CHRIS DUNCAN,AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — NFL vice president of events Frank Supovitz came to town Wednesday for a “voyage of reacquantaince” as he sized up the city’s bid for Super Bowl LI.
Owners are expected to vote at the league’s spring meeting next month on host sites for the 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls. Miami and San Francisco are in the running for the Super Bowl in 2016 and the runner-up will compete with Houston for the game in the following year.
Supovitz got an aerial tour of the city in a helicopter and toured Reliant Park after flying here from New York City. He’ll make stops on Thursday in downtown Houston, where leaders of the city’s bid committee envision a massive outdoor gathering spot for fans coming for the game.
“One of the things we offer to all of our clubs and all of the regions that participate in our Super Bowl bidding process is the opportunity to put their best foot forward,” Supovitz said. “Sometimes, that means coming into market, having a look around, helping them vet some of the ideas that they have so that we can help guide them along the process.”
Houston and Reliant Stadium hosted the Super Bowl in 2004. Much has changed since then, most notably increased development downtown and the addition of the Discovery Green, a grassy area that Supovitz said could serve as a centerpiece for Super Bowl festivities. Also in the works downtown is a 1,000-room hotel slated to be opened in 2016.
“Downtown has definitely changed since the last Super Bowl here,” Supovitz said. “The young folks are moving into town, the more urban residential environment really creates a center of gravity for Houston that really wasn’t as obvious (in 2004) as it is now.”
If Houston gets the votes, Texans owner Bob McNair hopes to draw fans from around the state to events on the weekend before the big game. In 2004, estimated crowds of about 75,000 flocked to downtown on the Friday and Saturday nights preceding Super Bowl Sunday.
“If there’s one spot where you have most of the activities happen, that’s more convenient for everyone,” McNair said.
Ric Campo, a Houston businessman and head of the bid committee, joined Supovitz on his helicopter tour. When the helicopter landed at Reliant Park, a Segway was waiting for Supovitz to use.
“Since then, we’ve been on a tremendous voyage of reacquantaince,” Supovitz said.
Cheerleaders, a pep band and a red carpet greeted Supovitz at the stadium entrance. While trying to woo Supovitz, the Texans are trying to enhance their bid by installing two giant video boards, which will be ready for use in Houston’s first preseason game in August. Cowboys Stadium in Arlington currently has the biggest screens, and Houston’s will be about 30 percent larger than those.
“We’ve added quite a bit since 2004,” McNair said. “We have some resources now that we didn’t have then.”
Supovitz said the 2004 game was successful, but said the Super Bowl would offer a much different experience if it was here in 2017.
“Certainly when you come back to a city where the Super Bowl has been to before, you change things,” he said. “You don’t want it to be the same way it was the last time you were here. (The) Super Bowl just continues to grow, we’re looking at more and more ways to engage fans, we’re going to have a lot more events at the coming Super Bowls. By the time we come back to potentially here in 2017, the Super Bowl is going to change again.”
Reliant Stadium, with a retractable roof, hosted the 2011 Final Four and is scheduled to stage college basketball’s premier event again in 2016. It’s a frequent site for international soccer matches and annually hosts the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas in late December.
Supovitz liked what he saw at Reliant, but said hosting a Super Bowl offers challenges unique to any sporting event.
“We change the floor plan around the stadium pretty significantly for Super Bowl, being a Level 1 national security event,” he said. “We have to have a perimeter around the building that reaches out pretty far, we’ve got a big tailgate party, hospitality that has to be accommodated, enormous media facilities. The fact that you have here a number of indoor facilities, as well as a large amount of real estate around the campus just makes it a tremendously effective venue for a Super Bowl.”