Cities wooed team owners with cocktail parties, fancy video presentations and gifts. Proximity to a championship golf course was a plus.
But times have changed. Money matters.
This is not to say that money wasn't important before, that amenities ruled over profit. But how the Super Bowl fits into its business plan has become increasingly important to the NFL.
"It was time to have cities look at the game like any convention that would bring 20,000 to 50,000 visitors into a city," said Jim Steeg, NFL director of special events. "We wanted to get the same considerations that any convention of that magnitude would get. If you would give complimentary hotel rooms to the National Bowling Congress, then why not the NFL?"
But bidding for a Super Bowl requires more than an offer of free hotel rooms. Representatives from the three cities bidding to play host to the 1993 game are in Orlando, Fla., for the annual NFL owners meetings this week with proposals filled with financial sweeteners.
San Diego, Pasadena and Phoenix, the three finalists for Super Bowl XXVII, are promising not only a good time but a healthy bottom line. The voting is scheduled to be held today after each city makes a 15-minute presentation.
"There is a realization that the game belongs to the NFL, not the community," said Bob Payne, chairman of the San Diego Super Bowl Task Force. "And you better be prepared to offer the NFL free hospitality in terms of parking, rent, concessions and hospitality sites."
Each competing city is offering that, and more.
Phoenix values its package at $14.1 million, including $10 million in ticket revenue. Pasadena is promising an $8.3-million Rose Bowl renovation project that will include a special box seat area. San Diego is keeping mum about financial concessions it might make but leaves no doubt about its understanding of the value of the game to the city.
An economic impact study conducted after the 1988 Super Bowl at San Diego showed the game generated $141 million for the local economy, including $1.2 million in direct tax revenue, according to Peg Nugent, the city's special events coordinator.
Nugent credits San Diego for perfecting the bidding philosophy of Super Bowl as business. She said the idea of returning most game-related revenue, such as concessions and parking, to the NFL came from San Diego's unsuccessful 1987 bid to be host of the 1991 game.
San Diego was beaten out for '91 by Tampa, Fla., which also offered a number of financial concessions, including free hotel rooms for the participating teams.
"Once Tampa gave away those hotel rooms, it made the pattern for other cities," said Bill Shover, chairman of the Phoenix '93 Committee. "Now, everyone has to."
As the bidding escalates, cities must be more creative with their financial packages. Just when it appears there is nothing left to kick in, a city finds another perk to toss to the NFL. For Phoenix, there is free hotel space for the 1992 owners meeting already set for the city and the competition committee meeting that precedes it.
Such incentives mean a better bottom line for a league. But if it sounds as if the NFL is being a bit greedy--scarfing up a few hundred free hotel rooms in light of a record $3.6-billion, four-year television deal--the league points out it is not taking all that the cities want to offer.
Steeg said that when Minneapolis and Seattle started a cash bidding war for the right to play host to the 1992 game, the NFL said, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Minneapolis offered the league $1 million as part of its package, and Seattle countered with $1.5 million, Steeg said. But Steeg said the league decided it would be inappropriate to accept revenues not directly generated by on-site game activities.
NFL officials decided instead to restrict their influence to revenues that flowed directly from the game, such as tickets, novelties, programs, parking and concessions.
The league also became more demanding about the physical plant available for the game.
"We're not going to spend money to re-sod a field or purchase equipment," Steeg said. "We're past that stage."
Those improvements are left to the host city. In that area, Pasadena and San Diego have bettered their bids.
Teams complained about training at distant sites for previous games in the Rose Bowl (the National Conference team used the Rams' facilities in Anaheim), so this time, free use of UCLA and USC practice facilities has been pledged.
San Diego has countered by pointing to the new football operations center at San Diego State and the new Alex Spanos training facility at UC San Diego, which replaced a previous training site at the University of San Diego.
Phoenix, which is trying to land its first Super Bowl, is offering comparable training facilities and a $2-million field renovation plan for Sun Devil Stadium, the 76,545-capacity stadium in adjacent Tempe.
But for all the increased emphasis on money and construction materials, people still mean a lot. Personalities and politics count.
Phoenix is bringing a bipartisan group of its three most important statewide elected officials to Orlando. Democratic Gov. Rose Mofford and U.S. Sens. Dan DeConcini, a Democrat, and John McCain, a Republican, are making the trip. With two California cities in the running, statewide elected leaders are remaining neutral. But Mayor Tom Bradley will be on hand for the Los Angeles area and Mayor Maureen O'Connor will be there for San Diego.
The real politics, however, will be played out by the owners behind closed doors. That is where the favor-trading, arm-twisting and you-scratch-my-back, I'll-scratch-yours strategy reaches an art form.
"When those doors close, anything can happen," Steeg said.
The lobbying effort by Charger owner Alex Spanos began to intensify a few weeks ago, when he pledged to speak with every NFL owner about the advantages of San Diego.
The first ballot today will be used to eliminate one city. The owners will then choose between the two remaining cities. The first one to receive support from a three-quarter majority of the 28 owners will be awarded the game. If after three ballots neither city has 21 votes, the winner will be the first city to gain a simple majority of the voting owners.
The losers in voting for 1993 will have to wait until at least the 1995 game for another shot; the four finalists for the 1994 game--Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans and Tampa--have already been selected.
Plans for awarding games beyond 1994 are uncertain because the NFL is rethinking the bidding process. One alternative being considered is rotating the game among a group of worthy cities.
"We might want to look at what we're going to do through 2000 rather than do this year-by-year," Steeg said.
Because the game has become an annual showcase for a league that is already image conscious, choosing a city with the right aesthetics--climate, scenery and political setting--can be as important as one with the biggest and best stadium.
Stories about rioting in Miami, snow-related traffic jams in Pontiac, Mich., or price gouging for hotel rooms in New Orleans are not what the league wants in the week leading up to the game.
Each city does its best to highlight its pluses, while perhaps taking not-so-veiled pokes at the competition.
In its bid, Phoenix mentions not only the environmental climate--the average January temperature is 65--but the labor climate as well. Its proposal notes that Arizona is a right-to-work state and that Sun Devil Stadium personnel are non-union. The implication is that the NFL does not have to worry about potential labor problems if it selects Phoenix. No notice is taken of the state's lack of a holiday to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Rose Bowl bidders point out that few stadiums are in a more attractive setting, surrounded by expensive homes, park land and a golf course, with the San Gabriel Mountains as a backdrop. They also note that most modern stadiums sit in some nondescript site on a highway outside of town. Sounds a lot like San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, situated on I-8 and surrounded by acres of parking lots.
The television-minded NFL can almost picture the blimp shots.
It also helps that with a capacity of 103,000, the Rose Bowl is about 30,000 seats larger than San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium (when temporarily expanded for the game) and 26,000 larger than Sun Devil Stadium. That could represent as much as $4 million in additional ticket revenue.
Asked what San Diego has to offer over the Rose Bowl and its massive seating capacity, San Diego task force members quickly shift the subject to "quality of life." Read that as no smog and less traffic. All of the advantages of the Southern California good life that Los Angeles offers, but with fewer hassles.
In the end, game revenues, scenic settings and rounds of free golf might not be the determining factors. Chronology, experience and loyalty might dictate the choice.
Because Phoenix has yet to prove it can stage a Super Bowl, and San Diego had its game one year after the most recent in the Rose Bowl, the decision might simply hinge on a notion that it is Pasadena's turn.
The Rose Bowl last went after the 25th anniversary game in 1991 in a bidding process muddled by three competing bids from the Los Angeles area (Anaheim Stadium and the Coliseum made the others). That regional infighting turned off the NFL and contributed to a climate that helped Tampa land the game.
Wiser from that experience, Los Angeles-area forces decided to rally behind a unified group, led by the Los Angeles Sports Council, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to bring major sporting events to the area.
After witnessing the internal squabbles of before, the NFL might want to reward Los Angeles' new-found regional cooperation.
"We've worked very closely with the NFL on this," said David Simon, sports council president. "We know it's a close race, but we feel good about our chances."
Neither Phoenix nor San Diego has given up.
"We know we're in third place behind the two California cities," said Shover, the Phoenix committee chairman. "But I'd rather be lagging back and have the faster stretch run."
San Diego officials handicap the race as being between themselves and the Rose Bowl.
"We keep hearing from around the league that '93 is the Rose Bowl's year," said Nugent, San Diego's special events coordinator. "But we're not going to let that discourage us. We're going to fight right down to the end. You never know what can happen."