TAMPA, Fla. - There were mountains of jumbo shrimp, andcaviar everywhere. Muhammad Ali would show up, maybe amid a fleetof shiny Cadillacs. Five-star hotels were packed, and getting adinner reservation for Saturday night was impossible. Finding aticket for Sunday was even harder.
In years past, the Super Bowl was so much more than a game. Itwas an outright orgy of football, glitz and gluttony, a celebrationof excess where too much was never enough.
The No. 1 sporting event in America is still a big deal. Nearly100 million of us will tune in Sunday night when the PittsburghSteelers play the Arizona Cardinals.
But in these tough economic times, it's easy to see: The SuperBowl is taking a hit, too.
General Motors and FedEx pulled their TV ads, even though NBClowered the price. Playboy canceled its annual party. Almost 200fewer media credentials were issued.
"When I think of the NFL, I think of recession-proof,"Cardinals lineman Elliot Vallejo said this week. "But that's nottrue anymore."
Used to be everywhere you looked around a Super Bowl town, allyou could see was advertising. There were commercial booths atevery turn. The headquarters hotel and media center looked likegiant trade shows.
Now you can look pretty much everywhere and actually see things.Such as empty tables at local restaurants and vacant hotel roomsdowntown.
StubHub does have a sign on the mezzanine level at Raymond JamesStadium. The nationwide ticket broker also had more than 3,000seats for sale, as of midweek. They were getting less expensive bythe minute.
"In terms of pricing, this game has become the Limbo Bowl -- howlow can it go?" StubHub spokesman Sean Pate said. "When it comesto plunking down $7,000 for a weekend, people are becoming morepragmatic. They have other needs."
Dave Gornick hears that from his pals. Now a dentist inGibsonia, Pa., the lifelong Steelers fan grew up in steel-millcountry.
"Some of the guys I tailgate with, they're blue-collar guysmaking $30,000 or $35,000 a year, and they didn't have the $1,600you had to put up in advance to get into the lottery for Super Bowltickets," he said. "In the past, I think they would've doneanything to get to the Super Bowl. Not now, not with thiseconomy."
On the other hand, it might be cheaper to go to the game.
While tickets are still pricey -- about 15,000 at a record $1,000apiece, and 53,000 at $800 each -- another 1,000 cost $500 -- downfrom last year's low of $700, the first cut in Super Bowl history.
And tickets that cost $2,500 or more from scalpers and brokerscould be selling at face value by kickoff.
"I haven't seen empty stadiums yet. I haven't seen games beingblacked out on TV because they haven't sold out," Cardinalsdefensive end Travis LaBoy said. "But they're saying this is thelowest price for a Super Bowl ticket. That's the economy,tenfold."
In a week or so, the NFL plans to make a more painful cut,reducing 10 percent of its staff.
"These are difficult and painful steps," commissioner RogerGoodell recently wrote in a memo to employees. "But they arenecessary in the current economic environment. I would like to beable to report that we are immune to the troubles around us, but weare not."
Still the gold standard in sports worldwide, the league withannual revenues of $6.5 billion is paying the price. But withtelevision money already locked in and most tickets committed inadvance, the NFL is far from struggling.
The league won't feel the biggest effects from the recessionuntil it's time for fans to renew and buy season tickets.
"There's no secret on sponsorship, advertising, licensing --those numbers are going to be impacted by the current climate.We're aware of that," Goodell told The Associated Press beforeThanksgiving.
"We're still, unfortunately, in the beginning stages of this.And most of our tickets are sold in the spring. And so '09 is goingto be more of a barometer of how impactful the economicenvironment's going to be on the NFL," he said.
Steelers tackle Jeremy Parquet is busy these days checking hislong-term investments, financial portfolios and retirementaccounts.
"We're lucky because as athletes, we make good salaries. Buteveryone is affected," he said. "With Barack Obama as ourpresident, maybe it'll change in the next two years."
Too late for Warrick Dunn.
One of the most popular players in Tampa Bay history, Dunn andBuccaneers teammate Derrick Brooks planned to hold a charity eventwhile the Super Bowl was in town. Widely recognized for theircommunity service, they were all set to host the Brooks & DunnInaugural Golf Classic this week.
Many locals figured that if anyone in the area could put on asuccessful outing, it was these two. But earlier this month, theevent was canceled. Not enough corporate sponsorship and support.
"We raised a good amount of money, but we were hoping formore," Dunn said. "I guess it's not surprising, given these toughtimes. People don't have as much money to spend."