Sharpe to the Point: Bowing to the Bowl

Jim SharpeJuly 2018
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Woo-hoo! The Super Bowl is coming back to Arizona! It’s time to get… uh, excited… right? Depends on who you ask.

For most people, Arizona landing its fourth Super Bowl – Super Bowl LVII – would seem to be another jewel in the Valley of the Sun’s crown. The NFL officially named Glendale to host the 2023 game in late May, and the local response was mostly beatific. Mostly.

I, for one, have to ask the question: Will the big game instead be a Super Burden on taxpayers and our political identity?

Let’s put this into context. Super Bowl XXX at Sun Devil Stadium in 1996 was unusual, and not just because a cornerback (Larry Brown of the Dallas Cowboys) was named MVP for the first time. The weirder thing about Arizona’s first Super Bowl was that it was supposed to have been played three years earlier. That was because of something that has become less and less unusual: the NFL brandishing the Super Bowl like a weapon to influence local politics.

Their goal at the time, a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday for Arizona, was admirable. However, many didn’t appreciate the NFL rescinding Super Bowl XXVII and forcing Arizona’s hand in the matter. Today, such tactics are routine for the NFL. Just days after Houston hosted Super Bowl LI in 2017, the NFL issued a warning that future games in the Lone Star State were in jeopardy if the Texas Legislature passed a bill that would limit bathroom access for transgender people. The threat worked. Despite calling a special session, Texas Governor Greg Abbott was unable to get a bill on his desk. Some will call this social justice, but I have a sneaking suspicion a lot of Texans were “fixin’ to tell the NFL to go to hell.” (Not an actual quote, but it sounds like something a Texan would say.)

Involvement in matters of government aren’t entirely new to the NFL, though.There’s a long list of public benefits the NFL receives: the antitrust exemption that Congress bestowed on them in 1961, which lets the league act as a monopoly; their classification by the IRS as a nonprofit entity; and, of course, the local taxpayers who foot a good chunk of the cost of the NFL’s stadiums.

In light of these goodies, you’d think the league would be the one offering up the incentives. But we all know it’s the other way around. It’s gotten so ridiculous that I’m waiting for the NFL to institute a punt, pass and kick competition for governors and mayors.

The powers that be justify the arrangement by touting a possible economic impact of $1 billion for 2023. But Glendale lost a ton of money the last time around, footing the gameday bill for firefighters and police while Phoenix and Scottsdale reaped most of the pre-game “impact” money. One Glendale estimate put that loss at more than $800,000.

You’re welcome in advance, NFL. You can show your appreciation by acting like a guest – rather than an overlord.

We, in turn, will keep in mind that, just like on the field, there are winners and losers when hosting a Super Bowl. And some taxpayers will run up the score at the expense of other taxpayers. One thing’s for sure: The game is always fixed so the NFL wins.

Jim Sharpe is the host of Arizona’s Morning News on KTAR-FM 92.3 (weekdays 5-9 a.m.).

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