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City Hopes Freebie Package Will Win Super Bowl

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The San Diego Super Bowl Task Force has taken the unprecedented step of offering to the National Football League a package of incentives that includes free hotel rooms and transportation, in an all-out bid to bring the game here in 1993, local officials said Friday.

The “freebie"-rich package, which no host city has ever offered before, includes free transportation for the competing teams, as well as free hotel rooms for the clubs, various celebrities, NFL staff members and dignitaries.

Other items include the free use of plush sky boxes at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium and no rental charge on the San Diego Convention Center for the league’s gala party two nights before the game.

Peg Nugent, who acts as liaison between the league and the San Diego Super Bowl Task Force, said the incentives are worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions” and have never been offered in any of the city’s previous Super Bowl bids.

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Super Bowl XXII was played in San Diego in January, 1988, and Nugent said that, according to a study, the game represented a $136-million windfall to the county with an even greater impact on Southern California as a whole.

Task force member Dal Watkins of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau said that, based on more recent studies, the Super Bowl is believed to be worth as much as $200 million to the host city.

“It’s worth offering some good incentives,” Watkins said. “The bidding has now become so fierce that we wouldn’t get it otherwise.”

Some officials say the city wants the game for other reasons as well: They believe the GOP San Diego to extract a better deal from Houston and swing the 1992 Republican Convention to Texas.

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But a key factor to offering incentives is the competition: Los Angeles. “That’s enough to make us pull out all the stops,” said one city official who asked not to be identified.

Even so, several local businessmen appeared less than enthusiastic about offering anything free.

Joe Rothman, general manager of the San Diego Marriott, which the NFL used as league headquarters for the ’88 Super Bowl, said other hotel owners have agreed--grudgingly--to subsidize colleagues who offer the free rooms.

“It’s the only way any of us would agree to it,” Rothman said. “I don’t want to rain on anyone’s Super Bowl parade, but there’s no end to the NFL’s greed.”

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Rothman and others said freebies could set an ugly precedent, in that the NFL may demand such incentives from every host city in the future.

But Tom Vincent, president of the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Assn., said none of the hotel owners he conferred with were opposed to the plan.

“There’s not a person who wouldn’t want to see the Super Bowl come here, but there’s a cost to getting it,” Vincent said. “The return on their investment will be tremendous.”

Vincent said he anticipated giving the NFL about 300 free rooms per night for a total of 2,500 “room nights,” referring to the eight or nine days rooms would be occupied.

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Task force member Nugent said the incentive package was not part of the city’s bid last March, when the NFL awarded the game to Phoenix. At that time, Los Angeles--or specifically, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena--finished second behind Phoenix. San Diego finished third.

San Diego and Los Angeles were reborn as contenders last November, when Arizona voters rejected a state holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue then launched a move to remove the game from Phoenix.

League owners are expected to endorse Tagliabue’s decision at a meeting in Kona, Hawaii, on March 19. Last month, the NFL’s Site Selection Committee said that only San Diego and Pasadena were being considered as replacement sites.

Nugent said the incentive package is necessary because of Pasadena’s edge--the size of the Rose Bowl (101,000 seats), contrasted with that of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, which has a Super Bowl capacity of 73,300.

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San Diego’s other problem is the city’s own history of failed attempts to pay tribute to the slain civil rights leader. The task force has sought to counteract the problem by saying Super Bowl XXVII will become a showcase for small and minority-owned businesses.

Local officials say the city will follow its own equal-opportunity employment standards in offering a blueprint for Super Bowl contracts.

City Councilman Wes Pratt said that minority-owned businesses could expect to be awarded--at a minimum--20% of construction contracts, 10% of vendor contracts and 12% of consulting fees.

The standards for women-owned businesses were set forth as 7% for construction, 10% for vendors and 3% for consulting. Nugent said the city has submitted as part of its bid a multiethnic cultural “celebration” in Balboa Park the day before the game.

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Pratt, the only black member of the council, was flown to New York this week at the expense of the Super Bowl Task Force to meet with Tagliabue. Pratt said he believes “any” incentive package is worth it.

“We’re talking about pumping $150 million into the local economy,” Pratt said. “That kind of money allows us to address other problems, such as homelessness, poverty. . . . It’s the nature of the process that deals will be cut. It’s how you get the game.”

But Greg Akili, head of the African-American Organizing Project, which opposes the Super Bowl being played in San Diego, called the package “nothing more than welfare for the rich. Those (NFL) owners are some of the biggest fat cats in America, but in this case, the city will do anything--including whoring itself--to make sure they get this football game.

“For us, this whole thing centers around a question of dignity and respect. It now looks like the whole city is dealing in an undignified way. In my view, these are desperate--and sad--acts.”

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Jim Jacobson, co-founder of the Martin Luther King Tribute Coalition, which opposes attempts to get the game, said, “I was wondering what kind of rabbit they would pull out of their hat. Maybe this is the rabbit that will beat Pasadena.

“Tagliabue said in a New York Times commentary that he wanted to take the game to a city free of this controversy surrounding King. This isn’t that city. But now, it’s the old story of money, with San Diego offering more.”

Officials for the NFL were unavailable for comment Friday. A recorded message noted that they had taken the day off in honor of King, whose birthday was Jan. 15. Also unavailable was David Simon, head of the Los Angeles Sports Council.

Task force member Dal Watkins said he had heard that Los Angeles officials were willing to match “about 85%" of San Diego’s free incentives. But Nugent said she had heard that free transportation, a major factor in Los Angeles, was not part of the city’s bid.

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She said the Los Angeles group had talked of having the Super Bowl party at either Disneyland or Universal Studios, neither of which appeared interested in making free space available.

She called San Diego’s package “a short-term loss for a long-term gain--in the hundreds of millions of dollars.” She said Norman Braman, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and chairman of the league’s Site Selection Committee, evidently liked her approach.

“He looked me in the eye,” Nugent said, “and told me, ‘Your bid is perfect.’ ”


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