Eight miles. That's what separates East Rutherford from New York. But it might as well be a million, as competition for bragging rights to this year's Super Bowl is at a fevered pitch given the tourism dollars at stake.
The Super Bowl matchup between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks is expected to generate $550 million for the New York/New Jersey region - which includes hotel and restaurant receipts and local spending by visitors. New Jersey tourism officials are hoping to capture at least 25 percent of that, and they're fighting for every dollar.
"Every time I hear a player or broadcaster say he's heading to New York for the Super Bowl, it makes my ears bleed," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), who held a news conference Thursday at the Hilton-Meadowlands overlooking MetLife Stadium. At his side were Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D., N.J.) and Cassella. "Apparently, the NFL needs a geography lesson, too."
Menendez then took issue with the official Super Bowl program that features - what else - the New York City skyline.
"Have you seen it?" he said. "In the distance you can see a tiny sliver of Jersey City. You're kidding, right? All due respect to my friends across the Hudson, but this is New Jersey's game."
Eight North Jersey mayors - from Ridgewood, Montclair, Secaucus, Rutherford, East Rutherford, Newark, Hoboken, and Jersey City - took matters into their own hands when it became apparent NFL sponsorship money would be unavailable to them. They enlisted the Meadowlands Regional Chamber to help identify other business sponsors and began planning their own low-cost, Super Bowl-related events three months ago.
East Rutherford will host the Meadowlands Tailgate Party on a half-block with a beer garden and live concert the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday, while Secaucus has the Winter Blast starting Thursday and ending Saturday that includes a food truck mash-up (like in Manhattan) and a football clinic for kids by current New York Giants players.
The activities pale in comparison with "Super Bowl Boulevard" - a four-day, 13-block extravaganza on Broadway between 34th and 47th Streets from Wednesday to Saturday. Deemed "the Super Bowl's epicenter for NFL fans in New York City" by the league, it will include a Super Bowl Virtual Theater and live musical performances. The centerpiece is a toboggan run, a 60-foot-tall, 180-foot-long attraction that will cost $5 a ride.
"The simple fact is, the region would not have the Super Bowl if we were not located next to the biggest media market and greatest city in the world," said Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau chief executive officer Jim Kirkos. "However, the flip side is also true.
"New York would not get their economic impact from the Super Bowl if the New Jersey Meadowlands was not host to MetLife Stadium and all of its transportation assets to New York City," he said. "New Jersey and the Meadowlands deserves its share of the impact and prestige that comes from being a host community."
League spokesman Brian McCarthy said the NFL took great pains to schedule Super Bowl events in both states and for both to benefit financially. The two teams are staying in Jersey City hotels. The family members of the teams as well NFL staff and vendors are staying in various hotels throughout New Jersey. Super Bowl Media Day is at the Prudential Center in Newark on Tuesday and the NFL tailgate party on game day is at Meadowlands racetrack.
"The way it was bid, it was a New York/New Jersey bid so both states will benefit," he said. "The area supports two teams. They have a fantastic stadium and connections with New Jersey and New York that make it an attractive place to be."
From Princeton on up, New Jersey hotels, restaurants, and party rental firms are seeing an uptick in bookings.
Kirkos said there were almost 10,000 hotel rooms in the Greater Meadowlands region - compared with 90,000 in New York - and he said all could be booked for Super Bowl week and weekend.
"I have worked in the market for over 20 years, and I can't remember the last time I sold out on the last weekend of January," said Sally Altman, director of sales at the Holiday Inn in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., which sits three miles from MetLife Stadium, home to the Giants and New York Jets during the regular season.
Altman said the 244-room hotel had only a handful of rooms left and was charging $600 to $1,000 a night.
"The [Super Bowl] halftime show is stationed at our high school," said Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli of the staging area. "We are a big part of this thing, and it's all about location and where we are."
He said Secaucus' 15 hotels with a combined 3,000 rooms were typically at 82 percent occupancy year-round. This week and last they were at 100 percent.
"They pretty much jacked up their rates, but are still cheaper than New York's," Gonnelli said.
Tourism is a $43 billion-a-year industry for New Jersey. The state Office of Travel and Tourism partnered with the Super Bowl Host Committee to promote all regions of the state, including on its homepage, www.visitnj.org/super-bowl-xlviii, and the committee's website, www.nynjsuperbowl.com/ny-nj-guide. The agency also placed an insert that's running this week in the New York Times promoting visitnj.org.
Every booked room in New Jersey has an 8 percent occupancy tax, of which 3 percent goes to the local municipality, and 5 percent to the state Treasury to promote tourism and the arts statewide, including the Jersey Shore.
"We are rooting for them," said Diane Wieland, director of Cape May County's Department of Tourism. She said her county saw a 10 to 15 percent decrease in tourism-related business last summer because of Hurricane Sandy.
"[The Super Bowl is] such a shot in the arm for everyone in the state because we had such a hit in the resort towns," she said. "This will help offset the loss from that."
Crews removed 13 inches of snow in and around MetLife Stadium on Wednesday after a blizzard pounded the Northeast. The National Weather Service in Mount Holly won't begin discussing weather for Super Bowl Sunday until this week. But it said one could at least expect more biting cold.
For NFL owners of teams in Philadelphia, New England, and Chicago, this year's Super Bowl is a major test case since it will be the first one in a Northern, open-air stadium. Previous Super Bowls have been held in cold-weather cities, but always in domed stadiums.
The NFL's McCarthy said if the Meadowlands Super Bowl is a success, Philadelphia and other cold cities could have a reason to go to the NFL's advisory committee and lobby to get rid of the requirement that host Super Bowl cities must be 50 degrees or warmer a month before the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl advisory committee (which includes Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie) permitted New York and New Jersey to bid for the 2014 Super Bowl despite not meeting the weather requirement. The 32 team owners voted in favor of the bid in May 2010.
"This is a historic event," McCarthy said. "The world will be watching, including NFL ownership since competition to host a Super Bowl is very intense with new stadiums coming on board."
Lurie is rooting for decent weather next Sunday.
"Many people, like myself, will be watching very closely to see how everything unfolds," he said Friday. "The possibility of hosting a Super Bowl right here in Philadelphia is something that we definitely look forward to and would welcome with open arms. We have a great city filled with passionate football fans and a magnificent stadium to host it."
Attendees at the Super Bowl at the Superdome in New Orleans last year were given radios. At the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, they were given sunscreen.
Those lucky enough to have a ticket to Super Bowl XLVIII will get a "Warm Welcome Kit" that includes a pullover hat, lip balm, hand warmers, mittens, and earmuffs.
SUPER BOWL BY THE NUMBERS
Expected economic impact for the New York/New Jersey region, with New Jersey hoping for at least 25 percent, or $137.5 million
Number of Americans who watched last year's Super Bowl (the most-viewed show in U.S. TV history)
Seating capacity at MetLife Stadium for the Super Bowl
Cost of a Super Bowl ticket (60 percent of tickets cost more than $1,000)
Number of people credentialed to put on the Super Bowl, including halftime show
Number of previous Super Bowls in cold-weather, open-air stadiums
SOURCES: The NFL, The Nielsen Co.