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Austin Beutner

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Bring the Super Bowl Home

Posted: 02/ 1/2012 6:04 pm

If you have 90 minutes to spare between now and Sunday, I recommend the HBO documentary Namath, about the life and times of the winning quarterback in Super Bowl III.

You'll revisit the public spectacle that was "Broadway Joe's" football career -- the white shoes, the full-length sideline fur coats, and, of course, the infamous poolside press conferences in sunny Miami, where Namath guaranteed a win for the 17-point underdog Jets.

There won't be any poolside conferences this week in Indianapolis, the current home of the Colts franchise that Namath shocked in January 1969 and site of this weekend's Super Bowl XLVI. Nor will there be anything close to what players call "Namath weather" -- a phrase that came into vogue a year ago when players were horrified to discover the icy conditions in Dallas leading up to Super Bowl XLV -- a fond hat-tipping and envious longing for Joe's sitting poolside all those years ago.

In Los Angeles there will be sunshine and swimming pools, with a forecast of 75 degrees and clear skies. That begs the question: what's L.A.'s future role in America's biggest sporting event?

This much we know about Sunday's game -- 150,000 visitors will descend on Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium. Those diehards will spend $150 million and stay in 18,000 hotel rooms.

That's a helpful shot in the arm for any American city reeling from this recession.

I hope Indy hosts a good game between the Giants and the Patriots. But I also hope the Super Bowl returns to L.A. for Super Bowl L in 2016.

Returning to L.A. makes sense for a league that takes pride in its heritage, as the Los Angeles Coliseum was the site of Super Bowl I. (Collectively, the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl in nearby Pasadena have hosted seven Super Bowls, and none since 1993. Since 1995, L.A. has been the largest U.S. market without an NFL team.)

It also makes sense because -- and let's be honest -- L.A. is a far more entertaining venue than Indianapolis (just ask anyone who attended last year's NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center).

Don't get me wrong: this is not about coastal-cool California beating up on a "fly-over" state. I was born in New York and raised in Michigan; the Lions were (and still are) my team. Folks in the Midwest saved up their money to take warm-weather vacations in Southern California, but not many do it the other way around.

Of course, Los Angeles is not going to get a Super Bowl simply by whining or by tugging on the NFL's heartstrings. It's up to the city's leadership to get the job done -- beginning with getting Farmer's Field built, the downtown stadium.

While Farmer's Field is not an economic silver bullet (though 10,000 construction jobs would be a welcome sight in L.A.), it will create important growth opportunities for the city.

Farmer's Field will give Los Angeles the nation's fifth-largest convention center. And it won't cost taxpayers a penny. It will allow Los Angeles to compete for the likes of Comic-Con, the NCAA's Final Four, and Springsteen.

That means additional tourists for destinations throughout Los Angeles. It also means additional tax revenues for the city to provide core services such as fixing potholes, keeping police and firefighters at work, and putting teachers and textbooks in classrooms.

However, the challenges facing tourism are larger than one game or one stadium. Our tourism industry has fallen behind.

This is true at both the local and national levels. Estimates indicate 1.3 million jobs could be added if America's foreign tourism returned to pre-9/11 levels.

To his credit, President Obama understands foreign tourism is an engine for job creation. In a speech last month, he announced an executive order to speed up the visa process for tourists from the world's three boom economies: China, India and Brazil.

We can do more.

In a recent report, The Council on Foreign Relations outlined steps to create a smarter and safer visa system. Their proposals included an expansion of the Visa Waiver program and an increased reliance on computerized screenings. It's time for city leaders to work with leadership in Washington to turn those ideas into realities.

The combination of President Obama's action and these long-term steps can increase tourism and pave the way for the jobs that come with it.

That's a good start, but it's time for Los Angeles to get in the game. Tourism is our region's largest employer. We have world-class destinations including Universal Studios, LACMA, The Reagan Library and the Santa Monica Pier... too many to name. Not to mention our natural bounty of beaches, mountains and great weather.

These are assets we can win with; however, we are not doing enough to bring new tourists to Los Angeles.

Let's change that right away.

In 2006, New York City replaced its tourism agency with NYC & Company -- a public-private partnership headed by a Madison Avenue pro. Since that time, New York saw an increase of six million tourists; and by the way (get out your snowshoes), they will host Super Bowl XLVIII in the New Meadowlands Stadium.

During the same time, tourism in Los Angeles grew by fewer than one million visitors, less than one-sixth of the traffic that flocked to NYC.

What worked on one coast can easily work on the other. Let's replace LA Inc. -- the city's tourism arm -- with a public-private partnership of our own. We'll call it "Destination: LA," and bring together businesses, cultural institutions and neighboring cities who have a stake in the future of tourism in Los Angeles. And we'll recruit the best talent Los Angeles has to run it.

This Super Bowl Sunday, as thousands shiver in the cold waiting to get indoors -- to see a game meant to be played outdoors -- just remember there's a better alternative. Let's build Farmer's Field and bring Super Bowl L back to the city where, before players hoisted a Lombardi Trophy, there was Lombardi himself being hoisted on the shoulders of his players: Los Angeles.

I'll have the sunglasses waiting for you.

 

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