MIAMI — The grass alone costs a half million dollars.
Local hotel rooms are going for $250 to $1,800 a night with a four-night minimum stay. The average game ticket is selling for $5,000. Skybox seats are a little more pricey with some topping $200,000 each. And a 30-second TV ad costs $2.6 million.
They don't call it the Super Bowl for nothing.
As many as 1 billion viewers in 230 countries are expected to tune in to watch the Indianapolis Colts battle the Chicago Bears in the National Football League championship game Sunday evening. It is the biggest stage in American sports. And with pregame and halftime entertainers like Prince, Billy Joel, and Cirque du Soleil, some might even call it the greatest show on earth.
Football is the marquee attraction, but Super Bowl XLI is about much more than mere athletics. It has become a kind of national celebration of competitive accomplishment, a clinic in effective management, an arena to spotlight the creative talents of the advertising world, an inducement to sell more than 2.5 million big-screen televisions in stores nationwide, and an excuse to order billions of pizzas. For 120,000 fans headed to Miami, it means a long weekend of nonstop partying.
But ultimately the Super Bowl is about money – big money. "It is the most watched sporting event in the world and the exposure it brings is truly priceless," says Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez.
He estimates the event could yield a $400 million boost to the south Florida economy. Some economists question the size of the boost, but all agree the event pays lasting dividends.
"This is the hottest city in the world and it gets hotter as the sun goes down," says Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer, touting his trend-setting South Beach neighborhood. "Our hotels are packed, our city is vibrant, and we have the best weather on the planet."
Private and corporate jets are already arriving. Limousines are booked solid. Caterers are working flat out. And the competition is heating up over who will host the wildest pregame parties. On Friday night, a thousand dollars gets you into The Fifth on South Beach to engage in lively football banter with Hawaiian Tropic beauty pageant contestants.
Another option at $995 is the Taste of the NFL Party on Saturday. Top chefs from the 31 NFL cities share their talents with paying guests who dine and mingle with current and former NFL players.
Not everyone is partying. Bears Coach Lovie Smith has made it clear that he has only one priority in south Florida.
"I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't dance – what is there for me to do?" he told reporters with a laugh. Coach Smith added: "To show up Sunday [to compete in the Super Bowl], that's all the excitement you really need, as I see it." He's set a midnight curfew for Da Bears.
There are drawbacks to attracting international attention. Homeland Security officials have designated the Super Bowl a "Level 1 national security event," akin to a State of the Union speech.
Officials say there is no specific intelligence suggesting a terror or other attack is imminent, but they say they have planned for almost every eventuality – including the potential death of Fidel Castro during halftime.
"Hopefully there won't be much for us to do," says Julie Torres, who heads the Miami office of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
A task force of 30 federal agencies will be working in concert with Miami-Dade police and the NFL to screen the stadium and everyone entering the complex. They will deploy 60 K-9 teams, with dogs trained to detect 19,000 explosive compounds.
Security officials are also using state-of-the-art bomb-detection equipment, walk-through metal detectors, and even pat-down searches.
There is no indication that fear of terrorism is keeping anyone home. Instead, the event appears poised to break audience and other records.
Exactly how super is the Super Bowl?
"It is super in so many ways," says Kathleen Davis, executive director of the Sport Management Research Institute in Fort Lauderdale. Ms. Davis has been hired by local officials to track the economic impact of the event.
She says game-related spending gets a boost from two factors. The event attracts high-end consumers on deep-pocket corporate expense accounts. Some of the lavish spending is aimed at creating business relationships, or rewarding existing customers.
"They can afford that kind of investment," Davis says.
The other factor involves die-hard fans who view their team's appearance in the big game as potentially a once-in-a-lifetime event. They want to experience it themselves and to celebrate the hoped-for victory. And they are willing to splurge to do it.
That's where event packaging companies like RazorGator Experiences come in. They offer all-inclusive package deals for $5,000 to $10,000 to fans who want to avoid the hassle of finding game tickets, a hotel room, air tickets, and local transportation.
"It is one of the most highly anticipated events in the country, we elevate the Super Bowl experience for fans so that it becomes an event experience of a lifetime," says Julie Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the company.
Studies show that not everyone who tunes into the game is interested in football. "Pretty much half of everybody watching is watching just for the commercials," says David Shoffner, a spokesman at Pavone, an ad agency based in Harrisburg, Pa.
Mr. Shoffner cites a survey that found 58 percent of people standing around the water cooler the day after the Super Bowl talk about the commercials. Only 47 percent discuss the game, he says.
As for the turf, it has been growing for this game since July 2005. That means the grass has been in preparation for Super Bowl XLI twice as long as Bears standout Devin Hester has been in pro football.
The grass was transplanted from Georgia three weeks ago and groomed to a precise 5/8ths of an inch in height. Turf is to professional football what the red carpet is to the Academy Awards. A slip on a bad patch could mean the difference between a tackle and a touchdown in what, for many, could be the game of their lives.
Take our interactive Super Bowl quiz.