The Super Bowl's Magic Numbers

Super Bowl 50 and its “iconic” numerical statues are long gone from San Francisco, but the big game is the gift that keeps on giving. Earlier this week, San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr announced that the city had underestimated the cost of guarding Super Bowl City with Kevlar-clad officers by a cool $1 million. That bumped S.F.'s hosting bill to $6.3 million and counting. (You may recall the initial estimate from Mayor Ed Lee's office was about $4 million.) Super Bowl boosters, who claim the game brought in $5 million in hotel taxes, are still sanguine, and say the final haul, to be known later this year, will more than justify spending public money in a budget deficit year to host big, out-of-town crowds.

But just how big was the crowd? We may never actually know.

In a presentation to the Fire Commission last month, Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Shane Francisco, the leader of the department's Homeland Security Division, reported that as many as 970,000 people had strolled through the heavily guarded gates of Super Bowl City to see, among other things, an Alicia Keys concert and a sculpture made of Bud Light cans. Combined with the 157,743 who bought tickets to the NFL's official event at Moscone Center, that's conveniently just north of the 1 million promised visitors that boosters at the Chamber of Commerce and elsewhere said the Super Bowl would bring (though that was a step down for the NFL Experience, which drew 165,000 the year before in Glendale, Ariz.)

The source for that number, however, is the Super Bowl Host Committee itself. No official government agency — police, fire, or anyone else — counted the crowd, fire officials said, meaning the event's official boosters are also responsible for telling us how officially big it was.

That figure is also much higher than the one initial third-party report we have to go off of. On Super Bowl City's first day in operation in January, the city's Department of Emergency Management issued an official report from its Emergency Operations Center — the command center activated whenever there's a big “civic celebration” like Pride or Fleet Week — that estimated the Super Bowl crowd on the first Saturday at no more than 7,000. (The Host Committee guessed the total that weekend to be 200,000.)

That estimate was made “in error,” DEM spokesman Francis Zamora said later, and has since been rescinded. (Zamora could not say who came up with it or why it ended up in the report.) Though DEM is responsible for telling first responders how many people may need help in case of an emergency, “it's more important to know what the crowd is doing,” he says.

It's also not entirely clear how the Host Committee made its count. “The Host Committee did a daily count, so we are very confident in the Super Bowl City attendance numbers,” Stephanie Martin, the Host Committee's VP of Marketing and Communications, wrote in an email. She did not provide further detail — but if everything else is any indication, the number could change, and has nowhere to go but up.

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