Could Austin Ever Host the Super Bowl?
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Here’s something that Austinites—many of whom are already experiencing pre-SXSW panic attacks—probably don’t want to hear: Sports Illustrated, when listing eight cities that it thinks deserves to host the Super Bowl in the future, thinks Austin should be in the mix. That sounds nutty, given that the city doesn’t have a professional sports franchise at all, but (unless you count a bunch of soccer teams) London doesn’t either, and the NFL has spent years talking about The Big Smoke as a possible destination. In fact, three of the cities on SI’s list—London, Austin, and Las Vegas—are teams without an NFL presence (also listed: Seattle, Denver, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Chicago). Here’s the argument that Sports Illustrated makes:
OK, so the Super Bowl in Arlington/Dallas was mostly a mess, with an ice storm that caught everyone off-guard, seating issues at the stadium and a very spread-out radius for the events. Does that mean the NFL should never consider heading back to Texas?
Even if the Metroplex is on the Super Bowl blacklist for the time being, there’s another spot capable of pulling off the event. That would be Austin, the state’s capital, which has a 100K-seat stadium and hosts huge get-togethers frequently (i.e. the South by Southwest music festival). The NFL loves taking its big game to New Orleans in part because of the weather and vibrant scene there. Austin would provide a comparable setting 500 miles west of the Big Easy.
That huge stadium might be a draw for the NFL, too, even without one of its teams present.
Okay, fair enough. Now let's take a rational look at the pros and cons of a prospective Austin Super Bowl.
Pro: Austin really is good at hosting massive events.
SI points to SXSW as proof that Austin knows its business when it comes to hosting events that attract many tens of thousands of people, and they're certainly not wrong about that: the 2013 edition of the mega-conference/festival sold 59,000 badges, and that doesn't include the people who came to the city without shelling out hundreds of dollars on credentials, just to hang out and party. And SXSW isn't the only big event the city puts on: nearly 120,000 people come to Austin for the US Grand Prix, while the new format for the Austin City Limits Festival packs in another 75,000 two weekends in a row. That's three annual events that bring in travelers comparable to what the city would see for a Super Bowl, and—if you take out the severe traffic disruptions, closures of much of downtown, fear inspired in locals who refuse to leave their houses during the big events, and the occasional human stampede—Austin seems to do pretty well with those.
Con: Many people in Austin are pretty sick of big events.
The flipside to the SXSW/Formula One/ACL circuit is that it leaves Austinites exhausted by all of those disruptions listed above. The city just barely has the hotel capacity to house that many visitors, yet it also makes it difficult for people to rent out their own space to people in town for the event. SXSW changes bus routes, shuts down much of downtown, and makes parking downright impossible. As the events surrounding the Super Bowl continue to grow, meanwhile, it's basically become yet another week-long party. Could Austin handle one of those two months before the ten-day takeover that is SXSW, and two months after the European visitors come to town for F1?
Con: The endless horrible live music tie-ins.
One thing that Austin has plenty of is live music—so when it's time to host an event (even a sports event), the city really likes to pull out all the stops for visitors and make it clear that there's a party going on here! The result is, like, former House Of Pain frontman Everlast taking the stage to entertain people before the US Grand Prix. Nobody wants to see that. It's basically charity for Everlast. When the X-Games come to Austin in June, the music lineup will be a bit more impressive, with Kanye West, Pretty Lights, and the Flaming Lips among the top names—but if the Super Bowl were to come to Austin, we'd probably end up with a mix of a marquee artists playing shows that nobody would be able to get into and a lot of washed-up guitar players singing at you every time you try to eat dinner out the week before the game.
Pro: There's a good potential venue.
Darrell K. Royal Stadium, on the University of Texas campus, is certainly capable of hosting the game itself. The Longhorns' stadium can hold 100,000 people, which is 20,000 more than MetLife Stadium in New York, where this year's game is being played. (The Circuit Of The Americas, meanwhile, wouldn't fly: for non-racetrack events, it'd probably max out at 20,000.) The fact that the stadium is on the UT campus would even make it a little less disruptive to the city than if it were, say, in downtown Austin, without creating the sort of traffic nightmares that the US Grand Prix tends to cause when getting to a more remote location.
Con: That Franklin BBQ line would be a nightmare.
Yeah, it's that good, but even when it's freezing and the entire city is shut down, Franklin's got a minimum two-hour wait. During the Super Bowl? When there are offensive linemen to feed? It'd be like The Walking Dead.
Pro: The rest of the NFL-watching world would learn that there's a Vince Young Steakhouse somewhere in America.
Just because the former first-round draft pick for the Tennessee Titans has failed to receive a substantial opportunity to relaunch his NFL career, it doesn't mean that the city in which he became a legend for this play (go ahead, watch it and get chills again, Longhorns fans) has forgotten him. Snarky NFL fans for whom Young's name has become a punchline and a cautionary tale would be thrilled to take selfies in front of the Vince Young Steakhouse on the intersection of 3rd and San Jacinto. Which would make for a pretty funny thing to compile after the game is over, so we're listing this under "pro."
The pros and the cons are pretty balanced, but that's ultimately not really the issue: The NFL likes to schedule the Super Bowl in cities it can reward for building massive new stadiums at least partly financed by taxpayers, and if it did ever host one in London, it'd be strictly to try to convince Europeans that, seriously, football is a really exciting game. An Austin Super Bowl is fun to speculate on, but the city will probably end up with another dozen music festivals before it ever happens.