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In a recession, even the Super Bowl takes a hit

When the Super Bowl festivities roll into Tampa late next month, the party blitz and corporate spending that surround the big day may take a hit because of the economic crisis.
Image: 2008 Super Bowl - Snow Queen Vodka Leather and Laces Party
A general view of atmosphere at the Snow Queen Vodka's Leather and Laces 2008 Super Bowl Party held at The Galleria Corporate Center.Charley Gallay / WireImage file
/ Source: The Associated Press

When the Super Bowl festivities roll into Tampa late next month, the party blitz and corporate spending that surround the big day may take a hit because of the economic crisis.

Sponsors have been slower to commit. Companies are scaling back plans, carefully watching expenses, bringing fewer guests and pushing back travel bookings. The private party circuit will be missing a few staple destinations, including the annual Sports Illustrated fete.

"The decision making process is just a little slower," Reid Sigmon, executive director of the host committee, said of the efforts to attract sponsors. The committee has reached about 80 percent of its sponsorship goal — a level it has been stuck at since October.

"A lot of companies are kicking the tire, so to speak," he said.

Even so, the Feb. 1 game will sell out. And, to be sure, there will still be plenty of star-studded events: Maxim, ESPN The Magazine, and Penthouse all said they have parties in the works. The Lingerie Bowl, a televised alternative halftime event featuring semi-dressed models, will hold three games and a red-carpet affair. Beer giant Anheuser-Busch is sponsoring concerts and other events.

And there will be a bevy of official NFL activities, including the weeklong NFL Experience, which features interactive games and autograph sessions.

The host committee is hoping for 100,000 visitors, the same as in 2001 when Tampa last had the game, but NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the number may drop.

"We're not immune," he said. "No one is immune."

General Motors Corp., for example, often hosts its dealers and conducts other business meetings in the Super Bowl city, but won't this time, not while the company is on the verge of bankruptcy and asking for $18 billion in federal loans. Its Cadillac division will still sponsor the game's MVP award, but it will bring fewer of its vehicles to transport VIPs.

"Given the economic conditions in which we live, we are going to scale back," Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell said.

It's a definite change from recent years. Super Bowl week has been growing, with more events surrounding the game, and stiff competition between companies to throw the best party.

"It used to be just a game," said Robert Tuchman, president of Premiere Corporate Events, a New York City-based company that arranges hospitality packages. "Then it was a weekend and now it's four or five days of different events and parties."

"I do think this year things will be slowed down a little bit," he said.

Sports Illustrated scratched its plans for a party a few months ago. Creative Artists Agency and Octagon, talent agencies that have held parties and other events at previous Super Bowls, aren't planning big celebrations either.

"Under the current economic challenges that everyone is facing, hosting a party at the Super Bowl wasn't the right thing to do, for us," Sports Illustrated spokesman Scott Novak said.

Playboy has not yet decided whether it will host a party this year.

Lingerie League
Those who are forging ahead with a party say sponsors have been slower to commit.

"The conversations are more lengthy and the consideration from advertisers is more consciously looked at," said Crystal Howard, a spokeswoman for ESPN The Magazine.

The Lingerie Football League reported a similar reaction.

"Sponsors, we found, have been more cautious in their evaluation, and wanting their dollars to go a lot further than they have in previous years," spokesman Kyle Bolin said.

Florida is also home to two signature games next month: The college football national championship is in Miami on Jan. 8, along with the annual Orange Bowl the previous week. Businesses there are hoping for a big turnout.

"The sports fan, as tough as things are, they'll go to a football game," said Stuart Blumberg, president and CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association.

It's still early for some to book Super Bowl trips, since the playoffs are a month away — fans of the conference champions will swoop in the last two weeks. But current ticket and travel bookings paint a mixed picture: Some report sales are on track with past years, while others say early reservations have been slower than before.

"They're booking a little bit later as well," said Tuchman of Premiere Corporate Events.

He expects the festivities surrounding the Super Bowl to pick up before 2010, when the game heads to Miami and the economy has perhaps started to pick up.

"It will probably be bigger than ever," he said.