In May of this year, Minneapolis was selected as the host city for the 2018 Super Bowl game, after a coordinated bidding process that involved local corporate leaders, municipal officials, and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA). The formal bid for the event has been withheld from public records requests by the MSFA as “nonpublic” data under the Minnesota Data Practices Act. Consequently, the full scope of the public’s obligations to provide financial and material support to the event remain unclear.
On May 27, PRM submitted a series of data requests to the MSFA and three municipalities seeking data shared with the National Football League (NFL), as well as correspondence about public assets pledged to the Super Bowl effort. PRM’s requests were crafted to produce correspondence and draft documents related to the bid, even if access to the bid document itself was denied.
On July 11, the City of St. Paul produced several pages of correspondence responsive to PRM’s request. The correspondence included e-mails shared among the mayor’s staff, as well as draft letters prepared for presentation to the NFL. St. Paul’s data release came roughly a month after the City of Bloomington produced three individual documents in response to a similar request by PRM. PRM is currently awaiting records from Minneapolis, and is in the process of inspecting documents produced by the MSFA.
St Paul document summary
The St. Paul documents largely chart discussions among Mayor Chris Coleman and his staff about the scope of the city’s participation in the 2018 Super Bowl event. The correspondence chain began on January 29, 2014, with an e-mail from the mayor’s chief of staff, asking about an invitation to serve on the SuperBowl steering committee. The invitation came from MSFA chair Michele Kelm-Helgen. In her e-mail, chief of staff Erin Dady characterized the request as a “good faith effort,” and suggested that the city should be as helpful “as Minneapolis was to us” during the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC). (For background, St. Paul served as host to the 2008 RNC, with Minneapolis providing a supporting role.)
Letter of support to NFL
On March 25, Judy Johnson of the Greater MSP economic development association contacted Mayor Coleman seeking a letter of support for the 2018 Super Bowl effort. In her e-mail, Johnson noted that she was writing on behalf of the Minnesota Super Bowl bid co-chairs.
The next day, the mayor’s office generated a draft letter addressed to the NFL’s Roger Goodell that cited several metro area amenities, including the Mall of America and the recently completed “Green Line” light rail service. The letter also noted the existence of a strong fan base from which to draw ticket buyers, “ambassadors for the NFL” and event volunteers.
Hodges letter on event security
On April 23rd, Tiffany Orth of the MSFA circulated a draft letter regarding the metro area’s commitment to snow removal, as well as a second letter “concerning security” from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. In her e-mail, Orth sought feedback and suggestions for changes.
The “security letter” stated that Minneapolis recognized the need for “a great deal of coordination and communication amongst multiple entities for security purposes.” The draft letter noted that Mayor Hodges pledged to work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Football League to ensure that “all necessary and requested support is available for all efforts at making the area surrounding the new MN Multi-Purpose Stadium secure during Super Bowl Week 2018.”
(For context, the Super Bowl is classified as a “National Security Special Event” by the Department of Homeland Security. At such events, the Secret Service takes the lead in event security, and the host city becomes eligible for millions of dollars in federal security grants.)
Discussion about snow removal plan
The draft snow removal letter circulated by MSFA stated that metro area authorities would “devise a comprehensive prioritization plan” for snow removal “based on the NFL’s lodging and schedule needs.” Such a plan would ensure that “teams are able to get to their practice sites in a timely manner” and that “major arteries will be cleared based on a pre-identified Super Bowl Week Weather Plan.” The draft letter was prepared for the signature of Mayor Coleman, as well as the mayors of Minneapolis and Bloomington.
No “prioritizing billionaires”
Two days later, aide Chris Rider suggested to Mayor Coleman that the city should include a letter in the Super Bowl bid package stating that St. Paul would remove snow “if need be for a successful Superbowl.”
Shortly thereafter, Mayor Coleman replied to Rider’s e-mail, stating, “No – I don’t want to be on record saying we will prioritize billionaires over everyday residents. Obviously, we’ll do what needs to be done.”
Later that same day, an e-mail from MSFA’s Michele Kelm-Helgen appeared to refer to revisions to the snow removal letter, and noted that a “more general approach makes sense for all of us.” She further noted that the snow removal letter “was a specific request of the NFL, but we need to be careful how we approach it. We realize that any additional costs to the city will have to be covered by the host committee.”
PRM obtained a second, signed version of the snow removal letter from the City of Bloomington in early June. That version did not contain the NFL “prioritization” language or other specific commitments, and instead simply noted that the metro area had “set strong standards in highly effective snow removal strategies.”
Ice castle, business fundraising
A May 21st e-mail from St. Paul’s Marketing Director James Spano to Mayor Coleman’s staff listed several Super Bowl “talking points” and event-related development possibilities. The talking points appear to have been compiled in advance of a mayoral interview with the Star Tribune. In his message, Spano noted that events like the Super Bowl “benefit not only the host city but the entire region, which is why we’re supporting the Minneapolis bid.” He also detailed the possibility of St. Paul constructing an ice castle, with local businesses and the NFL contributing funds to the effort.
In the coming weeks, PRM will continue to post records from its Super Bowl-related requests. Documents obtained from the city of Bloomington are currently available in our document archive.
On June 9, Minnpost.com ran a PRM-authored op-ed that set out several questions pertinent to the 2018 Super Bowl event. The day before, the Star Tribune published an article based on a leaked version of the NFL’s “host city requirements” document. The article detailed the NFL’s extensive requests for free services, including police operations to combat counterfeiting.
Doug Belden of the Pioneer Press has also run several stories on the secrecy surrounding Super Bowl bid data.