Zócalo Public Square is a magazine of ideas from Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise.
My family and I moved to Glendale, Arizona — where the Super Bowl will be played this weekend — in 1968, when it was one of many small Arizona towns ringing Phoenix.
Glendale was small and comfortable. Our young children walked a quarter mile to school. What is today the upscale area of Arrowhead was then a desert where we took the kids to ride motorbikes and shoot BB guns. On a spring evening, the air was heavy with the scent of citrus blossoms.
Fans who attend the Super Bowl will encounter an entirely different city, a place that has bet its future on professional sports. If some locals look less than happy this weekend, know that it’s the risks involved in that gamble, not the traffic, that’s bothering us.
Glendale has undergone dramatic change. At its incorporation in 1912, it was a Russian-Asian-Hispanic farming community. In the 1960s, when my family moved here, Glendale was a small city of 45,000. Then, in the 1990s, while I served on the city council, new subdivisions, including Arrowhead, and new shopping, including Arrowhead Mall, grew up.
But Glendale wanted more than to be just another Phoenix suburb. In the early 2000s, as I returned to the council, our attention turned to the possibilities of sports as a catalyst. A strategy took shape: if we built major sports venues, the resulting tourism and sales tax dollars would strengthen city coffers and allow for major improvements in the quality of life.
First, a city-owned venue for professional hockey and for entertainment and a complementary retail complex, Westgate, were built in partnership with a developer. Then, with the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, we created two more sports facilities: the county-owned University of Phoenix football stadium (home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals) and a city-owned spring training baseball facility called Camelback Ranch (home-away-from-home to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox). The football stadium put Glendale in the Super Bowl business for the first time; promised windfalls from hosting the big game were supposed to afford us the option of paying off construction debt related to the hockey arena and the baseball facility sooner.
But it wasn’t long before optimistic staff projections of increased sales tax receipts and new economic development proved to be wrong. Then came the national recession, just as we hosted our first Super Bowl in 2008. The big game, was supposed to draw new development to the city, but didn’t. Instead, it left the city with bills. The city spent $3.4 million on the event and recouped a little over $1.2 million in sales tax and fees.
The resulting $2.2 million loss was just one sign that our sports strategy was unsustainable. Debt related to the two sports venues that Glendale itself owned — the hockey arena and the ballpark — proved to be a financial albatross. The regular season football games proved to be a wash financially. While sales tax revenues from Westgate are greater on game days, the additional revenue is consumed by increased public safety and transportation costs.
Other Super Bowl host cities, Miami Gardens in Florida and the Arlington area in Texas, have mechanisms for state reimbursement of their hosting costs, but we don’t. Legislation to provide such reimbursement to Glendale hasn’t made it through the Arizona legislature. In recent years, Glendale’s mayor has concluded it doesn’t seem prudent to be in the Super Bowl hosting business if there is no way to recover its costs.
So why is the Super Bowl in Glendale again? The Super Bowl bid process is a long one, and locations are approved many years before the actual event. Tremendous political pressure was placed on the city from the owners of the Arizona Cardinals, swaying a majority of the council to approve the bid in 2011. I was not in the majority.
There are good things about the Super Bowl. Even though Glendale loses money, the state, the county and the Phoenix area share in an economic boost of $500 million. Direct TV is hosting a major music festival in Glendale across the street from the stadium, and the city holds one of its premier events, the Chocolate Affaire, Super Bowl. The confluence of chocolate lovers and football fans will generate revenue for Glendale’s merchants and restaurants.
But costs to host this year’s Super Bowl will be greater than they were in 2008. The city’s loss for this game is sure to be greater than $2.2 million. We love Glendale and so will this year’s Super Bowl visitors. But many of us here believe this should be Glendale’s last Super Bowl.
Joyce Clark is a 47-year resident of Glendale and served on the City Council for sixteen years. She retired in 2013 and now spends time maintaining a back yard pond populated by Japanese Koi and is a blog writer on local Glendale issues. She wrote this article for Zocalo Public Square.