Finally, after a long wait and extraordinary effort, it’s game day. The Super Bowl will be played Sunday in Minnesota for the first time since 1992. It took a stunning new $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium and more than $50 million in local private-sector donations to lure professional sports’ biggest extravaganza back to the “Bold North.”
That’s an achievement that warrants civic pride — and civic resolve. Minnesota should not have to wait another 26 years or build more new facilities to lure its next Super Bowl. Neither should a long period elapse before Minnesota’s turn at hosting other major sports and civic events comes again.
Minnesota has big-events momentum now, as witness today’s game, the 2014 MLB All-Star Game, the 2016 Ryder Cup, the 2017 and 2018 summer X Games, and the 2019 NCAA Final Four. This region has much to gain if it can keep that string going. The economic payoff from the Super Bowl alone is a matter of dispute among analysts, but is almost certain to exceed $200 million. Its payoff in regional visibility, branding, civic cohesion and talent recruitment is unquantifiable but may be greater in the long run.
That’s why the formation of a new task force within the business-led Itasca Project warrants the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s equivalent of a pep rally. We applaud the task force’s mission: It aims to test the feasibility of Minnesota’s becoming one of the nation’s handful of recurring major-events destinations, and if the results are positive, to recommend a strategy to make it happen.
The Itasca Events and Sports Task Force’s chair, Jim Dwyer, president and CEO of the private brands unit of Post Holdings, promises a fact-based investigation untainted by preconceived notions. That, too, deserves a cheer.
But one element of a strategy for upping Minnesota’s game seems obvious. Other states and metro areas — Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Atlanta among them — succeed in this realm in part because they have something Minnesota lacks: a dependable stream of public dollars that helps pay for bidding and/or hosting major events. Minnesota should follow their lead.
That proposal is fraught with political sensitivity. But the Itasca task force ought not shy away from it for that reason. With much now in Minnesota’s favor — commodious venues, experienced local planners, a ready cadre of volunteers, a knack for helping an event serve the public good —
one clear weakness remains: Minnesota’s bids rely too heavily on raising private dollars.
The Twin Cities corporate community is renowned for its philanthropy and commitment to civic advancement. But a Super Bowl strains its giving capacity. Several large events in rapid succession test its limits.
“With our model, the success of the event is only as good as the corporate community’s pockets are deep,” said Super Bowl LII host committee co-chair Richard Davis. “It’s the same companies, over and over.” Donations to civic events can crowd out the support businesses otherwise would provide to other worthy causes, he noted. An economic downturn can scramble event plans.
Site selectors seek assurance that a host city’s financial plan is solid, event-recruitment professionals say. That gives places with access to a dedicated public funding stream an edge. As Terry Mattson, president of Visit St. Paul, put it, “This is what’s needed to take Minnesota past its reputation as flyover country.”
It’s telling that Mattson and his professional peers in the Twin Cities are as enthusiastic as we are about the Itasca task force. They are rightfully proud of the work they do and are grateful for the considerable public and private backing that work already receives. It’s given them a great product to sell. In just the past decade, taxpayer investments have helped build TCF Bank Stadium (which opened in 2009), Target Field (2010), the Green Line (2014), CHS Field (2015), U.S. Bank Stadium (2016), and Minnesota United’s Allianz Field, due to open in 2019, plus renovate Target Center in 2017.
What’s more, city and state tax dollars already play a role in attracting conventions and sporting events. Meet Minneapolis, the region’s largest convention bureau, receives about 75 percent of its annual budget from the city’s general fund. Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism arm, administers New Events grants to help any Minnesota city bid for and host public events that are new to the state. The 2015 Legislature created the program; the 2017 Legislature provided it with $900,000 through mid-2019 and capped the grants at $200,000 for any single event’s operations and $25,000 for a bid.
But consider this comparison: The state-funded Major Events Trust Fund in Texas supplied $25 million, or about a third of the total tab, to Super Bowl LI in Houston, its host committee President Sallie Sargent told an editorial writer last week.
The Texas approach has this to commend it: It uses a portion of the state tax receipts generated by out-of-state visitors at major events to help defray the cost of those very events. A formula has been developed to determine what share of event-generated sales and use taxes, lodging taxes, liquor taxes, and motor vehicle rental taxes can be attributed to out-of-state event visitors. A portion of that amount can reimburse host committees for their state-specified costs.
That design has the advantage of taking event sponsorship out of the usual competition for scarce city and/or state general fund dollars — shielding it (at least somewhat) from the political fray. It allows events to, in effect, pay for themselves. The Texas fund is housed in the governor’s office. That, too, provides political protection.
The Itasca task force will want to look at other public-funding options as well. A number of cities support event recruitment with a dedicated portion of their lodging taxes. At 13.1 percent in Minneapolis, the lodging tax bite is smaller than in Atlanta (15 percent), San Antonio (16.75 percent) and Indianapolis (17 percent) — suggesting that there’s competitive room for the Minneapolis tax to grow.
There’s much more for the Itasca group to consider. What permanent structure can be created so that each new event does not require the recruitment of new leaders, new volunteers and new sponsors? How can one event’s resources — both human and capital — spill over to benefit the next one? How can the good work already being done in local convention bureaus be coordinated so that duplication is minimized and gains for the entire region maximized? Should Sports Minneapolis, a division of Meet Minneapolis, become a regional body?
We hope, too, that in the weeks to come the task force will help Minnesotans appreciate the lasting value of the fun and excitement — and admittedly, the inconvenience — that they have experienced in connection with Super Bowl LII. They should know this: The corporate sponsors, civic leaders, skyway volunteers and tens of thousands of other Minnesotans who brought this event to fruition weren’t doing it for football’s sake. They did it for Minnesota. And it’s for Minnesota’s sake that we’re rooting for more.
Editor’s note: Star Tribune Publisher and CEO Michael J. Klingensmith will serve on the Itasca task force.