How to Know Your City Isn’t Super

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

A riddle: how do you know your city isn’t super?

Answer: If it’s hosting the Super Bowl.

Does that seem harsh? Well, I’m sorry. So let me put this another way.

Congratulations, Santa Clara, California! You’ve just joined a club that includes such notable municipalities as East Rutherford, New Jersey; Pontiac, Michigan; Miami Gardens, Florida; Arlington, Texas; and Glendale, Arizona.

What do those cities have in common? Three things. First, they are all smaller cities on the edge of bigger cities. Second, they invested big in pro sports in the hopes of boosting their economies and raising their profiles. Third, none has demonstrated much benefit from a big investment in pro sports.

Yes, it’s true that the Super Bowl has been in bigger municipalities such as Indianapolis, Houston, Minneapolis, Detroit, Jacksonville, Atlanta, New Orleans, and San Diego. And those cities put on fine Super Bowls (I even was lucky enough to go to one, a Denver-Washington Super Bowl in San Diego in the late 1980s). But can anyone in those town say the Super Bowl measurably changed the trajectory or profile of those places? Did the Super Bowl make any of them greater?

Of course not.

Given the hassles, the push to host a Super Bowl smacks of desperation. I can say that as someone who grew up in, and still lives near, a former Super Bowl city—Pasadena, Calif. The Rose Bowl hosted five Super Bowl games – the second most of any venue – and yet the world still thinks of us as a place with a great floral parade and a little old lady with a lead foot.

Pasadena has wised up about pro football. When the NFL recently asked the city to consider hosting a relocating team temporarily, while a stadium was built, Pasadena said it had no interest.

So the next edge city to host a Super Bowl could well be the city of Inglewood, Calif., where the L.A. Rams intend to build a new stadium. Congratulations to Inglewood—you soon might be in Santa Clara’s class.

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