S.F. Welcomed Super Bowl on Handshake Deal; No Contract, No Public Review

Much has been made of how San Francisco agreed to host the Super Bowl 50 festivities without billing the National Football League or the Super Bowl Host Committee for the $5.3 million in city services required to handle the lengthy party and attendant crowds. 

But in addition to agreeing not to charge the NFL, San Francisco officials also welcomed the Super Bowl without any kind of signed contract or agreement at all, according to public records — or, more accurately, according to a lack of public records.

The city Santa Clara and the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, which oversees Levi's Stadium, where the big game is to be played Feb. 7, both signed documents — a “governmental services agreement” as well as a memorandum of understanding — with the Super Bowl Host Committee. These documents state that Santa Clara gets its costs to host the game paid up front — and they also outline legal details like liability. 

San Francisco signed no such agreement (as it did to host the America's Cup in 2012). In other words, the Super Bowl is here on little more than a handshake deal — and as a result, heads in City Hall are spinning. 

“It is inconceivable that streets could be closed for a month, Muni buses rerouted, police working overtime, parks closed — all for free, with no signed agreement in place,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said. “It's mind-boggling.”

[jump] In late 2012, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution supporting the Host Committee — a collection of business and political leaders including former Mayor Willie Brown, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and venture capitalist Ron Conway — to place a bid to host the big game as well as the “Super Bowl City” and other events. 

The bid, narrated by former 49ers coach George Seifert and Mayor Ed Lee, was then submitted to the NFL “on an iPad mini,” according to Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for the Super Bowl Host Committee.

Terms of the bid, and the terms on which San Francisco would host the events, were never given a public review.

This was done for a competitive advantage. “The bid was designed to compete with other cities, and — since we plan on competing for future Super Bowls — we have no interest in revealing our winning formula to our competitors,” Ballard said.

It's still not clear why San Francisco chose this route when Santa Clara did not — or if this constitutes good public policy.

Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for Mayor Ed Lee, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday and Friday.

On Tuesday, when Peskin asked him point blank who in his administration negotiated the deal, Lee declined to answer.

Lee has praised the Super Bowl as a “civic celebration” akin to Fleet Week or Pride, and not an event like the America's Cup — which had a signed host agreement that was subject to public review.

This method allowed the bid terms — including agreeing to never bill the NFL for public services — to go forward without a public review at the Board of Supervisors. By contrast, Santa Clara's City Council scrutinized the hosting agreement and voted on it publicly.

Although, according to Ballard, any supervisor that wanted a briefing on the bid terms received one. Supervisor Mark Farrell, a big defender of the Super Bowl and the terms in which it's coming here, took an “active role,” Ballard said.

It's too late to stop the Super Bowl train, but some elected officials are looking to at least get it to pay its fare. An emergency resolution asking the Committee to pay up was introduced at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday by Supervisor Jane Kim.

Super Bowl backers point out that the Host Committee raised $50 million to put on the fan zone “temporary city” at the Embarcadero and pay the performers to give free shows — and that hotel and restaurant spending will more than make up for the $5.3 million in city costs. 

Supporters also say that the 11th-hour hand-wringing over the cost of the game is political opportunism, and that supervisors complaining now ought to have done due diligence in years past.

But to them, the 2012 resolution “says, 'Go bid.' It doesn't say, 'Go and give away the store.' It doesn't say, 'Don't come back to us,'” said Supervisor John Avalos, one of the nine supes who signed off on the 2012 resolution who is raising a stink now.
“I expected this would come back to us like the America's Cup did,” he added. “They went completely around us. It was a shadow government effort to circumvent the public process.”

Most troubling Included in Santa Clara's agreement are legal terms around things like liability and indemnification — the kinds of provisions members of the public must agree to in order to rent, say, a bounce house or a picnic table in Golden Gate Park.

There's nothing like that between San Francisco and the NFL or the Host Committee.

“This is how our pay to play system works,” Avalos said. “I've never seen anything like it. It's incredible.”

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