The Title in Titletown, Part 2
To read Part 1 of our Title in Titletown series, click here.
It might take a few stops before one arrives in Titletown for the hypothetical Super Bowl in Green Bay’s future. Some might have their flights land in Green Bay, others Milwaukee, others Appleton, others still in Madison. They will need to take rental cars or public transportation or limousines to get from their landing spot to Green Bay. They might have to stay in Appleton or Milwaukee and commute from there. It’s going to take time to get places, that’s the point here.
And in more ways than one that is the undercurrent for a chase for the NFL’s championship game in Green Bay at all: it takes time to get where you want to go. But this goal, though admittedly quixotic, is not chasing an imaginary dragon always two steps ahead, either. It’s not the sort of hopeless hope that only ends when you finally pull out of the race. Give Green Bay some time, let it continue doing its thing in building and enhancing high-end hotels, convention space, and a blooming downtown area. Let it continue on the track it’s already on and the chase feels more and more realistic: a baby lion cub slowly realizing it can, in fact, hunt and catch that antelope now that its size, speed, and strength is starting to match up with the hunger in its belly.
Airports and cars and Wisconsin highways can do the job in getting media, NFL folk, and the generally gigantic general public that will be seeping into the state in weeks and days before the Super Bowl to Green Bay. Other than hotel room availability, this, the issue of transporting upwards of 100,000 humans to a place not much larger than that in total is the biggest Yeah, But… facing a Big Game in the league’s smallest market. It is not an impossibility. Green Bay is a city slowly, surely, and in a quieter fashion than you might know, building a long list of achievements in hosting, very successfully, major events and conventions. There have been concerts, the NFL’s Kickoff game in 2011 as the hosting Super Bowl champions, NFC Championship games. There will be, in August 2016, Wisconsin and LSU meeting at Lambeau Field in a major college football showdown between teams with ravenous fan bases to whom travel only means another city in which to leave tailgating teeth marks in. Outside of sports and entertainment, Green Bay hosts national police officer conventions, a Boston Marathon-qualifying race growing in popularity, and other regional and/or national events.
None of these are on the Super Bowl’s level, because nothing is. Green Bay knows this, is fine with it because it is confident in what it is now and what it’s still becoming. That confidence is not personified better than in Jim Schmitt, Green Bay’s Mayor. Schmitt is the spearhead behind Green Bay’s upswinging progress, its downtown area in particular, and doesn’t believe there’s an event the area could not only put on, but put on well, and with the Wisconsin hospitality that leaves people going out of their way to thank them. He notes that whatever apprehensions some may have held at first often melt away in a city that relishes playing host, showing itself off just as much as any other, larger, metropolitan area.
Schmitt, talking in his downtown office adorned in Packers paraphernalia, colored in green, was pragmatic but supportive of the idea of a Super Bowl coming to Green Bay. Give them a chance, Schmitt believes, and there isn’t much that Green Bay isn’t capable of doing and doing just as good, if not better, than most.
“We have a good resume,” Schmitt says. “I don’t think everyone knows our resume, but we have a terrific resume, and we think we can compete with the biggest and the best, because that’s the way we feel about ourselves.”
Schmitt backs this up by pursuing major events. He’s welcomed the Pope to visit Green Bay and believes the NFL Draft, with talk of the offseason’s version of the Super Bowl possibly shifting locales from year to year, would be easy to pull off in Green Bay.
“The NFL Draft is not a big deal for us. That’s a lot of private jets and limousines,” Schmitt says, “both in terms of the hotels and in terms of the venue – Radio City Music Hall is only 6,500 seats. The Resch Center is 10,000.”
When we suggested that maybe Green Bay needs more notches on its belt when it comes to huge events, or huge NFL-related events – such as the NFL Draft – Schmitt didn’t disagree.
“The NFL is an industry,” he says. “Sometimes you have to start with something else. Obviously we’ve hosted some great playoff games and the NFL Kickoff, and if we host the NFL Draft.
“I think maybe we need a little bit more confidence in what we can do here.”
Schmitt doesn’t make these proclamations just to make them. These are not examples of a small market shouting anything to be heard. Green Bay is a small market in size but they don’t see themselves as anything but first rate.
“Even when we’ve invited the Pope to come to the city for a day and go to the shrine, you know, we don’t shoot from the hip on that stuff,” Schmitt says.
He’s heard it in the past, after people get through the initial, easy, things to say that Green Bay cannot do. He’s heard the “Wow, I didn’t know you could do this in Green Bay” lines that follow.
“Well you know,” Schmitt says, “we can, and we do it better than a lot of other people that have maybe a bigger city than us. We’re very confident that we could do a Super Bowl. We wouldn’t invite people if we didn’t think we could deliver and exceed their expectations. That’s what we plan to do with the NFL Draft day, and if we would be so fortunate as to get a Super Bowl.”
Possibly Green Bay’s most directly applicable event to date was the 2011 NFL Kickoff game. As world champions, the Packers hosted the first game of the NFL regular season against the New Orleans Saints. It’s a game preceded by days of fan events and, on the day of the game, featured a Kickoff tailgate village on Armed Forces Drive, the stretch of road connecting Lambeau Field and the stadium bar district. It’s become one of the league’s signature events, meaning they control most of, if not all, the planning as they set up shop in the champion’s host city. Schmitt says the NFL left Green Bay in 2011 impressed.
“Everything they wanted to do in terms of street closures, different venues and lighting and sightlines, we took care of all that,” Schmitt says. “They really enjoyed hosting that event here … They loved working with us. We were in on a lot of the planning meetings but at the end of the day they kind of ran the event.
“I think that’s what we have going for us, is we did that NFL Kickoff … I’m telling you: they thought it was awesome what we did. So we can host a major sellout, big ticket event.”
Headlined by the rejuvenation of the Hotel Northland – once the prime hotspot in downtown Green Bay for Packers, fans, and visitors alike – into a high-end hotel and community gathering place – Schmitt says the Hotel Northland will be the place for incoming football VIPs to stay – the city with too few rooms at the inn is slowly building more all the time. Though maybe not ever enough to host an entire Super Bowl macrocosm in its city limits.
“We can host some major events here but if it went to the Super Bowl, other folks would make money besides Green Bay,” Schmitt says on the subject, “and we have great working relationships with people all over the state. So we’re not worried about getting the right partnerships to host it.”
But, potentially, enough rooms in Green Bay to someday house more of the NFL’s big-spenders and owners.
“We’re adding luxury hotel rooms,” Schmitt says. “So maybe if this is, you know, five, six, seven years away, we may be closer than we are now when it comes to hosting an event like that.”
He adds: “And we’re talking, it’s 2014; our long-term plans call for us building a huge expo hall. It’s awesome. So maybe we are a few years away from this, maybe it is five years before we can get closer … I think those are good targets for us. Although with all that said I don’t want to build a church for Easter Sunday, either. I want to make sure we can make money when there’s not a Super Bowl. It’s not the Olympics or something.
“But on the other hand we like big events. We are very confident we can pull this stuff off.”
In the present, flying in the who’s who of whomever comes in for Super Bowls wouldn’t be a problem. Schmitt notes that Green Bay’s hosted NFC Championship games and playoff contests, usually yielding bigger (and more) names, like the Manning family. Many who come in on smaller planes.
“We have more private takeoffs and landings for jets than we do commercial,” Schmitt says. “We have Executive Air and Jet Air, and Executive Air received one of the best five private airport awards in the United States. We can handle that.”
Schmitt understands the Super Bowl would have to be a statewide effort. Green Bay would need the league to expand its mileage radius for hotel room requirements. They’d need to allow for transportation between Green Bay and Appleton, Manitowoc, Madison, and Milwaukee.
Bad weather travel from all these cities is essentially a Wisconsin staple. “Nobody handles bad weather like we do,” Schmitt says. “We have more plows than Detroit. That wouldn’t be an issue.”
Schmitt was in Texas for the Packers’ Super Bowl win a few years back and saw what can happen with an inability to handle bad weather. Roads were icy and arduous. Conditions were terrible – “Instead of sending them cheese we should have sent them salt,” Schmitt says, “the roads were awful” – making the commute between Arlington and Dallas longer than normal, essentially pushing it to that of a trip between Green Bay and Milwaukee in some cases. Inconveniences will arise at any major event. Weather in Wisconsin wouldn’t impact as much of the proceedings as they have in other places in the recent past.
Practice facilities big and suitable for NFL teams are another concern mentioned when people toss around premature wet blankets over Green Bay as a host city. The Don Hutson Center is an indoor facility but not directly connected to team locker rooms, thus requiring crossing the street over to Lambeau Field to access. As difficult as crossing the Snake River with your wagon and livestock on the Oregon Trail, it is not.
For a recent example of practice situations take the NFL’s most recent Super Bowl, hosted by New York and New Jersey. The New York Giants and Jets training facilities were both utilized for the Broncos and Seahawks’ respective practices. Obviously, these are separate areas, different structures in different spots (the Jets’ facilities are located in Florham Park, N.J., while the Giants practice in a space adjacent to MetLife Stadium). One of these is farther than across the street.
In reality, teams could probably share the Hutson Center, swapping schedules in the morning and afternoon or however it worked best. And again, there’s precedent for the league to bend its guidelines should a situation call for it. In 2013 when the Super Bowl returned to New Orleans, the Ravens and 49ers actually shared the same facility at the same time for a brief period, curtains separating the teams’ practice sessions until the overlap was over. Rain in the days leading up to Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 forced the Patriots and Panthers to spend two days sharing the same place in Houston.
The NFL can be flexible when it needs to be. It’s been proven. And really: teams are not going to be obsessed with sneaking a peek at each other’s practices. Everyone is a professional here, Bill Belichick has thrown out all the video cameras, he swears, and it just seems like not that big of an issue. With any sort of calendar juggling whatsoever, Super Bowl teams would never even have to see one another in the same spot. If they did want another option (albeit an outdoor option), the Oshkosh Sports Complex on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s campus is about an hour away. But again: we think this could be handled in Green Bay with a bit of organization, something the NFL does quite well, even when it’s on the fly and not their first plan.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Can’t do that. Can’t do Green Bay,’” Schmitt says. “But if you actually look at it, a lot of this stuff could work out.”
Schmitt mentions many of the reasons many know a Super Bowl in Green Bay would break the NFL’s hype meters. The history. The hospitality. The venue. And while most of the concern (rightfully) over a Green Bay-hosted Super Bowl deals with the people who’ll be there for it, a larger, and annually growing, mass of eyeballs would likely not only have no problem with a title game at Lambeau Field, they’d devour it. Television audiences don’t need tickets or hotel rooms, but they sell millions and millions of dollars worth of ads, cramming those dollars into fewer and fewer precious seconds of space annually. They see winter and cold through vivid, weatherless, high-definition. And it looks beautiful. It’s difficult to parse the Packers, a consistent ratings juggernaut for the league, from games played at Lambeau Field, but last season’s Wild Card loss to San Francisco at frigid Lambeau was far-and-away the most-viewed Wild Card playoff game ever, and at the time the most-watched telecast of all-time behind only Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.
Schmitt sees this as a huge advantage.
“I think where the NFL could really win on this is, I mean let’s be honest, at the end of the day it’s the viewing audience that pays a lot of bills, the sponsorships,” Schmitt says. “And I think if you look at Ford and Coke and Doritos, I just think they would love to be part of this community. I think this would be a very highly-watched Super Bowl coming from the smallest market in the NFL.
“I think from a marketing standpoint the NFL would make more money than they’ve made on any other Super Bowl, from the viewing and from the support of not just the United States.”
Schmitt adds: “In terms of taking care of the people that would attend the game, they’d have to bend the rules a little bit.”
And that’s true. They would.
But there’s still only one true common denominator here: the NFL makes arrangements based on what it wants to do. As much as logistics are discussed and beaten to a pulp, the shiny exterior covering it all up, the one they can sell – advertising dollars and the experience of watching a Super Bowl in high-def at historic Lambeau Field – can be just as important.
The NFL isn’t about the big picture. It’s about the biggest picture possibly imaginable, then imagining how to make that picture bigger still. It’s hard to see a Super Bowl held in Lambeau Field not bringing in the sort of all-eclipsing ratings the league could frame and hang on its wall of honor forever, or sell to martians when haggling over that new TV deal on Mars.
Yes, it wouldn’t be easy or even ideal in some cases. Since when did the NFL let that stop them from saturating the market to the fullest extent of their capabilities? Not last year in New York/New Jersey, when people had to wait hours in sweaty stations for overcrowded trains.
Trains that were overcrowded because the NFL didn’t allow tailgating in the limited-spaced parking lot, and that, coupled with scarce parking passes to begin with, caused a majority of people to leave cars behind. Oh, and fans weren’t allowed to take a taxi, walk, or bike to the stadium. Instead they could choose between league-offered trains or busses – with, of course, jacked up prices – as means for getting to the game. Somehow, this didn’t go well. The system couldn’t hold the amount of people, because of course it couldn’t.
And really, since when did the NFL do something it didn’t want to do, regardless of, well, anything else? Ultimately, as Mayor Schmitt says, it’s their call. If they want a Green Bay Super Bowl someday, if they can be convinced of the monetary benefits, it’ll have a good chance of happening.