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Gov. Lee makes pitch to bring Super Bowl to new Titans stadium, NFL commissioner plays coy

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Gov. Lee makes pitch to bring Super Bowl to new Titans stadium, NFL commissioner plays coy

May 22, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Sam Stockard
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Gov. Lee makes pitch to bring Super Bowl to new Titans stadium, NFL commissioner plays coy
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Gov. Bill Lee, right, and Commissioner of the NFL Roger Goodell, left, walk on the Pearl-Cohn football field in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2024. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Gov. Bill Lee makes no secret about working to lure the Super Bowl to a $2.1 billion enclosed Titans stadium. But it’s unclear whether the NFL is ready to hold its annual title game in Nashville.

The governor said Tuesday he started advocating to hold the Super Bowl in Nashville when he took office six years ago, knowing a new stadium could be constructed.

“Now that we have one coming, I remind people of the uniqueness of this city and this state and the importance of the Titans. We hope that it happens, and I’m asking and advocating for it whenever I get an opportunity,” Lee said after a bill signing at Pearl-Cohn High School’s football stadium for the Smart Heart Act, which requires automated external defibrillators to be available for high school sporting events.

Lee said he hasn’t made any official pitch to the National Football League other than “expressing our deep desire and willingness to work together and anything that we can do to make that happen.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who attended the bill signing as part of the league’s national focus on good health, said the league hasn’t started any Super Bowl talks to play the game in Nashville.

“We’re right now focused on building the stadium,” Goodell told the Tennessee Lookout.

The Tennessee Department of Tourism is not involved in any talks with the NFL, according to a spokesperson.

Yet the state has a formal process for events that qualify for Tennessee Special Event funds that involve bidding on and winning major events capable of generating $10 million in direct economic impact or $1 million in state and local money, unless they’re found to be in an “underrepresented event location.” The fund has $25 million.

The NFL usually rewards a team that builds a stadium by holding the Super Bowl in the new facility, and a decision to choose cities other than Nashville would leave a bitter taste for local and state officials. 

Sites for the game are set through 2027, making 2028 the earliest Tennessee could play host to the massive event.

The Legislature approved $500 million in bonds in 2023 to build the stadium, and Metro Nashville kicked in more than $760 million, with both approving an increase in the hotel tax in the city to help pay for it. Sales tax revenue from in-stadium purchases, future development on the stadium campus and ticket taxes and fees will be used to pay back the debts as well. The Titans, NFL and personal seat license fees will fund the remaining $840 million for the 60,000-seat facility that is under construction and set to open no later than 2027.

A 30-year lease is part of the deal along with a guarantee the Titans won’t leave town and payment of cost overruns. In addition, the Titans will pay $30 million owed on the construction of Nissan Stadium, which opened in 1998, and give Metro Nashville a break on $32 million it owes for stadium maintenance, according to reports. Metro won’t be responsible for maintenance on the new stadium.

Some lawmakers such as Democratic Sen. Charlane Oliver of Nashville opposed putting state money toward the stadium, saying the money could be spent better, for example, on affordable housing. 

Oliver, who attended Tuesday’s bill signing event, said finding out how much the state offers in incentives for the NFL’s Super Bowl will be difficult because of a bill the Legislature passed this year allowing the Department of Tourist Development to keep that information secret for an extended period.