MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
But first, we are looking ahead to the big game this Sunday. Don't act like you don't care. Of course we're talking about the Super Bowl. We are going to head to the host with the most, Indianapolis. Of course, that city is known for putting on the Indy 500 racing competition every year and it has hosted a lot of high profile college sporting events, but never a Super Bowl until this Sunday when Lucas Oil Stadium will be at the center of the sports universe as the New England Patriots and the New York Giants fight for the Lombardi trophy.
The field is not the only place where there is drama. Union supporters marched downtown yesterday to protest a controversial new law signed by Governor Mitch Daniels and there are other challenges to hosting such a big event. We wondered what they are, so we've called upon the mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, and he's with us now from NPR member station WFYI in Indianapolis. Welcome.
MAYOR GREGORY BALLARD: It's great to be here. Thank you so much.
MARTIN: Now, you know that the Super Bowl - and no offense - is usually hosted by big party cities like Miami and New Orleans. That's not quite the reputation that Indianapolis has. So what is it about Indianapolis that makes it a good destination for the Super Bowl?
BALLARD: Oh, many things, actually. Very hospitable people. You know, we have the term Hoosier hospitality, which is really true. It's not just a phrase. But also, people like our compact downtown. It's the connectivity of it all. A lot of the venues are right next to each other. People can walk from hotel to hotel and then over to Lucas Oil Stadium and over to the convention center and so many other places. A lot of venues, different venues in the area. I think that's what makes it special.
The sports journalists who have been coming to our town for a long time understand that, and frankly, for this Super Bowl we've made it even better with a three block street that we made into a Super Bowl village, which is getting attended by tens of thousands of people, even on weekday nights.
MARTIN: Well, you know, the NFL is calling this the most urban of all Super Bowls. Would you talk a little bit about the kind of manpower and coordination it takes to stage the Super Bowl, which is, of course, not just a one day event. It is, you know, all week long.
BALLARD: Yeah. We actually made it a 10 day event. We opened up the village last Friday and we've been working on this for four years. When we got the bid, we went to work immediately on it. Formed a committee, which has been very strong for a long time now and as we get closer to the Super Bowl, the committee started hiring more people, obviously.
Public safety is a big aspect of it. Public works is a big aspect of it. And then we have the volunteer base, and we usually have about four to five thousand volunteers on standby for anything that may come to our city. This time we thought we had to ramp that up to 8,000. We actually had about 13,000 people sign up, but we're using about 8,000 volunteers who are really literally taking days off of work to come be a part of it.
MARTIN: Obviously people can envision the whole concept of, you know, street closures and moving a lot of crowds in and out of a compact area, but what is up with the flying manhole covers? What's been going on with flying manhole covers? What is up with that?
BALLARD: Oh, that's funny. That's - you know, older cities sometimes have, you know, mature infrastructure systems to them and sometimes that happens occasionally. It really hasn't hurt anybody.
MARTIN: Oh, yeah. Sometimes that happens. Yeah.
BALLARD: Yeah. Just kind of - you know, one pops off here and there.
MARTIN: Mom, why are you late for dinner? Well, there was this flying manhole cover.
BALLARD: So it does kind of happen. We had a - we kind of have a stretch over the last couple of years. Maybe four or five, six, or something like that, and actually the Power and Light Company actually put a different manhole cover certainly in the downtown area so that it would not release. It would fly up a few inches and then it would release whatever it was trying to release and then fall back down, so it won't be...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: So that's not a good way to try to sneak into the stadium?
BALLARD: No. Probably not. But I think most cities have issues like that when they have, you know, the older underground infrastructure.
MARTIN: We're speaking with the mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard. Indianapolis, of course, is hosting the Super Bowl this weekend and we're talking about what's involved in hosting Super Bowl 46. You know, we were talking earlier and you were saying that this is, without question, a win for the city. And you were part of the team that tried to lure Super Bowl 46 to the city.
You know, there's some data that disputes that. There have been mixed reports about whether host cities actually make money or lose money during these big events and, in fact, there's, you know, this board that actually operates the stadium in Indianapolis that reportedly expects to lose money because of the unique way that the sort of tax revenue from concessions and all of that gets a portion.
So at the end of the day, is it really - just in the dollars and cents aspect of it - worth it?
BALLARD: There are expenses and you're talking about the Capital Improvements Board in the city, which runs a lot of these big venues, but a large part of the Capital Improvement Board's job is to put heads into beds and to promote the city, along with the Convention and Visitors Association.
So it's kind of a combination of things and, you know, we'll see what the tax revenue is. The direct economic impact of this is estimated between $150 million and $400 million. The NFL has a wide range, but we certainly have a lot of people coming down to our city right now to have a lot of fun, so it's going to be a fair chunk of change, I think, that comes into it.
But the exposure that we're getting - and I don't know how much you've been tracking the exposure from the national and the international media, but it's extremely positive for the city of Indianapolis right now because of what has been going on, how we've organized it, how we have made sure that it's convenient for everybody, how hospitable we are and the facilities are first rate.
You know, that combination has been giving us a tremendous amount of positive exposure and, you know, I'm talking to all these radio stations, probably 10 different cities today alone.
MARTIN: I see.
BALLARD: And they're very, very positive.
MARTIN: So about one thing that perhaps is not so positive, there's always politics going on before, during and after a big event. Right now one of the big stories pertaining to Indiana is this whole controversy around the so-called right to work rule. Do you expect any - is this affecting at all the mood of the city as you prepare for this big event?
BALLARD: No. Not overall. There has been, you know, some people surrounding the State House and protesters surrounding the State House, and as far as I know, that's where it's been right now. You know, they've kind of been through the Super Bowl village. A few of them have been, but it's been generally positive and so it really hasn't affected the mood yet. I'm hoping that it doesn't affect the mood. Clearly our public safety apparatus is in contact with all the different groups that want to protest, just like any other Super Bowl would be.
MARTIN: Well, they're union too, though, aren't they?
BALLARD: Sure they are. Sure they are. Sure.
MARTIN: So do you think it affects their morale?
BALLARD: No. I don't think - I think they're looking out for the city, to be honest with you, and they're doing their job well.
MARTIN: Here's a delicate question. Would it be rude to mention that the Indianapolis Colts, also Super Bowl winners in the past, have not fared quite so well this season? Is that...
BALLARD: Not so sensitive a question. I've been asked that all day long.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: OK. I was kind of easing up to it. Is it bittersweet to have the Super Bowl in your town at a time like this, especially with a rival like the Patriots?
BALLARD: That's a great point. We've been spoiled here for about 12, 13 years watching one of the greatest in history in Peyton Manning and the great people surrounding him like, you know, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Jeff Saturday, all those folks.
We had a little rough patch this year. Not much question about that, but if you have to go through a little rough patch at times, I don't think that overall negates the fact that the franchise is very strong. The city supports the team and that we're able to put on these huge events, frankly, as a result of the Colts being such a strong franchise.
MARTIN: So I was too polite to mention that they were two and 14 in the regular season, so...
BALLARD: Oh, it got us the number one pick.
MARTIN: OK. Always looking on the bright side, are you?
BALLARD: That's - yeah.
MARTIN: So who are rooting for?
BALLARD: Well, I've been asked that a lot and I'd rather not be asked that, but I'll be frank with you. Most - you know, this is a Manning town. I think people - most understand that...
MARTIN: So the Giants, because Peyton - your quarterback, Peyton Manning's younger brother, Eli - I don't want to say little brother because he's too big to be little, but...
BALLARD: He's a pretty big little brother. Yeah.
MARTIN: He's pretty big to be little, in case we meet him on a corner. But Eli Manning is obviously doing a great job for the Giants, so you're with the Giants.
BALLARD: Yes. Well, and we want to be hospitable to the Patriots too, but they are kind of the arch rival and this town leans a little bit toward the Mannings.
MARTIN: And, Mr. Mayor, this is also always an important question for Super Bowl Sunday. Wings or chili?
BALLARD: Oh, wow. I'd always do wings. I do wings...
MARTIN: OK. Not even a question. Didn't even have to think about it.
BALLARD: Yeah, that's right.
MARTIN: Gregory Ballard is the mayor of the city of Indianapolis, which is, of course, hosting the Super Bowl, Super Bowl 46, that's kicking off this Sunday. And he was kind enough to take time out at a really busy time to join us from Indianapolis. Thank you so much for speaking with us, Mr. Mayor. Good luck.
BALLARD: A real pleasure. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.