Leigh Steinberg’s iconic Super Bowl party may join the growing list of canceled festivities in the week leading up to the big National Football League championship game. The big bash has always has been a must-attend for high rollers, sponsors, media, celebrities and some of his former and current football-playing clients
The continued spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. is going to have a profound effect on the playing of Super Bowl 55 in Tampa Feb. 7, with the crowd size at 65,895-seat Raymond James Stadium severely curtailed.
Steinberg’s party normally is staged at an idyllic outdoor setting with good food, good drink and a convivial atmosphere for talk and mingling. But not in the time of the coronavirus where guests would have to wear masks and socially distance.
“The last 35 years I’ve done a huge Super Bowl party,” said Steinberg, one of football’s top agents, in a recent exclusive interview. “The point is this would be the first year we’re contemplating doing a virtual party even though Florida basically has no restrictions.”
Steinberg said the cancellations on Florida’s Gulf Coast are going to be myriad.
Already, ESPN, Sleep Number, USAA, and Anheuser-Busch have cut back or canceled anticipated Super Bowl-related parties and events.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, under the guidance of seemingly ageless quarterback Tom Brady, are playing to 25% capacity for home games. The Bucs are in second place at 7-3 in the NFC South just behind the New Orleans Saints and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is watching the situation closely.
“Our intent is to have as many fans at the Super Bowl as can be safely done,” Goodell said.
Steinberg revealed last week to Sportico that the NFL could lose as much as $5.5 billion in revenue this season with attendance diminished throughout the league, including no fans at all in 12 of the 30 stadiums. The others are limited from a low of 250 in Minneapolis to a high of 20,000 in Dallas.
The Miami Dolphins allow 13,000 at Hard Rock Stadium, where Steinberg attended a recent game.
“It was kind of eerie being in Florida after being in Southern California where no fans are allowed to go to the games in SoFi Stadium,” Steinberg said. “It was like party central.”
Steinberg added that the coronavirus and its impact on the Super Bowl will provide a major hit on the Tampa economy, which has already reported a $400 million loss in economic impact because of the cancellation of tournaments and sporting events this year, including the NCAA men’s basketball regionals.
Aside from the Bucs, Tampa lost revenue on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s run to win the Stanley Cup over the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Rays’ loss in the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most of the playoff games in either sport weren’t played in Tampa, including the Cup Final and Fall Classic, which both went six games out of the area in distant bubbles. A first-round two-of-three game Major League Baseball Wild Card Series was played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg sans fans.
Tampa may never have a convergence of so many successful local seasons from pro teams and national events again.
“Aside from the limitation on fans for the Super Bowl in the stadium, remember there are hundreds of thousands of people—depending on the cities that participate—who would be descending on Tampa,” Steinberg said. “Some would come without tickets or trying to buy tickets, but would be there for the celebration.
“It’ll not only affect the gate. But it depends on how many sponsors will also cancel. At the Super Bowl, many corporations take over a hotel and they bring in employees as a perk. If corporations don’t do that, it will affect the revenue flow for Tampa at hotels, car rentals, limos, restaurants and everything else.”
As far as his own event is concerned, Steinberg hasn’t made a determination yet, but it’s evident in which direction he’s leaning. As of Tuesday, Florida has 889,964 of the nation’s 11.2 million cases, 17,559 of the 247,437 U.S. deaths, and is trending upwards. There were 53,187 cases and 866 deaths in Hillsborough County, where Tampa and the football venue are located.
“We’re contemplating doing a virtual telecast where we give our humanitarian awards,” Steinberg said. “We’ll do some highlights of some players. We’d still do a charity Make-A-Wish. We’d program an hour of the best of the Super Bowl party. That’s not our preference, but it’s the safest way to do it for everybody.”