On On November 3, 2000, in Atlanta, Georgia, Oakland came to within just eight NFL Owner votes of hosting the 2005 Super Bowl. Here’s how Oakland got to that point.
Oakland Went After San Francisco’s Failed 2003 Bid
The entire story started with the San Francisco 49ers Owner Eddie Debartolo. Eddie D was given the award for the 2003 Super Bowl back in 1997. Then, the plan was to build a new stadium for the Niners at Hunter’s Point, but as the project moved forward, Mr. D realized they had underestimated the cost to build that facility. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue reopened the competition.
Eventually, Tampa won the right to host the 2003 Super Bowl in 1998, but that was just after Oakland lobbied to try and be able to get the game. Oakland was officially assigned to bid for the 2004 Super Bowl in 1998, and the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda formed a task force to review what it would take to bid for the game. That was as other cities had skipped a review process, and started aggressively forming bid plans and documents.
As that was happening, I was being transferred from my position as Economic Adviser to Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris to a consultant role for the City of Oakland’s Redevelopment Agency, and because we had a new mayor: then-former California Governor Jerry Brown. Prior to working for Elihu, and while I was columnist for The Montclarion in Oakland, I formed a relationship with Al LoCasale, Executive Assistant to Al Davis.
While with Elihu’s Office, I helped Al LoCasale and the Raiders in re-establishing the 49ers / Raiders pre-season games, and it was during that time that Mr. LoCasale spent several months and lunches explaining how NFL politics works. I was also first acquainted with a man who was then NFL Executive Vice President for Football Operations: Roger Goodell Thus, when I learned about the task force, I wanted to use my contacts in assisting Oakland.
With that in mind, early in 1999, I sent an email asking to get involved, and transmitted it to Lewis Cohen, who was then Chief of Staff to Oakland Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente. Ignacio was also the Chairperson of the Oakland Coliseum Authority, and head of Oakland’s Super Bowl task force. At the time Ignacio, who’s a friend to this day, had opposed my former boss Mayor Harris so much, that he said, via Lewis, “no”. Still, I kept in touch with what was going on.
Eventually, the Oakland Super Bowl Task Force determined it would take $10 million to add seats to the Oakland Coliseum Stadium to make it Super Bowl ready, so they elected not to do anything – all except Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb.
Robert Bobb wanted to go after the game, and so brought up the subject of the Super Bowl while we were in a large economic development meeting in March of 1999, where we were making plans for Oakland’s presentation at the International Council Of Shopping Centers Spring Convention. Bobb said he didn’t know where Oakland was in the process, and so I said “Call Joe Browne at the NFL” – after the meeting, I asked Robert if I could help, and he said “yes.” It turned out that while the task force had said “no,” Bobb didn’t stop working – the NFL was expecting a bid from Oakland. I called Joe Browne, who was then the NFL’s EVP for Government Affairs, and a man I came to know via phone, and because of Al LoCasale.
Mr. Browne told me, pure and simple, that Oakland was “behind the eight ball” and late getting its bid documents in. That’s when I went to work.
For the next three months, I went from advising Mr. Bobb, to reviewing the work of SMG, then, the managers of the Oakland Coliseum, and in the process determined that a person representing SMG Oakland was not working in Oakland’s best interests, and so was assigned to run the Super Bowl: Oakland Project by Robert Bobb. (And in fairness to SMG, Doug Thornton who manages the Superdome and then-President Glen Mon were extremely helpful to me.)
And when that happened, on April 14, 1999, my friends Mike Silver and Monte Poole, then of Sports Illustrated and The Oakland Tribune, respectively, were in the room – as supporters and friends, not journalists.
The first step was to create a Super Bowl Oakland Host Plan, and to address the problem of how to keep as much happening in Oakland as possible, knowing that San Francisco had the lion’s share of hotels. The idea I created was to have all of Oakland’s concerts that were beyond NFL-sanctioned at a giant stage at Jack London Square. The idea was to have JLS as a paid-admission area for Super Bowl entertainment events. The Oakland Marriott was the host hotel, with the NFL Media Hotels in San Francisco and we had a transbay hotel network featuring special BART Super Bowl tickets. The NFL Experience was at Jack London Square as well, and was to be under a giant tent, not unlike the one created when Cirque Du Soleil was here in 1996.
I created, from scratch, The Oakland-Alameda County Sports Commission and a board of directors that grew to 45 people, the core of which formed the Oakland Super Bowl XXXIV Bidding Committee. We had everyone from sports agent Leigh Steinberg to Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid involved. What we didn’t have was official support from Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. But I did try to get it.
For example, on April 21st 1999 at 4:21 PM at a reception in a place called ‘The Dalziel Building’ when Jerry, standing with his then close-friend and confidant Jacques Barzaghi, openly told me “I don’t have time for you,” in response to my request to meet with him on Oakland’s Super Bowl Bid. There were other times I tried to get on Jerry’s schedule, only to have my calls ignored. Where I had trouble, I went to Robert Bobb.
It was difficult to move forward with ease because if there wasn’t Jerry being weird, there were staffers in Oakland’s Redevelopment Agency who were openly jealous that I was working on the Super Bowl, and served more as road-blocks than assists. Eventually, and via a lot of lobbying and a combination of aggression and patience, a nice group of people, mostly representing Oakland’s excellent public works staff and the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau’s staff emerged – they helped with planning the bid and were incredible. Eventually, Oakland’s Economic Development boss Bill Claggett became an ally.
We also had help from Oakland’s private sector, even as the Oakland Chamber of Commerce’s head was miffed that I was working too fast – I told him that we were on the NFL’s timetable, not Oakland’s. It was a task, for me, of navigating around people who believed someone else should be in charge of the effort other than me, and finding people who were equally as aggressive as I was.
I tried to include everyone, even those, like George Vukasin, who was the head of the Oakland Coliseum before being ousted in a kind of power-play by De La Fuente in 1996, just after the return of the Raiders to Oakland from Los Angeles. George was still so miffed, I couldn’t get him to get back in the game, but I tried, more than once.
I brought in the late Sanjiv Handa as an adviser to make sure the Oakland-Alameda County Sports Commission was doing things correctly and by established city laws. Many had made fun of Sanjiv because of his intense focus on compliance with city charter laws and state legal procedures – he has been called everything from “gadfly” to “pest to the powerful” but to me, he was a friend. I wanted him involved in what we were doing, and being included was really all Sanjiv ever wanted.
I can’t say enough for people like Alameda County Supervisor Gale Steele, the late Alameda County Counsel and mentor Richard Winnie, Oakland artist Anthony Holdsworth, Derinda Gaumond, Beth Schnitzer then of Pier 39 and now of Spritz Marketing, Mike Savod, Robert Brown, Randy Gordon, Kinko’s (now Fed-Ex Kinko’s) Gary Bauer of Bauer’s Transportation, the Oakland Marriott, Phil Tagami, John Protopapas, John Foster, Biggie Crane, Doug Thornton and Glen Mon of SMG, and politicians like U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, U.S. Rep Barbara Lee, and the Mayor of Fremont, Amy Trask of the Oakland Raiders (who handled the politics of a lawsuit between Oakland and the city and our bid effort really well), KTVU and then-station-manager Kevin O’Brien, San Francisco 49ers Owners John and Denise DeBartolo York, and a whole contingent of San Francisco business friends who worked behind the scenes, my mom and stepfather, and then there was the great work of Christopher Weills, who created our first mini-bid book, and really helped move us from dream to reality.
Christopher Weills took my drawings of the Oakland Coliseum as it would look for the Super Bowl, and made them real in the publication.
From Eleven To Three
Along the way, and with the steady guidance of Jim Steeg, who was the NFL’s Senior Vice President for Special Events at the time, and the first “Mr. Super Bowl” before Frank Supovitz, Oakland went from one of eleven cities, to one of three. During that time, I, or Robert Bobb and myself, met with the NFL in New York, and I attended my first NFL Owners Meeting, on November 1st in Chicago at what was then called The Hyatt Regency O’Hare.
That was where I gave my first major presentation in what was then called The Super Bowl Policy Committee Meeting. In attendance were the late KC Chiefs Owner Lamar Hunt, the late NY Giants Owner Bob Tisch, Colts Owner Jim Irsay, then-NFL Chief Operating Officer Neil Austrian, and Jim Steeg. And yes, it was just me representing Oakland.
What happened was that Walter Payton had passed away and the NFL had awarded Bob McNair and Houston with the Texans Franchise, thus ending a long battle between groups in Houston and in LA for the 32nd franchise. That caused the NFL Owners meeting to be shortened to two days, from three, and the meeting that was originally set for Wednesday morning was changed.
I got a call from NFL Special Events asking if we could go at 5 PM Tuesday. I said my team’s not here, which was to be Robert Bobb, and Gail Steele, repping Oakland and Alameda County, respectively. Mr. Bobb asked if I could do it myself. I said I could.
So, I gave a presentation that started with the idea of Oakland as ‘a shining city on a hill, and America’s best example for diversity.’ Then I showed our plan and how we had encompassed the entire Bay Area, and then took questions.
After the presentation, Mr. Irsay said “It was outstanding” and he and Mr. Hunt actually helped me with my bags out of the meeting. I’ll never forget that.
The Turning Point
The turning point was being invited by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to meet directly with him on May 5th 2000. It was also a meeting where Jerry Brown was both our best, and worst, asset. Then Mayor and now Governor Brown arrived with Oakland Developer and friend Phil Tagami a good 15 minutes late to our presentation, and then left with another hour to spare.
In a meeting that included Commissioner Goodell, who was, as I said, then NFL EVP for Football Operations, Now-Governor Brown gave Commissioner Tagliabue every sign that he didn’t take the Oakland Super Bowl Bid seriously – asking me questions regarding the Oakland bid as if he were an observer and not a champion, and he was the Mayor of Oakland.
It was a moment in my life I’ll never forget, particularly because it was left to me and to then-Oakland Tribune Publisher Scott McKibben to rescue the meeting. We did.
About a week later, the NFL officially announced that Oakland was competing against Miami and Jacksonville. We were where we wanted to be. Oakland was finally being taken seriously as a Super Bowl Host and as a city. It was an awesome feeling, but we didn’t stop to bask in it, we worked harder.
Oakland’s Super Bowl Bid really took off with the involvement of San Francisco ad agency GMO / Hill Holliday (since sold and now called Hill Holiday) and its founders Fred Goldberg and Mike Moser, and its President Nancy Hill, and all of that came about via a chance encounter I had at The Royal Exchange bar in San Francisco. GMO / Hill Holliday came up with a high-tech branding idea that was based on Silicon Valley, and created and printed our bid books.
And Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid (District 7) and Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele (District 5) brought Oakland Coliseum staff in line. For a time, everything was working too well. Even Oakland Councilmembers who never gave us a chance were coming round to realizing that we could win.
But just when all was working right, Oakland’s politics got in the way, again.
Oakland Councilmember, and friend, Larry Reid (District Seven) was the swing vote when he was on the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority Board on October 26, 2000. The decision was simple: to allow the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and the Oakland Alameda County Sports Commission (which I created from scratch and on a bet with Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb) to sign a contract turning over use of the Coliseum and the Arena to the National Football League.
Larry abstained from voting, thus deadlocking the panel into a tie, and effectively killing the contract with the NFL, and with that, it seemed, our Super Bowl Bid.
Prior to the vote, as I stood at the podium explaining our innovative Super Bowl Sponsorship Plan (which allowed the branding of various parts of the Coliseum’s East Side luxury box building using a cover in the logo of the corporation or firms that purchased up to $30 million of space), then-Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (District Five) said “We’ve met with a group of CEOs and we don’t see how this sponsorship plan can work.” This, as Michael Lynch, then head of Global Sponsorships for VISA openly said my approach was workable and innovative.
But the news that stung was they were meeting behind my back.
By the time the vote came down, I was already so pissed I was one step from a transformation into The Hulk. Instead, after the vote, reporters came to be and asked what I was going to do. I said that, as Captain Kirk once said ‘They said no, so we’re going anyway,’ and I proceeded to work on the bid, and still with the idea that we could win it all.
It almost happened.
The competition for the 2005 Super Bowl then was Miami, Jacksonville, and Oakland. Miami was the establishment candidate, Jacksonville, the hyper-aggressive new bid kid, and Oakland the undersized worker bee – the product of the work of a handful of dedicated people fighting giant odds, from the Raiders lawsuit against the NFL, to Oakland’s own chronic insecurity problem.
After the vote, I was pissed, went home, had a good glass or three of wine, and then wrote an email from hell where I accused then-Mayor Jerry Brown of being racist because he did not work directly with me, even as he had a phalanx of young white staffers and interns who came into his office, and regularly met with him and blasted two other board members who seemed to be instrumental in not keeping Mayor Brown engaged with me. Yet, here I was, working on what would be Oakland’s largest economic development project at that time, and I couldn’t even get time with him.
It wasn’t until we were at the November 2000 Atlanta Fall NFL Owners Meeting for the final vote, and the media pressure had come to bear on Oakland, that Jerry finally got it. But even then, as he was finally working with me (I had my first meeting with him on the week before I left for Atlanta), I also knew he was trying to plot a way to replace me behind my back, thanks to a number of friends in the NFL. The trouble was, no one in Oakland knew the complexities of the NFL requirements like I did – I memorized 300 pages of requirements, wrote a book on how Oakland would respond to them, and could recite them, chapter and verse.
I wanted to win.
As it turned out, so did Jerry, once he realized the press was watching.
Jerry Brown walked in with our delegation, and even though little things went wrong, like us standing in the wrong place because some of the team members skipped the rehersal meeting I’d planned (including Jerry), now-Governor Brown gave a speech that brought the NFL Owners Meeting to a stand-still. It was powerful. It was effective. It was awesome. It was, what Jerry Brown said it was. It was one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard a politician give in my life.
Brown ended the speech by saying “Here’s my Hail Mary pass, catch it.”
The power of that speech caused Oakland to be so well-considered by the NFL Owners that instead of getting bounced out on the first ballot, it took three votes before all was said and done.
We came to within eight NFL owner votes of actually landing the thing.
We had supporters, and to a large degree, that fact alone made up for how terrible the City of Oakland had treated me prior to that time.
After the vote, I came back, but Jerry asked Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb to fire me over the whole deal of me calling him racist. I told Robert, or “Mr. Bobb,” “You can’t fire me, because I quit.” (I didn’t even bother to mention to Bobb that Oakland’s then-Economic Development Head Bill Claggett had set aside $80,000 for the Sports Commission I’d started as a kind of reward for my job-well-done.)
Then to make it all good, I put out a press release, and the news was on the front page of all three major Bay Area newspapers of the day – Chronicle, Mercury News, and Oakland Tribune.
I quit, and after a year of soul searching, started a new company called Sports Business Simulations, then discovered blogging and video-blogging. The NFL remained a true ally, allowing me to cover the NFL Draft. Zennie62Media has covered the NFL Draft for the past nine years, and its a staple of our video content.
The Super Bowl Oakland Bid was a life-changing experience for me. I’ll never get over the fact that had we had full support from the start, we would have won.
I believe that. The 2005 Super Bowl should have been in Oakland.
San Francisco Deserves The Super Bowl
NFL Politics can be a tricky animal, so Tuesday’s NFL Owners vote could turn any way. Still, I believe San Francisco deserves the Super Bowl. The team has made all of the right moves, in addition to getting the stadium done. I hope Oakland learns one thing from watching San Francisco: cooperation.