"Where boardroom meets locker room

The timing couldn’t have been better: The Colts, our Colts, were finally in the Super Bowl and just about everybody in town had blue fever. Every day the local news was loaded with reports from sunny south Florida and Miami — the city where the big game would be played — about the excitement, the glamour and the buzz a Super Bowl brings. A city couldn’t buy itself a better showcase for launching a bid to host a Super Bowl of its own.

Not that the movers and shakers in Indianapolis wouldn’t have been willing to reach for their wallets if it came to that — which, by the way, it will.

The potentates in Indianapolis want a Super Bowl the way a teen-ager wants a driver’s license. Just the thought of it makes their eyes get a little bigger and their knees a little weak. Then, of course, they get hold of themselves and yak on quite convincingly about how practical this is going to be. Never mind about the ongoing costs of insurance and gas and license fees, or the verifiable fact that kids have a penchant for getting themselves into accidents.

“This effort first and foremost is about the jobs that events like the Super Bowl bring to our city and state,” said Mayor Peterson, trying not to lunge for the car keys.

Gov. Daniels concurred, although he almost blew his cover: “This is good business, as well as a big thrill if it happens,” he said.

In the case of the Super Bowl, we’re told Indianapolis could draw as many as 98,000 visitors and reap somewhere in the vicinity of $262 million. And that, as they say in Reynolds, ain’t hay.

The city, though, is going to have to pay to play this game. In the first place, we have to fork over $200,000 to the National Football League, just to make a bid. Fortunately, the Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, has pledged $1 million of his own to cover this cost and then some. Beyond that, actually hosting the game is expected to cost Indianapolis $20 million.

But as we know, you’ve got to spend money to make money. As we have seen, the $20 million should be recovered in spades.

You’ve got to hand it to the NFL and the owners of its 32 franchises across the country. Not only have they managed to make what, at its heart, is a pretty brutal game popular beyond all reason, they have turned their league into a corporate behemoth. This, as much as the grace of a great passing game or defensive prowess, has been the key to pro football’s civic success. The sport has become a playground for the 1 percent who control the lion’s share of wealth in this country. These people own the teams, buy the skyboxes and fly to the games in corporate jets. They also make political contributions and, in some cases, are politicians or office-holders themselves.

Having a pro franchise in your city is the equivalent of having a significant corporate headquarters located there. That’s why the Peterson Administration couldn’t afford to let the Colts get away to some other town. Indianapolis could get along quite nicely without eight professional football games a year, thanks very much. But losing the corporate imprimatur of the NFL would have been a blow — a signal to corporate America that we were incapable of pulling our weight.

This is not to say that the excitement a splendid team like the Colts brings to a community is artificial or tainted in some way. The Colts are great fun, no two ways about it. But there can also be little doubt that the volume and extent of this fun — like the undeniably overwhelming popularity of the Super Bowl itself — is the result of an ingenious corporate synergy combining media, big business and government. Even the teams, built around hierarchies built from millionaire coaches, on-field units and various specialists, each with their own over-analyzed forms of “accountability,” have come to better reflect the culture of the boardroom than the locker room.

So it comes as no surprise that a city that has a hard time finding funds for any number of goods, from mass transit to cops, has every confidence that it will be able to find the dough to finance a Super Bowl, should the NFL owners decide to come here. And if you think that’s out of whack on the priorities meter, consider this: One of the cities we may be competing against for the Big Game in 2011 is New Orleans, a city whose problems beggar ours. That’s the power of the NFL’s siren song.

“Indianapolis has literally been built to host major sporting events such as the Pan Am Games, the Indianapolis 500, NCAA Final Fours, World Swimming & Basketball Championships and so many others,” said Fred Glass, president of the Capital Improvement Board. Rarely has this city’s reason for being been put so plainly. 



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