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'93 Super Bowl Loser Was Pasadena--by $800,000 : Business: Organizing group pledged $1 million from ticket markups. City questions sale of many at face value.

October 27, 1993|EDMUND NEWTON and BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

It was three weeks before the Dallas Cowboys kicked off to the Buffalo Bills at Super Bowl XXVII in January, and the Pasadena City Council was troubled. Although the game's host group had promised the city $1 million for use of the Rose Bowl, little more than a handshake backed it up.

"I see Murphy stepping in here," said Councilman Isaac Richard, referring to Murphy's Law, which dictates that things that can go wrong will go wrong. But the Super Bowl steamroller was so close you could feel the heat. Hotels were booked solid. And equipment, motors revving, was already at the Rose Bowl, preparing to turn nearby Brookside Park into a festive tent city.

"Let's get on with it," chided Councilman Jess Hughston. The council finalized an agreement giving use of the 101,000-seat stadium to the NFL.

Then Murphy stepped in--and the city did not get its $1 million.

As NFL team owners meet in Chicago today to consider a bid from Pasadena and Los Angeles for the 1998 Super Bowl, the unusual 1993 shortfall offers a case study of the pitfalls of the high-stakes deal-making that accompanies this sporting spectacle.

Every year, localities and businesses ante up millions of dollars in the hopes of attracting a one-shot "economic impact" in the nine-digit range. According to a UCLA study, the Los Angeles region got $183 million in new business last January, mostly from visitors spending money at hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.

But for the city of Pasadena--which had built an $11.5-million luxury press box at the Rose Bowl to meet NFL requirements and expected a big chunk of money to help pay off a bond issue--the Super Bowl experience has been a frustrating exercise in bill collecting.

The deal to bring Super Bowl XXVII to the Los Angeles area was an attractive one for the NFL, which got the Rose Bowl rent free, as well as novelty and concession profits and parking fees.

The coordinating group was the nonprofit Los Angeles Sports Council, whose 49-member board of directors includes professional team owners, prominent lawyers and entertainment and sports celebrities, such as Earvin (Magic) Johnson and producer David Wolper.

They staged one of the most expensive Super Bowls ever. To cover costs of more than $4 million, they relied on a special deal with the NFL--2,500 game tickets could be purchased at their face value of $175, then sold for as much as $1,750 apiece as part of hospitality packages.

But four days before game time, nearly 700 of these tickets remained unsold, and the Sports Council unloaded them at face value. Commercial ticket agencies were selling equivalent tickets for $600 to $1,100 each.

Now, 10 months after the final gun, Pasadena stands to get only $200,000. And some officials have raised questions about the circumstances surrounding the ticket sales, in part because the revenue shortage is almost exactly the city's shortfall.

They have demanded to know who was permitted to purchase the coveted tickets at face value.

"They released those tickets at face value when sports fans all over the country were willing to sell their souls in order to come to the game," Councilman William Paparian said.

Assistant City Manager Edmund Sotelo said he believes many tickets were sold through word of mouth to businesses with connections to the Sports Council and the city of Pasadena. "To tell you the truth, I bought a couple of them myself," said Sotelo, the city's liaison to the group.

Sports Council officials said they took the only legal course when ticket sales came to a halt. They said the NFL had prohibited the council from selling tickets for higher than their face value except through the hospitality packages.

They have refused to provide the names of the purchasers to the city or The Times and would not describe how they marketed the tickets. They note that the organization is a private, nonprofit corporation and is not required to open its books to the public.

"If people buy something from us, they don't expect to see their names in the papers," said Sports Council President David Simon. "Publishing a list of the names could compromise our ability to market tickets in the future."

Simon said that a list of the ticket recipients was provided to the NFL under a prior agreement, but that the Sports Council kept no copy of the list. An NFL spokesman said the league may have received a synopsis of ticket sales but has not received a full accounting from the Sports Council.

In the 10 months after the event, Pasadena officials clung to faint hopes that the city would receive the $1 million. Earlier this month, the Sports Council, which came out of the Super Bowl with a $217,000 budget surplus, offered to settle for $200,000.

"We've smelled this coming for a long time," Mayor Rick Cole said. "The Sports Council has been less than forthcoming about what they spent the money on and where they spent it. Here we are in October, asking questions about something that happened in January."

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