFL's one-night stand
Detroit gets a nice economic shot in the arm from Super Bowl, but drop in corporate junkets means trip not likely to be repeated.
A weekly column by Chris Isidore,

NEW YORK ( - The Super Bowl is having an impact on Detroit this year unlike almost any other city it has visited.

Normally the game's economic impact on the city is wildly overstated.

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When a tourism destination like Miami or Tampa host the game, the Super Bowl visitors are doing little more than displacing the tourists who would be there if there was no game. Never was that better demonstrated than in February 2002, when a week delay in the NFL season due to the Sept. 11 attacks caused the Super Bowl to displace a convention of National Association of Auto Dealers who otherwise would have been for New Orleans the weekend the game was played there.

But at least in those cases, the Super Bowl host city knows it'll get a harder to quantify public relations and marketing boost to help bring visitors back to its tourism locales at other times.

By comparison, were it not for the Super Bowl XL, Detroit would be seeing an extra-small number of tourists enjoying its gray, snowy weather this weekend.

So when city officials say they estimate a $300 million in spending for the city's troubled economy from hosting the game, you can believe them for a change.

Of course, even with game and all of the preparations, good PR is still in short supply in Motown, what with General Motors Corp. (Research) and Ford Motor Co. (Research) both recently announcing plans to close plants and cut 30,000 jobs each to try to stem billions in losses.

"The timing of the struggles of the auto industry could not have been worse," Larry Alexander, CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau admitted to me when I was in Detroit last month. "But the NFL and Super Bowl is a big story itself. I think the ills of the auto industry will probably take a back seat for that week."

For the most part, that's been true, although numerous media outlets have taken time out from their football coverage to cast one more look at the automakers' woes.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, as important as the Super Bowl is for Detroit's troubled economy, it's not as big a lift as it gets from the auto show, which brings in about $500 million of spending every year.

A one-time boost

And unlike the Super Bowl, the auto show will return to Detroit. But the game that is largely paid for with automakers' advertising dollars probably won't return to Motown any time soon.

Detroit was awarded this game the same reason that New York was -- temporarily -- awarded the 2010 game: as either a bribe or inducement from the NFL to city leadership to spend hundreds of millions of public dollars to build a new stadium for the league.

When New York's plans to build its own covered football stadium fell through, the 2010 game was moved to Miami. And now that Detroit has ponied up its $300 million to build Ford Field, the league is likely done with it as well, even with the Ford family owning the Lions.

The game has made only two earlier trips to cold weather sites, 1982 in the Lions' previous home, the Silverdome, and 1992 in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. By comparison, next year Miami will host its ninth Super Bowl, giving it 22 percent of the first XLI (41) games.

The Super Bowl has become the NFL's main way to make its corporate sponsors, who pay the bills, happy. About a quarter of the tickets to the game are distributed by the league to its corporate partners, which is more than either teams playing in the game get for their fans (and sponsors).

Coming to Detroit in early February is not the best way for the league to make those sponsors happy.

Patrick Aimee, a partner at Creative Image Group, which organizes corporate junkets to sporting events, said a lot of corporate customers aren't in Detroit this year, and many who are have scaled up considerably.

"We have companies that attended the super bowl every year and this year they decided to skip it this year," said Patrick Aimee, a partner at Creative Image Group, which organizes corporate junkets to sporting events like the Super Bowl, the Final Four and the Master. "It's the weather."

Aimee said that those clients who are at this year's game have cut back on plans. Some are giving tickets to their employees rather than to clients.

"Some of them have already booked their plans for Miami," said Aimee, speaking about the site of next year's game. "Everyone can't wait to be down there, even the auto industry people."

That doesn't mean you'll be seeing empty seats at this year's games. Pittsburgh fans, who live a short car drive from Detroit and aren't going to be scared by Detroit weather, are snapping up tickets for their team's first appearance in 10 years.

"We're still talking $2,900 for an upper level ticket between the 20 yard lines," said Aimee. "That's about what we saw in Jacksonville (for the 2005 Super Bowl.) Of course this is a smaller stadium. But it's also the case that Pittsburgh fans being willing to travel."

Detroit's Alexander says he hopes that this isn't the last visit for the Super Bowl, but he admits he knows it will be difficult.

"It's no secret that warm weather and blue skies are a draw for the Super Bowl," said Alexander. "The fans aren't going to get to play golf here. But football is at it's heart a cold weather sport and we've embraced the weather in all our plans.

"If they (league officials) see it as successful, I think the door will be open to considering us again," he said.

But in a city facing a lot of uphill battles right now, that might be the longest shot hope of all, though.


For a look at super hype behind Super Bowl ads, click here.

Click here for a look at Super Bowl advertisers looking for extra large laughs.

Click here for a look at Detroit's endless winter.

For more on the business of sports, click hereTop of page

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