Super Bowl benefits uncertain

URBAN CHRONICLE

Memories: The Rams' victory a year ago apparently hasn't made an appreciable difference in St. Louis.

March 08, 2001|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

During the buildup to Super Bowl XXXV, Baltimore's business and civic leaders crowed about the gobs of free national television publicity the city was getting.

Now that most of the purple floodlights have been turned off, most of the "Go Ravens" signs have been taken down and most of the pols in Annapolis have taken a bow for funding the new football stadium, what will the impact of Baltimore's victory be a year from now?

Judging by the experience of St. Louis, whose Rams won the Super Bowl last year, the answer is lingering fond memories, another point of promotion -- and not much else you can put your finger on.

"It was a one-time thing; people felt good about it," said Gina Ryan, executive director of the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations. "I don't know that there's been any appreciable effects."

As if to emphasize the ephemeral nature of Super Bowl euphoria, since the Ravens victory Baltimore has had to come off its cloud and face a nasty controversy between Mayor Martin O'Malley and city State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy; a triple killing in Waverly, a neighborhood trying to keep from falling into the abyss; and a looming budget deficit.

At the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, Carroll Armstrong, the president and chief executive officer, predicted that the long-term effects will be positive though difficult to quantify.

"Something like winning the Super Bowl could make the difference in a couple's decision or a group's decision to come to Baltimore," he said. "It says we're winners. That's what's important. It supports the message we're putting out there."

Similarities between St. Louis and Baltimore go beyond their status as the most recent Super Bowl winners.

Blue-collar towns

Both are erstwhile blue-collar towns that are trying to reinvent themselves after decades of decline. In the 1990s, St. Louis lost about one of every six residents; Baltimore, one in seven.

The recent histories of their football franchises are similar, too. Like Baltimore, St. Louis lost a team (the Cardinals) and regained one from another city (the Rams of Los Angeles).

Officials in St. Louis were as enthralled by the repeated airing before and after the game of pictures of the Gateway Arch as those in Baltimore were by the recurrent images of the Inner Harbor.

So viewers flocked to St. Louis in droves?

Not exactly.

Visitor figures for last year are not yet in. But officials acknowledge that even if they rise beyond 1999's 7.3 million, it will be the continuation of a trend. In 1995, the city had 6.1 million visitors.

"I would love to be able to send you charts with all the bells and whistles" about the positive effect of the Rams' win, said Mary Hendron, spokeswoman for the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission. "There's nothing concrete we can point to. I can't tell you someone told us they held their convention here because the Rams went to the Super Bowl."

Numbers aside, Hendron said, one positive spinoff was St. Louis' selection in August by the Sporting News as the best sports city in North America, a choice that highlighted the city's hockey and baseball teams along with the Rams.

`Monday Night Football'

Another was the team's schedule for the season after the Super Bowl championship, which included two home "Monday Night Football" games and a home Sunday night game.

"That's huge," said Hendron. "We hadn't had `Monday Night Football' since the Rams came on the scene [in 1995]."

Michael West, spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon, said the city is using its reputation as a sports town to attract events and franchises, including a National Basketball Association team. But he added, "I think it'd be a stretch to say the Super Bowl brings long-term, tangible effects."

Thomas Reeves, executive director of Downtown Now!, which is coordinating a major revitalization effort in St. Louis, said that in the past year, two dozen projects converting old buildings to loft apartments have been put in the pipeline. But he added, "I can't say there's a direct cause and effect" between the projects and the Rams victory.

"Tangible evidence is real tough to come up with," Reeves acknowledged. "The Super Bowl had a great positive impact psychologically. It called a great deal of attention nationally and regionally to downtown."

That attention may or may not have resulted in businesses and jobs.

For about six months, the Rams Super Bowl victory was an "explicit part of our marketing," said Richard Fleming, president of the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association.

"As to looking back a year later and saying did this and thus happen, we'd be very hard-pressed to make that connection," he said.

But Fleming considers it no coincidence that the city's successful five-year campaign to create 100,000 area jobs, completed last year, came during the return of pro football and the opening of a downtown domed stadium.

"We used that as a message of the community's capacity to get things done," he said. "There's no question that getting a franchise back was more important than winning the Super Bowl."

One of the biggest boosts to the jobs campaign was the decision by MasterCard to keep its expanded transaction processing center in the area, choosing a suburban St. Louis site over 10 other areas.

Linda Locke, vice president for communications, said the Rams' victory played no role in the decision, which was made long before the game, but that it helps recruit hard-to-get technical workers. "We're more on the radar screen than we used to be," she said.

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