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As Super Bowl LI Gears Up, Here’s What The Bay Area Learned From Super Bowl 50

Putting on a Super Bowl is no easy task. Super Bowl 50, by all accounts, ran smoothly, but this was after several years of planning involving multiple state, local and federal agencies, several cities and three counties. Many lessons were learned about how to host an event of this magnitude, which will help the Bay Area and others plan for future events.


Bay Area officials have considered bringing the Super Bowl back to the region, especially since Super Bowl 50 generated at least $240M, according to Sportimpacts. The report subtracted the gross spending on transportation and public safety costs. San Francisco, even though it didn’t host the actual game and put up the largest investment, benefited the most with 57.1% of revenue. San Jose took 12.3% of the pie while Santa Clara, where the game was played, grabbed about 7.2% of total revenue.

Bay Area hotels largely benefited from the event. Typically, the region reports about $21M for the same weekend and $41.6M for the week. During the Super Bowl, hotels earned $82.7M for the weekend and $181.1M for the entire week.

As we gear up for Super Bowl LI, here are some lessons San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Jose learned.

San Francisco


San Francisco Department of Emergency Management assistant deputy director Bijan Karimi (above) said his agency learned a great deal during the planning and operation of the Super Bowl.

During planning, the biggest lessons included identifying and bringing in community partners as early as possible. Karimi said the city worked with many community and business groups. He said local agencies, such as the Municipal Transportation Agency, also had to let the public know as soon as possible about how the event would impact everyone’s daily lives.

Planners pulled information from the Super Bowls hosted in Glendale, Ariz., and New York/New Jersey to start a list of all the potential things that could happen during Super Bowl 50 based on what happened in cities that hosted previous Super Bowls, he said. They did a series of exercises based on these events to figure out how to prevent, mitigate and put resources in place in response to each scenario. They also planned for an El Niño and a potential earthquake.

“We learned how important cross-functional planning is, and it’s probably something we should have started earlier,” Karimi said.

During the operational side of the Super Bowl, when events were held during the week, he said the exchange of information between different departments and locations was good, but could have been better.


Karimi said the biggest challenge of putting on a Super Bowl was figuring out the "known unknown" and the "unknown unknown." This often meant having to respond to various events they didn’t plan for initially, but knew were going to happen. For example, if a celebrity were to send out messages via social media that he or she was looking at shoes at Union Square, he said there would need to be parking control and other officials on-site for safety reasons.

He said his agency also learned the importance of having permits at the ready since there were a lot of things that required a permit that they didn’t anticipate, and agencies had to quickly respond.

“It feels like you can never start planning early enough,” Karimi said. “You have to be comfortable with known unknowns.”

The regional planning, which brought several cities and three counties together, provided an outline for better supporting any other type of regional event, such as the NASCAR event at the Sonoma Raceway. This event brings almost 200,000 visitors to the North Bay each year. Karimi said if something were to happen, the Bay Area agencies are much more prepared to bring mutual aid and help one another.

“All of the responders are that much better,” Karimi said. “If you have a team that knows how to work together because they know each other and have their cellphone numbers, it makes it incredibly helpful for any event held in San Francisco or Houston or Santa Clara.”

Santa Clara


Santa Clara provided an excellent example of how best to negotiate a deal with the NFL’s private host committee to cover the extra costs associated with the Super Bowl, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal. This saved the city $3.5M in expenses. Voters approved Measure J in 2010, which banned the use of city general funds or enterprise funds for the operation or maintenance of Levi's Stadium. The city also didn’t comply with the tax exemption clause of the NFL’s list of Super Bowl demands.

This move came because the city did its homework meeting with previous host cities to assess the challenges and core city services needed to support the event, according to Santa Clara assistant city manager Alan Kurotori. The agreement was hashed out in 2013 to cover expenses in planning and deployment of public safety, transportation and other governmental support services.

"This win-win partnership provided a strong foundation to meet the high expectations of the Golden Anniversary Super Bowl," Kuratori said.

He said hosting Super Bowl 50 allowed for Levi's Stadium to quickly become a premier sports and entertainment venue.

"The venue builds on this Super Bowl 'knowledge base,' which will benefit the patrons' experience at future events such as the U2: Joshua Tree Tour and the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Knockout Round match," Kurotori said.

Santa Clara's successful bid to be reimbursed for Super Bowl costs made San Francisco rethink the roughly $5M cost of additional police and city services that week. San Francisco's response came too late and the city ended up paying those costs anyway, but future Super Bowl cities will likely look at Santa Clara's negotiation for pointers. Luckily San Francisco earned $137M in revenue, making the most of any local city.

A Mercury News commentator suggested the Super Bowl could provide a framework for improving transit to and from 49ers games. VTA trains moved 10,000 passengers out within an hour after the game and the creation of Uber drop-off points helped things run smoothly.

San Jose


San Jose hosted six Super Bowl events, including media night at the SAP Center, and the Carolina Panthers stayed in a downtown hotel. One of its biggest events at Cesar Chavez Park (above) hosted 30,000 people. Leading up to the Super Bowl, the city initiated a “Best Face Forward” plan, which included cleaning up graffiti, cracking down on human trafficking and prostitution, lighting trees and cleaning up storm drains. Undercover operations led to over a dozen arrests.

San Jose also learned how best to prepare and built working relationships and partnerships, according to a city council report. The event led to city officials learning how to activate public spaces and improve streetscapes to keep the downtown more energized and vibrant.

The city council adopted this policy last April to continue its efforts in improving the area and may take a similar approach in preparation for other large events, such as the 2019 College Football Championships.