Super Bowl not worth what Atlanta is spending

I believe public money should not be spent on sports facilities such as Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Super Bowls like the 53rd version that will be played there on Sunday. They are bad financial deals for taxpayers. They are giveaways to the NFL and franchise owners, who socialize costs and privatize profits. 

Yet I don’t want to be a buzzkill. I would like to get swept up in the civic pride of hosting the Super Bowl in our city. I want to be excited about visitors coming to Atlanta this week. I cringe thinking that the city will mishandle the approaching snowstorm and (again) open us up to ridicule.

I just prefer that my pride of place be based on something other than making rich people richer with public money. If we’re going to lose money on this Super Bowl, can’t we at least get some things out of that will benefit the city beyond this week? 

It was in that spirit that I headed downtown Monday for the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee news conference. 

“It’s more than about the game, it’s about a lasting legacy,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, hopefully, during her opening remarks. 

Alas, it wasn’t long before this Super Bowl scam sapped my civic spirit. I heard a lot about why Atlanta is good for the NFL and its marquee game. I didn’t hear much about why spending so much public money on the Super Bowl is worth it for the city. 

Taxpayers will end up spending nearly $700 million on Blank’s stadium and at least another $28 million on this Super Bowl. Add the $700 million to the cost for the big game because a city doesn’t get a Super Bowl without a new stadium. It also doesn’t get one without providing an extensive list of items at no cost to the NFL, including hotel rooms and rent-free use of facilities, while the league pockets all ticket revenue (of course). 

The Host Committee says this Super Bowl will generate about $200 million in economic impact. Some economists say the true impact is a fraction of what’s usually claimed by such committees. Also, a portion of the revenue generated goes not to locals but to out of town corporations (the owners of hotels, for example). 

But if we accept the $200 million in impact we can subtract it from the $728 million in costs and see that, economically, the Super Bowl is a big loser for taxpayers. Lance Bottoms said public spending on sports facilities is “worth the investment” but it is not. The mayor is repeating the same line as most politicians on the subject, but add it to the list of reasons why it’s hard to get behind this Super Bowl as something good for the city.

As for the “lasting legacy” programs promoted by the Host Committee, they are heavy on public relations and short on cash. 

There is $2 million for John F. Kennedy Park on the city’s Westside via the NFL Foundation, Blank’s foundation and (of course) ticket sales from a Falcons preseason practice. One program connected Super Bowl vendors with more than 200 businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans and LGBT with promised resources for the future. Another will provide school breakfast grants in Atlanta. 

Other than that, the host committee wants to “inspire constructive dialogue” around social issues and do some planting projects as part of its “urban forest program.” These are all good things, but I keep coming back to the money.

Nothing on that  “Legacy 53” list that comes close to approaching the $700-million plus the city and state are giving to Blank and the NFL. I don’t see why doing those things requires the involvement of the NFL at all. Imagine what that $700 million could do for the city if it were spent on something other than subsidizing the NFL’s wildly-profitable business. 

It’s hard to be an enthusiastic booster for the city and the Super Bowl when the whole thing feels so gross. That’s before you even get into the city removing homeless camps two weeks prior to the Super Bowl, which it says is totally coincidental timing. 

Listen, I would love to stick to sports and write only about the Patriots and Rams this week. That would be easier to do if sports weren’t so interested in politics. The NFL and its owners always have their hands out for government money, and politicians always are eager to give it to them with no commensurate benefit to the public. 

I have to call them out for it, even as I acknowledge my hypocrisy on the issue. You can bet I’m going to enjoy some of the festivities this week surrounding the Super Bowl. If I weren’t working the game on Sunday, I’d still be watching it. 

The NFL’s product is good enough that we watch its games even when we don’t like its actions. The league has so much political and cultural power that it can openly and arrogantly extract money from cities eager to have the honor of losing money to play host to the Super Bowl. 

“We are prepared to put on the greatest Super Bowl ever,” said Brett Daniels, the Host Committee’s chief operating officer. 

The Super Bowl definitely will be great for the NFL’s cash flow. Visiting fans are likely to enjoy it, too. But the game isn’t great for Atlanta, which is losing money on the deal and not getting nearly enough “lasting legacy” in return.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
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