Super Bowl in Phila.? A cautionary tale

Snow at Lincoln Financial Field would be just one concern about a Super Bowl in Philadelphia.       MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff
Snow at Lincoln Financial Field would be just one concern about a Super Bowl in Philadelphia.       MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff
Posted: February 06, 2014

The first Seahawks fan hadn't yet boarded NJ Transit for Secaucus on Sunday when Don Smolenski reminded everyone just how much Jeffrey Lurie and the Eagles want to host a Super Bowl.

The Eagles president, Smolenski was on the phone a few days before Super Bowl XLVIII, making it clear that he and Lurie were keeping a close eye on how New York and New Jersey handled the run-up to the big game. That way, they'd be better prepared to make their bid for a Super Bowl in Philadelphia and at Lincoln Financial Field.

In fact, Smolenski said that he, Lurie, and members of the franchise's corporate-partner department would head up to the region to do an "informal assessment" of game-day transportation, setup, and security. Which means their group and that Seahawks fan should finally be getting home any day now.

Here's hoping Lurie and Smolenski took the long, hard look that they promised they would. In an event of such size and scope, the details are everything, and the complications and failures that arose Sunday and Monday would be endemic to any cold-weather city that aspires to host the Super Bowl, Philadelphia included.

An overwhelmed train system, increased traffic, a ban on tailgating, canceled and delayed flights - all this, and the weather Sunday was perfect for football. The Seahawks and Broncos played in ideal conditions. Just imagine if the snow and ice that swept through the Northeast on Monday had arrived a day earlier. The NFL was lucky, and on Monday, Eric Grubman, the league's executive vice president and its president of business ventures, was still trying to explain why the game's organizers weren't ready for the reported 28,000 people who rode NJ Transit from Secaucus to MetLife Stadium.

"People left Penn Station [in Manhattan] much earlier than they needed to, so you had a queue forming that filled up the lobby of Secaucus. That's my understanding," Grubman told reporters. "Then when people who were on the trains from Penn Station and other places in New Jersey arrived in Secaucus station anticipating that they'd get that first train, they ran into a wall of people waiting."

Grubman's answer was a lesson in the law of unintended consequences, and Philadelphia wouldn't be immune to similar issues. Remember: In 2008, while planning the Phillies' championship parade, city officials had encouraged fans to use public transportation, then were surprised that fans actually used public transportation. "We are being overwhelmed," a SEPTA spokesman said at the time. Sounds familiar.

Of course, the 2018 Super Bowl is the next one that still needs a site, although the finalists have been picked. The Eagles and the city have some time to figure out how to present themselves in the best possible light to attract the game - that is, if the NFL's owners decide to give a cold-weather, outdoor Super Bowl another try.

"If that's the case, Philadelphia is one of the cities you'd want to be," said Scott O'Neil, the CEO of both the 76ers and the Prudential Center in Newark, the site of this year's Super Bowl media day. "Everybody will collapse on the city, and having a stadium and arena in the city proper is a good thing."

Philadelphia's geography and the Linc's location would indeed give Lurie and the Eagles certain advantages over other northeastern franchises. Lurie may not carry quite the clout and respect of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, but sharing a Super Bowl among Foxboro, Providence, and Boston would be as unwieldy as it was for New York and New Jersey - and with a greater likelihood of terrible weather, to boot. And even if FedEx Field wasn't 15 miles outside downtown Washington, one doesn't imagine Daniel Snyder's peers are in much of a hurry to reward him with responsibility for the touchstone event in U.S. sports.

So yes, at the moment, it is possible that Philadelphia will host a Super Bowl. But beyond raising Lurie's cachet around the league and validating the $125 million that he's spending to renovate the Linc, what would be the benefit to Philadelphia and its citizens? There would be some interesting celebrity sightings around town . . . and then what? The NFL likes to tout the positive economic effects of hosting a Super Bowl, but a 2004 study by economists at Williams College and Lake Forest College found that the actual economic benefits are, on average, a quarter of what the league says they will be. Would civic pride make up the difference?

Such questions don't concern the NFL's power people much. On Friday, commissioner Roger Goodell had called the idea of a New York/New Jersey Super Bowl "innovative and unprecedented," and maybe he was right. Even though hundreds of unfortunate souls spent hours stuck on train-station platforms and stairwells - some of them fainting, some of them dehydrated, all of them miserable amid an unseasonably warm afternoon in North Jersey - it didn't have to be a totally unpleasant experience. They say the Mall at Mill Creek in Secaucus is lovely this time of year.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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