Super Bowl 2018: Looking deeper into the bidding process

What promises did Minnesota leaders make to the National Football League in order to secure the 2018 Super Bowl? Since May of this year, PRM has been asking this question via public record requests submitted to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) and several cities. PRM’s investigative process has been covered on our blog, as well as elsewhere in Minnesota media. View the documents we’ve uncovered here, here, and here.

Secrecy surrounding the Superbowl bid

On May 21st, the NFL announced that Minneapolis had been selected as the host city for the 2018 Super Bowl event, beating out two other competitors. Prior to the announcement, the Pioneer Press newspaper had sought access to the Twin Cities’ formal bid document. According to the MSFA – which did much of the coordinating work related to the bid – the document itself was classified as “not public” data until after the 2018 Superbowl, and was not released.

PRM submitted its own request for the bid on May 27th – asking more broadly for data related to public assets pledged to the Superbowl effort. PRM’s request also sought associated correspondence.

In response, the MFSA produced a large number of letters and e-mails, but denied access to all data that had been provided directly to the NFL. MSFA’s denial was based on a section of the Minnesota Data Practices Act that deals with convention center data.

Tax abatement discussion

Correspondence obtained by PRM sheds light on the process that generated the formal bid, and reveals several issues that are likely addressed in the final bid document.

For instance, e-mails between MSFA staff and the city of Minneapolis contain discussions about potential tax abatements related to the Super Bowl event. In those records, the earliest exchanges date to February of this year. The e-mails indicate that Super Bowl discussions between MSFA and the city were then well under way, and had been for some time. “MSFA and the City are pretty much married to each other at this point,” Mayor Hodges’ Chief of Staff John Stiles stated in a February 14th e-mail.

A message of February 19th detailed the amount of data available on tax abatements, and indicated that such data had been shared between the MSFA and the city. In that correspondence, John Stiles noted that MSFA planned to provide Minneapolis with three batches of data — “the list of abatements that the NFL requires, the list of abatements that other cities have offered competitively on top of that, and Department of Revenue costs of all of them.” Related correspondence indicates that the Mayor’s Office had not yet taken a formal position on abatements at the time.

Tax breaks required by NFL

Tax breaks, however, appear to be a necessary component of a Super Bowl bid, according to an internal NFL document obtained by the Star Tribune newspaper. According to that document, bid specifications such as tax abatements are “material and essential to a successful bid.” The document’s “tax exemption” section further notes that local taxing authorities must exempt the NFL from tax obligations, and permit the NFL to file for refunds for any taxes that are levied in connection with the Super Bowl event.

In order to learn more about the range of possible Super Bowl-related tax impacts, PRM has submitted a data request to the Minnesota Department of Revenue for records related to its Super Bowl abatements studies.

Leadership commitments

Records obtained from the MSFA and the City of Minneapolis provide a sense of the overall framework that Minnesota leaders set out in support of the Twin Cities Super Bowl bid.

Governor Dayton and legislative leaders expressed general support for the effort in a March 31, 2014 letter to the Minnesota Superbowl Committee. In that letter, leaders pledged to help the committee prepare “a competitive bid package, which fairly balances public and private investments necessary to secure the Super Bowl.”

Delivering “extraordinary services” via government guarantees

The balance of those public and private commitments is expressed in slightly more detail in a separate March letter to the Super Bowl Committee. That letter – signed by Mayor Hodges and Minneapolis council members – promises the delivery of “extraordinary services – above and beyond routine city business.”

To pay for such services, Minneapolis leaders pledge to seek “necessary public investments, in the form of guarantees or abatements.” The letter also states that in the event that legislative support for abatements is not found, Minneapolis would commit to share “public investment across government jurisdictions and economic sectors.” The scope of those taxpayer-backed guarantees is not further described. The letter also indicates that the Super Bowl Committee would be responsible for raising private funds to offset some event costs.

Minneapolis does not hold bid document

While records obtained by PRM hint at the extent of taxpayer commitments to the NFL, they do not include specifics. Such details are – at minimum – likely to be contained in the Super Bowl bid document currently maintained by the MSFA.

Given the extent of the city’s involvement with Super Bowl-related issues, PRM anticipated that Minneapolis would hold a copy of the bid itself, and asked for it directly. However, on August 26th, communications staff for the city told PRM’s legal counsel that Minneapolis “does not have a copy of the bid.”

PRM is currently submitting additional data requests to seek further details about public promises made in relation to the 2018 Super Bowl event.