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Tampa welcomes fans to the, well, Subdued Bowl

With a down economy and an unconventional matchup, the Super Bowl doesn't have quite as much hoopla this year.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 29, 2009

Ahead of the game: A large balloon version of the Vince Lombardi Trophy is in Tampa, Fla.

Morry Gash/AP


Tampa, Fla.

Billboards across Tampa Bay, host of Super Bowl XLIII, show big smiling faces under the slogan: "Get your game face on."

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At a time of economic slump, and with an oddball matchup on the gridiron, that municipal appeal has suddenly taken on unintended meaning for residents like Leonard Johnson, hawking T-shirts to the empty streets of Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood Tuesday night. "I'm nervous," he said. "This place should have been a party by now, and it's not."

Coming only a few months after Tampa hosted the worst-rated World Series of all time, the lead-up to the Super Bowl has been noticeably subdued. That's testing not only the game faces of the area's boosters, but also a National Football League that, some critics say, has sacrificed fan passion for a 15-year effort to achieve competitive parity among the teams.

"Pressure on Tampa Bay is especially high for this Super Bowl, especially since they're still smarting from the World Series," says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture in Syracuse, N.Y. "And there's less of a sense of arrogance around the league this year."

Still, success at the Super Bowl level is relative. The NFL's national television contracts alone mean that all 32 teams are profitable before the regular season's first downs are even played. And no matter which teams are playing in the Super Bowl, or where it's held, Americans have long ago planned their parties for Sunday.

"I promise you: There's not going to be one cocktail shrimp left in America after this week," says Larry DeGaris, a sports marketing professor at the University of Indianapolis.

Tampa's attractions

Hosting the Super Bowl for the fourth time in 25 years, Tampa Bay's mix of historic streetcars, Cuban districts, and rowdy beaches is in many ways a perfect destination. The 78 degree heat had frostbitten Pittsburgh Steelers players smiling on media day. And the city plies much of its trade around the young male demographic that has kept the Super Bowl one of the last enduring ratings successes in a deeply fractured television market.

Still, the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers shifted downward the revenue estimates for spending by visitors – from $180 million to $150 million. And StubHub, an online, secondary market for tickets, predicted that game-day tickets will be sold at about face value (which is $1,000). As of last week, the average price on StubHub for a Super Bowl ticket was $2,552, about 28 percent below last year's street price for the Patriots-Giants matchup.