Is Super Bowl XLIV going to be Miami’s Super Bowl swan song?

AJ Contributor
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The Miami area is the epicenter of the National Football League’s world until Monday, as the Pro Bowl has already taken place and the Super Bowl will be played at whatever company has paid for the naming rights at Joe Robbie Stadium. But will the Miami area remain a post-season NFL hub? Commissioner Roger Goodell has made clear that for Miami to remain in the Super Bowl rotation, significant upgrades need to be made to the stadium.

That is not good news for those in the Miami area who think that the Super Bowl is a massive economic boost for the host market.  Goodell’s December announcement came about two years after some $250 million worth of improvements were made at what was called Dolphin Stadium. But the 22-year-old facility’s facelift was just a temporary fix, and the building still cannot compete with younger and more beautiful models in Arlington and Indianapolis, two stadiums that will host upcoming Super Bowls.

The old stadium has lighting problems and lower level seats are too far from the field. If there is a renovation, the stadium will get some sort of roof and other upgrades that would make it a Super Bowl contender again.

No one knows how much the upgrades will cost, but Dolphins ownership doesn’t seem too keen on paying for the improvements.

The February 7 Super Bowl will be the 10th time the Miami-area has hosted the big game, but there may not be an 11th unless Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, along with area business people and elected officials, knuckle under to Goodell’s (and NFL owners) wishes. Just ask business leaders in New Orleans, a former NFL Super Bowl favorite stop, Los Angeles and San Diego. The NFL dropped those cities from the Super Bowl rotation because the Louisiana Superdome, any Los Angeles area stadium and the San Diego facility were not up to state-of-the-art standards.

New Orleans hosted the big game nine times, the Los Angeles-area was a seven-time host and San Diego had the game three times. New Orleans got back in the rotation because of the massive renovations at the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and will host the big game in 2013.

Goodell’s warning has caught the attention of the Chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee Rodney Barreto, who told local media that using public dollars “needs to be debated and needs to be on the table,” adding, “Given the economy, hosting Pro Bowls and Super Bowls are fantastic. These are big money generators for the community.”

At least Barreto isn’t using the hosting of the Super Bowl as a chance to promote Miami to corporate CEOs as a possible place to shift all or part of their business operations to the area. In the lead up to the 2005 game, Jacksonville, Florida civic leaders hoped that corporate leaders would fall in love and move businesses to the northern Florida city.

South Florida Super Bowl proponents claim the 2007 Miami area Super Bowl brought in $463 million. It is a figure that is hard to quantify and more than likely highly over-inflated.

Barreto’s statement is at odds with those of a good many economists, including Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College.

South Florida in January and December is loaded with tourists, as are other Super Bowl stops such as Tampa and Glendale, Arizona. Because of how many people flock annually to Miami for non-Super Bowl reasons, Barreto’s assertion that the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl are big money makers needs some serious scrutiny.

Barreto has forgotten or wants to ignore something called the economic displacement theory.

Miami perennially gets snowbirds seeking refuge from the cold, harsh winters of the Northeast and Midwest who rent hotel and motel rooms, use local restaurants, rent cars and spend money in the Miami vicinity. The snowbirds are reliable clients.

“The displacement theory applies particularly in Miami,” said Zimbalist, who is a world-class sports economic expert. “You have fisherperople, tennis and golfers participants, sun lovers and businesses who go to Florida. They are displaced by (those going to the Super Bowl). Academic economists have found very little affect on the economy. Hotel occupancy doesn’t go up. Hotel rates do go up, but they are not hiring more people and the extra money goes back to the home office as the money does not go back to the local community.”

Sports leagues often overstate an event’s economic impact and that seems especially true in the Miami area. The Super Bowl would more likely have an economic impact on places not usually thought of as tourist destinations in the winter months such as Detroit, Michigan and Minneapolis, Minnesota.