Six days before Super Bowl 50, three key NFL staffers joined San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York and four Bay Area mayors on a stage in downtown San Francisco.
They all stood there, beaming for the cameras, obviously proud. They had all just spent about 30 minutes discussing the regional approach they'd taken toward hosting this year's Super Bowl, an undertaking that required cooperation (not to mention money) to pull off.
If Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt has his way, a similar scene will play out in Kansas City somewhere down the line.
“Well, I think every city and every NFL team, if they could, would like to host a Super Bowl,” Hunt sad. “Certainly, it’s a chance to showcase the best that the NFL has, and it’s become such an important day and sporting event on the calendar, that it’s something that you want to have in Kansas City.”
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But Hunt, the son of Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt, also wants to host a Super Bowl for sentimental reasons.
“For the Chiefs, it has a little bit of a special meaning because of our family’s tie to the creation of the Super Bowl, the naming of the Super Bowl,” Hunt said. “And it certainly was a dream of my dad’s.”
For the better part of a year, Hunt has maintained that there are two major obstacles standing in the way. The first is the weather; while the NFL did host an outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl in 2014 (New York), it remains unclear when the owners might be willing to do so again.
The second issue, Hunt said, is the lack of high-quality four- and five-star hotels that can appropriately accommodate the large amount of starpower that would descend upon Kansas City during Super Bowl week.
If both issues can be satisfied somewhere down the road — and yes, there has been varying amount of progress made on both fronts — Hunt sees nothing standing in the way.
“It would be incumbent upon us, being the Chiefs and the city and business community, putting together a bid that’s attractive to the owners,” Hunt said. “Every year it’s a competitive process. Some years, there are two competitors and sometimes more. And there’s a lot that goes into those bids, and it’s a very expensive undertaking.”
One the city's leaders might be willing to embrace.
“If we want to be in the big leagues of events and on a national stage, we need to have those things that allow us to be there,” said Mayor Sly James, who was re-elected last June.
Hunt is quick to say that any Super Bowl talk is premature until the league decides to entertain the idea of another cold-weather outdoor game.
The 2017 Super Bowl will be held in Houston, while the 2018 game will be held in a dome in Minneapolis. And last May, the league selected five warm-weather cities — Atlanta, Tampa, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Miami — as finalists for the 2019 and 2020 games.
So that means any potential bid for Kansas City would be some time down the road, and Hunt, who is emerging as one of the league's more respected young owners, is optimistic the league will again consider a cold-weather outdoor bid.
“I'm anticipating they will, at some point,” Hunt said.
The good news for Kansas City is that it appears the league was happy with how the last cold-weather outdoor game went.
“It went very well, yeah, it did go very well,” said Peter O'Reilly, the NFL's senior vice president of special events who added that the league is expected to entertain all options going forward. “That was obviously tied to a new stadium there, and worked out well, weather-wise — we were fortunate. It was a nice 50-degree day in early February.
“Overall, it was terrific — a new stadium in a massive media market.”
Kansas City, obviously, is not the latter, which explains the hotel issue. The NFL mandates that all host cities provide at least 19,000 top-quality, full-service rooms for the game, with the majority within walking distance or short driving distance to the stadium.
What's more, the league asks that 65 percent of those rooms — or 12,350 — be of the four- and five-star variety, not lower than three star, and contain about 35-40 percent suites.
For Kansas City — which actually has 32,000 hotel rooms within a 50-mile radius, according to Kathy Nelson, the president of the Kansas City Sports Commission — Hunt says the quality part is the problem.
“That's really something that has to happen organically,” Hunt said. “I think it's a pretty wide gap. I haven't looked at the numbers lately, but it's not a small margin we're behind.”
There has been progress made, however. Nelson anticipates that by 2017, there will be 2,838 brand-new hotel rooms in the Kansas City metro area — including the Embassy Suites, Hotel Indigo, Home2 Suites, Residence Inn, Courtyard, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express in addition to a $300 million, 800-room Hyatt convention center hotel located downtown.
“With all these upgrades and additional rooms, we're very optimistic about Kansas City being able to submit a Super Bowl bid,” Nelson said.
Mayor James agreed, adding that he attended the Super Bowl game between Philadelphia and New England in 2005 in Jacksonville, Fla., and he saw first-hand what not having enough centrally-located, upper-tier hotels did.
“We finally recognize, if you bring people into town, you've got to have places for them to stay,” James said. “And we also recognize that if they don't think there's enough places for them to stay, then they won't come. So we know that we're on the right path and doing the right thing.”
Even if the number of top-quality rooms still fall short by the time the NFL is ready to accept cold-weather outdoor bid, there's always the chance the league could make an exception. After all, they did it a decade ago — with Kansas City, no less.
In April 2006, Jackson County voters rejected a measure that would have built a roof on Arrowhead Stadium and, in the process, landed the 2015 Super Bowl. Kansas City didn't have the right number of hotel rooms then, but the league was willing to overlook that to appease Lamar Hunt, one of the NFL's most historically significant owners prior to his death in 2006.
“My dad went to the league and asked for the Super Bowl, and this was not part of the normal bidding process at all,” Hunt said. “The league agreed unanimously to give Kansas City a Super Bowl, assuming we had the rolling roof.
“So we had a Super Bowl without going through the bidding process, and it was just totally because of my father and what he has meant to the game as why they did that.”
A rolling roof would have eliminated the weather concerns the league has about a Super Bowl to Kansas City, according to 49ers CEO Jed York, who hosted this year's game.
“Having an outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl is certainly a risk and a challenge for the NFL,” York said. “Clark tried to lead a charge to get a domed addition to Arrowhead, and I think that would have been a huge help to be able to host a Super Bowl in Kansas City.”
Hunt said a rolling roof would still require the support of the Royals, who don't consider it a priority.
“We certainly could look at a different plan, which would be putting a roof on Arrowhead,” Hunt said. “But I think the reality is, structurally, to do that, you’d be talking about building a new stadium.”
At the same time voters shot down the roof, they did, however, approve a measure to renovate Arrowhead Stadium. Those improvements were just completed in 2010, so Hunt doesn't anticipate pursuing a new stadium any time soon.
“I personally think Arrowhead is a great place to watch football games, and we have a lot of the creature comforts that the new stadiums have,” Hunt said. “So that’s something, I think, for down the road.”
Several outlets reported that hosting the Super Bowl this year cost the city of San Francisco anywhere from $4 million to $5 million.
The final economic impact for the city is not yet known, but a study completed by the Seidman Research Institute and the business school at Arizona State determined that the previous Super Bowl (held in Feb. 2015) generated $719.4 million for the region.
That's just one of the reasons that bringing the league's premier game remains a goal for the Hunt family, and one they likely won't be abandoning any time soon.
“When you see the impact of these games on these cities, it’s in the hundreds of millions, but it's not only that,” said Norma Hunt, who is Clark’s mother and is one of 16 people who has been to all 50 Super Bowls.
“It's the greatest PR a city will ever have. Nothing else will do this for you. I don’t think I’ve overstated that. So for Kansas City itself, it would be a treasure to get to have this game.”