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Not So Fast, Naysayers: Why San Diego Could Beat the Odds with Super Bowls

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You may have caught media coverage of Competitive Edge’s annual Super Bowl Image Study, which concluded that the host city of Glendale, Arizona didn’t get an image boost from Super Bowl XLIX.

As the study results became public, observers commented that our study cast additional doubts over projected benefits from hosting Super Bowls at a possible new San Diego stadium. Not so fast, naysayers.

We started conducting these national studies in 2003. That was the last time San Diego hosted the Super Bowl and was also when I grew curious about whether the big game’s host city could realize the image benefits civic boosters usually claim. In my world, if you can’t measure results, there are no results. In that first survey, San Diego scored an impressive – and more importantly, statistically significant — 7.5 percent increase in visibility among those who watched Super Bowl XXXVIII. The effect for all Americans (including non-watchers) was an also significant six percent increase.

As I said at the time (and it’s in writing), the Super Bowl can take a city with a lot of positives – like San Diego – and lift it up, but it is doubtful that a host city with a benign or negative image would derive much benefit.

San Diego, unlike Glendale, is a major metropolitan city with a good image to begin with. Forty-seven percent of Americans already think of San Diego fondly (versus only six percent who have no taste). Its many positive features – the sunny winter weather, beaches, the many fun things to do as a visitor, our reputation for being tourist-friendly – give us a lot to build upon.

A Super Bowl played in San Diego is likely to make most of the country still shivering under a white blanket of snow green with envy. During a pre-game interview, that’s what Glendale’s mayor hoped would happen for his city. Glendale – even though it was mentioned four times during the Super Bowl – isn’t going to deliver the pay-off. But San Diego can, as it did in 2003.

Consider how beautiful San Diego looks every year during the Farmers Insurance PGA Tournament. CBS commentator Nick Faldo repeatedly described the region as “beautiful San Diego” as bumper shots of the coast hit TV screens in the Chicago, Minneapolis, and other frigid cities. Even with a tricky marine layer, most Americans would rather be in San Diego at this time of year. Unlike Super Bowls played on the east coast, San Diego’s would be during the daylight when the optics are better.

Let’s face it, no matter how exciting it is to visit any city for a Super Bowl, once the game and the hoopla around it has left town, there isn’t much left to attract people to Detroit, Indianapolis (other than Indy 500 week), Arlington, Texas, or Glendale. San Diego is a wonderful visitor destination. Building a positive image from scratch is extremely difficult. Reinforcing an already positive image is much easier.

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