Brian Allee-Walsh

Has Superdome become a liability in luring Super Bowl?

The Mercedes Benz Superdome is pictured in New Orleans on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The Baltimore Ravens will face the San Francisco 49ers in Superbowl XLVII on Sunday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
The Mercedes Benz Superdome is pictured in New Orleans on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The Baltimore Ravens will face the San Francisco 49ers in Superbowl XLVII on Sunday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) AP

NEW ORLEANS -- The 2016 NFL season is 3 1/2 months away and division rival Atlanta already is one up on New Orleans.

The city of Atlanta and Falcons owner Arthur Blank scored a major business/economic victory Tuesday at the annual NFL spring league meetings in Charlotte, N.C., securing a bid to host Super Bowl LIII at a new billion-dollar downtown stadium in February 2019.

Atlanta bested New Orleans, South Florida/Miami and Tampa Bay for the right to host the league's championship game.

It is the second time in two years that a city boasting a new billion-dollar stadium has prevented New Orleans from hosting its 11th Super Bowl. In May 2014 the city of Minneapolis outbid New Orleans for Super Bowl LVII in 2018, thanks largely to a new downtown stadium that received $498 million in public funding. It marked the Big Easy's first defeat after going 10-for-10 in previous Super Bowl presentations before NFL owners.

NFL owners Tuesday also awarded Super Bowls LIV and LV to Miami/South Florida and the city of Los Angeles in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Scheduling conflicts prevented the city of New Orleans from bidding on those games, meaning its next attempt to host the game will not happen before 2022 following the 2021 season. That reflects a gap of nine years since the city hosted Super Bowl XLVII between Baltimore and San Francisco.

Tuesday's developments are the latest reminder what moves NFL owners when it comes to hosting Super Bowls. Dolphins owner Mark Ross poured in $400 million in renovations to Players Stadium to get the game back in south Florida for a league-best 11th time. Rams owner Stan Kroenke is building a new state of the art, billion dollar multi-purpose stadium in Inglewood, Calif., that will be privately financed and open for play in 2018.

NFL owners have made it abundantly clear: build new and they will come.

That does not bode well for New Orleans and the local Super Bowl Task Force going forward.

It has been estimated that Louisiana taxpayers have spent in excess of $500 million on the Superdome since Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. It has been money well spent, considering the bang for the buck the building has generated for this city, region and Saints owner Tom Benson since its emotional re-opening on Sept. 25, 2006.

Now in light of New Orleans' second shocking defeat in two years, I wonder if the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as we know it will become an asset or liability in future attempts to land the Big Game back in New Orleans.

The competition from NFL cities to lasso a Super Bowl and the estimated $500 million shot in the arm that comes with it is stiffer than ever. And while the Superdome remains a viable venue for the Saints and other national sporting events, the ol' gray mare ain't what she used to be. She's lost a step on the competition. In football speak, other cities' stadiums have gotten younger, faster and stronger.

Pumping millions more in taxpayers' dollars to help keep her looking Super duper may no longer be the answer. It merely is delaying the inevitable. At some point, there is not enough money to fill the abyss and it becomes a losing proposition.

Perhaps, the time has come to seriously consider a long term solution to New Orleans' stadium situation. It will take boatloads of private and state money -- the going rate seems to be at least $1 billion these days and only will increase -- and people with a vision working in concert with one another to accomplish this task.

The time to act was yesterday. That message should resonate loud and clear with our city's movers and shakers after the latest defeat Tuesday when leaders in Atlanta, South Florida and Los Angeles raised their champagne glasses in triumph. Other NFL cities have passed New Orleans by and still others have closed the gap. While the NFL hierarchy holds our city in high regard and considers us like family in many ways, the business of professional football is big and only getting bigger.

At the end of the day, the NFL is all about the bottom line. Money talks. New billion-dollar stadiums scream.

Last time I looked the Superdome isn't getting any younger and seems like a lone voice in the wilderness.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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