Looking ahead to Jacksonville's Super Bowl

Next year's Super Bowl will be much closer to home.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 12:14 a.m.
The Super Bowl may be foremost on football fans' minds today, but many people in Gainesville are already looking forward to next year's Super Bowl in Jacksonville.
With the 2005 Super Bowl about an hour away in Jacksonville, Gainesville officials are hoping for a spillover of visitors and enthusiasm, even if no Florida teams are in it.
Plans are already being made to capitalize - golf tournaments with former University of Florida Gators who made it to the NFL, downtown parties with Super Bowl themes and similar activities.
"We are working with the Super Bowl Committee on a regional basis. What we are attempting to do is take existing events this year and in January 2005 and include them as a Super Bowl-sanctioned event," said Jack Hughes of the Gainesville Sports Organizing Committee. "We have a pretty good idea of the kinds of things we can do, and we've laid out a long list of possible things we might do just to get a feel of what would fit."
Ruth Alexander, a UF distinguished professor of recreation, parks and tourism, said the Super Bowl is a part of American culture and a money-generating extravaganza.
Studies have indicated that a family of four that goes to a sporting event such as the Super Bowl or UF football games spends several hundred dollars a day, Alexander said.
With the Super Bowl, people gather to watch the game at parties or bars - spending money in the process. Alexander said interest in next year's game will likely be high in North Central Florida, especially if the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Jacksonville Jaguars were to make it to the championship game.
"It's a mega, super event and it starts with television - all of the ads and stuff. Of the top 20 TV shows, 15 or so are Super Bowls," she said. "It's gotten to be such all-day entertainment that the game itself is almost anticlimactic."
Gainesville hotels will get a boost in business, but no one seems quite sure how big the bounce will be.
Heather Surface, spokeswoman for the Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee, said Jacksonville does not have enough hotel rooms to accommodate the avalanche of visitors.
The committee has identified a Super Bowl region that runs from Brunswick, Ga., south to Daytona Beach and west to Gainesville.
"We anticipate that people will be staying in the entire region. Jacksonville couldn't host it on our own relying only on rooms in our own county, so we are truly relying on our regional partners," said Surface, who was in Houston last week to learn about Super Bowl operations firsthand. "We're planning for up to 110,000 people. You get individuals who come in for the game. Then you have another group that comes merely to revel in the Super Bowl fun. Between 3,000 and 3,500 journalists typically come."
Wende Blumberg, general manager of the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center, said the NFL has already committed to a block of rooms for Super Bowl weekend. Blumberg believes they would likely be used by corporations affiliated with the event.
While it is too early to tell how many Gainesville hotel beds will be filled by the Super Bowl or associated events, Blumberg said Gainesville could be a draw for folks with UF links who are going to Jacksonville for the game.
"We have an opportunity for it to be an impact for us. We are counting on some NFL spillover," she said. "The NFL is still out there selling groups to put into the hotels. We realize there is beach competition. Whatever we get, we will be fortunate to get. But I am optimistic that Gainesville is attractive enough."
One entity that may be about to benefit is Gainesville Regional Airport. While the facility is struggling to attract more business, the relative ease of getting through it could make it a hassle-free alternative to Jacksonville International, said John Pricher of the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau.
More traffic through the airport could result in more customers for area hotels and restaurants, he added.
"We're looking at some visionary kind of stuff like ease of the airport to use for private jets. Now, will they be willing to drive that hour over there? I don't know, but it is a thought because it's easy in and out at our airport," Pricher said. "We want to do something downtown to make it more of an atmosphere instead of just a place to stay. We think there will be people here just because the availably of rooms in Jacksonville will be tight and it is not that bad of a drive to the stadium."
Certain to play a role in the activities is Shands HealthCare, which is based in Gainesville but has a hospital in Jacksonville. Shands is a community partner and official health care provider to the Jacksonville host committee.
Shands spokesman Lance Skelly said the organization in January hosted a 5K road race and health fair in Jacksonville, which drew more than 500 participants. Skelly said Shands is working on several other Super Bowl-related events in Gainesville and Jacksonville.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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