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The Host City Always Loses the Super Bowl

Historically the event has hurt local taxpayers and the poor, and Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco is shaping up to be no different.

AP Photo/Charlie Riede

In Sunday’s Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, one team is going to win and the other will lose. But what’s clear is that, as with Super Bowls past, the host city’s poor and middle-income residents will certainly not come out on top.

San Francisco taxpayer dollars are paying for the party

Even though the stadium is in Santa Clara, it’s San Francisco taxpayers who are footing the bill for Super Bowl-related festivities. The city is shelling out almost $5 million for hosting, according to the latest report by the city budget analyst Harvey Rose. The NFL—a multi-billion dollar organization—is doing nothing to ease the city’s cost burden. Santa Clara, meanwhile, is having its hosting expenses covered as per a deal with the NFL Host Committee (although the cost of constructing the stadium was borne by taxpayers).

This new budget committee report was issued upon the request of John Avalos, who is on the city’s board of supervisors. Avalos originally supported bringing the Super Bowl to the Bay Area but is now among those who are asking for a review of the deal between the city and the NFL. Here’s Avalos’s colleague, Supervisor Aaron Peskin demanding a reimbursement for what the city has spent, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

“It is not too late for the NFL, which is a $9 billion a year organization, to throw down a little bit of money to San Francisco,” Peskin said. He also noted that The City is facing a $100 million budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

As did taxpayers in other host cities

But while San Francisco, in particular, has had several missteps in how it approached the deal and preparation for Super Bowl 50, it’s not the only city that’s been saddled with the cost of the event. The average NFL stadium costs “about $250 million in public funding,” MarketWatch reports. Hosting is extra: Super Bowl events in Glendale, for example, cost Phoenix taxpayers around $2 million last year. In fact, the NFL has a long, well-known history of siphoning off taxpayer money, as Gregg Easterbrook wrote in The Atlantic in 2013:

Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn't apply to broadcast deals, the league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year. It's time to stop the public giveaways to America's richest sports league—and to the feudal lords who own its teams.

Those in favor of cities hosting a Super Bowl tout its economic benefits for locals. But a large amount of evidence suggests that these benefits are overstated and not worth the cost of hosting. Here’s a video by Reason summarizing why it’s not wise for cities to host the Super Bowl:

The average worker may face inconveniences

This one is obvious. Roads and transit lines are jammed during any mega-event. To account for the 1 million-plus extra commuters taking Bay Area transit in the days before the Super Bowl, transit agencies, such as Caltrain, are swallowing the costs of expanded service, ABC7 reports. But still city transit officials predict hiccups in the lead-up to this week:

“We're going to see issues on 101, on 280, on the bridge, on BART coming from the East Bay," said Chuck Harvey. "So I think a lot of employers and employees are probably going to have to make some choices. And if they have an ability to be flexible, they might want to think about that."

That “flexibility” may not really be a choice for San Francisco’s many working poor, who are shuffling from one minimum wage job to another to support their families.

The homeless are always swept aside

In downtown San Francisco, protesters have been camping out in tents in the last week, decrying the city’s decision to spend money on the event rather than on fixing its poverty problem. In particular, they’re protesting the mayor’s push to sweep aside the city’s homeless population before the big event. These sweeps, activists told Fortune magazine, were conducted to give “an image of the city that does not include poverty.” As a result of displacement, some homeless people have lost their jobs.

John Reddeer Pearce, a 56-year-old man was among those asked to leave the area near the stadium; via Yahoo News:

”What kinds of feelings do we have when someone asks you to leave, when we're told ... that you're just some piece of garbage sitting around," he said. "Most of us are veterans. We're the reason why you're free.”

To be fair, the government has provided up to 500 beds for the homeless in shelters, but that’s not very much given that 6,700 individuals in the city had no roof over their head in 2015, Bryce Covert over at ThinkProgress points out. Such treatment of the homeless isn’t unique in a Super Bowl city. Dallas, Detroit, Jacksonville, Glendale, New Orleans are all among the cities that have tried to keep the homeless away from the stadiums, Covert goes on to say:

The Super Bowl puts football and poverty on a collision course almost every year.

In a city as unequal as San Francisco, that collision is even more forceful. Here’s how Tommi Avicolli Mecca, the director of counseling for the Housing Rights Committee, puts it, again via Yahoo News:

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.