NEW YORK —
Ralph Morton broke into a smile during an afternoon stroll through Central Park, a wool Seahawks cap atop his head.
Morton had just been told that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, during his annual Super Bowl news conference Friday morning, said the league would strongly consider expanding the title game to other cold-weather cities without domed stadiums.
That’s great news to Morton, 46, executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission and part of a larger delegation of Seattle tourism and marketing officials here to study this year’s Super Bowl events ahead of a potential Emerald City bid.
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“I know that’s going to be music to the ears of the 12th Man, who would love to have the Super Bowl played in our hometown,” Morton said. “As we who live in Seattle all know, it’s a great place to live. It’s a great place to visit. And it’s also a great place to have football. If you’ve been to the Seahawks games, there’s never been a bad experience.”
Goodell told reporters as much Friday, saying: “I was up in Seattle for the NFC Championship Game, and if you want to feel energy, you go up to Seattle.”
Super Bowl host finalist cities have already been named for 2018, so the 2019 game would be the earliest Seattle could vie for. The NFL has yet to put out bid requests for that, though they could this year, and the formal bid would have to be made by Seahawks owner Paul Allen.
Goodell led off with a comment about the league’s choice to stage Sunday’s game outside at MetLife Stadium, despite winter-weather concerns. He compared that with the radical decision by former Commissioner Pete Rozelle, whom he described as his personal hero, to move the NFL championship to a neutral site when the Super Bowl began 47 years ago.
“I believe Pete would be proud of where we are this week,” Goodell said. “We are doing something innovative and unprecedented.”
Asked whether the NFL would look to add more cold-weather Super Bowls, he replied: “This opportunity has been extraordinary and something that we’re all going to look back on as a very important time in our history.”
Goodell added that league owners believe weather should not be an overriding factor in ruling cities out.
“It’s clear to see over the last two weeks, there have probably been more weather complications in a lot of other markets where we’ve played multiple Super Bowls and we’re scheduled to play more Super Bowls,” Goodell said. “Weather is a factor when you play in the United States in February, and that’s what we’re going to have as a continuing challenge.
“We’re prepared for that,” he said. “The communities in which we play are prepared for that and that’s why we have contingencies. I believe we need to get to as many communities as possible and give them the opportunity to share not only in the emotional benefits, but the economic benefits.”
Morton believes that dropping the NFL mandate that Super Bowl cities have an average temperature of at least 50 degrees for outdoor games this time of year leaves Seattle an ideal candidate.
Morton cautioned that no official decision to bid has been made and that the visit by him and others is part fact-finding, part cheering on the Seahawks and not meant to upstage the team’s title bid.
But the New Orleans native, who has worked for organizing committees on two Super Bowls there and consulted on others in San Diego, Houston, Jacksonville and Detroit, feels Seattle has what it takes.
“What makes a great Super Bowl is that the Super Bowl experience goes beyond the 3½-hour game,” Morton said. “From the moment you step off a plane, it’s important that your hotels aren’t 45 minutes away, you’re able to get a dinner reservation at a great place, have places to go out afterward, things to do with your kids and all that.”
Morton also figures Seattle Center offers an ideal, centralized location for fans to gather at events.
Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle, the city’s official marketing and tourism destination umbrella group, of which Morton’s sports commission is a member, also was excited to hear of Goodell’s comments upon arriving Friday.
“I’ve always felt our chances are good to excellent, and this makes it sound like it’s now even more of a realistic possibility,” Norwalk said.
Century Link field is capable of expanding to 72,000 seats, meeting the NFL’s 70,000-seat minimum Super Bowl requirement. Hotel space downtown and on the Eastside will expand beyond 30,000 by next year, more than exceeding the league’s threshold.
Norwalk noted the city’s Fortune 500 and global-brand companies and its position as a gateway to Asia — a market where the NFL would like to make inroads — are also attractive commodities.
Norwalk said the biggest obstacle — other than getting folks to stop talking about rain — might be the several hundred thousand feet of conference space the NFL requires. But he’s confident that between the Washington State Convention Center, Seattle Center, the CenturyLink Event Center and others, they’ll get there.
“Sometimes, it takes a couple of bids to prevail,” Norwalk said, adding that Atlanta’s scheduled new stadium could make it a favorite for 2019. “But I think we’d be ready to make a run for 2019. And then, if that doesn’t happen, I don’t think getting it by 2020 is unrealistic at all.”
Joseph Fuhr Jr., sports economics professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania, said a Super Bowl could benefit Seattle more than warmer-destination cities. He said the hotels, restaurants, taxis, limos and part-time workers who get the biggest boost from the game’s tourism influx are already fairly busy in January and February in warmer places like Florida.
“I would imagine in January and February in Seattle, it’s kind of a down period,” Fuhr said. “So, it’s a way to bring people into the city.”
Still, the rain question will almost certainly come up. Former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Mike Ditka came out this week against adding more cold-weather Super Bowls and was later asked whether he’d add Seattle to that no-go list.
“Has it ever been dry up there?” he said, half-kiddingly, drawing laughs nearby. “I’ve never been up there when it’s dry. Every time I’m there, it’s raining. It’s crazy. It’s a good city with good people, but it has a tendency to rain a lot.”
But Vince Lombardi Jr., 71, son of the legendary former Green Bay Packers coach and who was a Seahawks administrator in the 1970s, said at least Seattle winters are milder than many cold-weather NFL cities.
Lombardi, who recently retired and splits time between Arizona and the Seattle area, said that as long as Seattle meets hotel-room requirements, it should be as good a Super Bowl destination as any.
Besides, he said, in going with New Jersey this year, the NFL appears to be continuing a trend of handing out Super Bowls as gifts to cities who build new stadiums. In that regard, he added, Seattle is overdue.
“It seems to me a big criteria is, if you invest in your product and build a newish stadium, we’ll try like heck to pay you back,” Lombardi said. “Well, the owner there has invested, they built a stadium and they’ve certainly got a tremendous fan base. And part of getting a Super Bowl is rewarding your fans.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners. Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners.