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The Super Bowl party is over, who picks up the tab?

Last night, Super Bowl LII entered the history books. It was a fitting occasion, even if the Vikings didn’t make it. A high scoring, end to end game, Minneapolis – and the state more generally – were excellent hosts to one of the planet’s premier sporting events.

But at what cost? If the NFL had stumped up for the event itself, there wouldn’t be a problem. But they didn’t. As the Star Tribune reports, when the NFL submitted its Super Bowl wish list to Minneapolis, the phrase “at no cost to the NFL” appeared 200 times.

Organizers will not release their final bid for the event. But the league’s requests before Minneapolis was chosen were wide-ranging, from 35,000 free parking spaces on Sunday to free advertising in local media, police escorts for team owners, hundreds of hotel rooms, presidential hotel suites, 14,000 feet of barricades, and even the NFL Network on hotel TVs.

Other items “at no cost to the NFL” include a venue for the NFL Experience, 10 premier quality buses for eight days, use of one stadium suite for the season leading up to the game, public safety costs relating to official Super Bowl events, and catering including 800 pounds of ice per day at team practices. The document even delves into details like covering certain soft drink fountain taps at the game, or replacing them with “generic taps,” if the brand conflicts with an NFL sponsor.

The argument goes that this vast outlay is more than offset by the resulting economic benefits. No doubt some individuals and businesses do well out of all this. But, overall, economists are often doubtful that these events bring enough benefit to offset the cost.

I feel like a bit of a party pooper even asking this. But all the money spent on the Super Bowl could have been spent on something else, even in the case of the $53 million raised by a private fundraising campaign by the local host committee.

Longtime fundraising consultant Mark Davy said other groups running campaigns — like the American Legion’s efforts to raise money for its 100th anniversary in August — have had a hard time competing for the finite number of charitable dollars in the state.

“We thought it would be fairly easy to raise money for that event. And we’ve found it really difficult,” Davy said. “And that’s the largest veterans group in Minnesota.”

The NFL is not short of cash. Did they really need to have so much more thrown at them?

It could be worse. Minneapolis has not ended up with a lot of crumbling, redundant infrastructure like various Olympic venues have over the years. But as we watch the NFL packing up and leaving, its worth pondering the bill and asking if it was worth it.

John Phelan is an economist at Center of the American Experiment. 

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