Jim Kirkos remembers all too well the disaster that was the first and only Super Bowl played in New Jersey.
It was Super Bowl XLVIII, in February 2014. Nearly all of the fan experience festivities — not to mention the economic impact — went to New York City. New Jersey only got the huge bills for security and logistics and a postgame mob at train stations that had nowhere near the capacity needed to handle the crowd.
Oh, and the game — Seattle beat Denver, 43-8 — is considered one of the worst Super Bowls ever played.
Kirkos, the longtime head of the Meadowlands Chamber, said the area deserves a second chance. And he said he’s got just the warmup event to prove we can handle it.
He’s looking at the biggest and most-watched sporting event in the world: The final of the 2026 World Cup.
The 2026 World Cup already has been awarded to the U.S. (along with Mexico and Canada). And the final will be played in the U.S. It’s just a matter of where.
Some feel MetLife Stadium is the favorite to host the final (with the opening game being in Southern California), but officials with the state, MetLife Stadium, Choose New Jersey, the Meadowlands Chamber and others are taking no chances. They are putting together their pitch to FIFA officials in a meeting that has been put on hold by the pandemic.
Should the event come here, Kirkos said the state should not waste the opportunity to impress on the world stage. It would be an opportunity to impress not only the NFL, but site selectors for the X Games, WrestleMania, national political conventions — or any other big event that requires a big stage.
Kirkos said American Dream will go a long way toward creating a big-event atmosphere. But it’s just a start. Kirkos has longed dreamed of a 300,000-500,000-square-foot convention center that could serve as another centerpiece.
It’s time for New Jersey to think big and act now.
“Think about it — the World Cup isn’t until 2026,” he said. “We’ll have the time to plan and build a convention center and have it ready for 2026. That’s the only way we’ll be able to keep more of the dollars on this side of the Hudson. That’s the way we can show what we can do.”
Kirkos said it makes too much sense.
“When I think about the Super Bowl, I think about the potential of all the people and the live experiences and the ripple effect of what comes from hosting live events,” he said. “This region and this economy needs it in a big way. For me, the Super Bowl stresses the importance of everything that we’ve tried to advocate for in the past, and it shows why it should be an even bigger priority for the future.
“This particular region, with MetLife Stadium, and some of the things that we have already done successfully, makes us inherently capable of continuing to do big events. And the fact of the matter is, big events are great for the economy. So, I long for the day that we can put COVID behind us so we can get back to the potential of this region in doing big events again — and getting people to enjoy these big experiences.”
The World Cup final — if it comes — is more than five years out.
A second Super Bowl likely would be after that. The league already has awarded three of the next four to Los Angeles; Glendale, Arizona; and New Orleans.
And, while Kirkos is planning that far ahead, he’s also planning for the day we get past the pandemic.
The world will be different, he acknowledges. That’s why the Meadowlands Chamber is getting ready to promote the area with an “Alive and Kicking” campaign.
“We’re the Meadowlands and we’re alive and kicking and we’re open,” he said. “And we’re going to be marketing ourselves as a drivable market.”
How people will travel is going to change, Kirkos believes.
“It’s a drive market business this year, and maybe even part of next year,” he said. “It will be until more people are comfortable getting on planes.”
As far as being comfortable about going to the area, Kirkos thinks there’s a catch there, too.
“People still want to see New York,” he said. “As soon as there’s a greater confidence in the cleanliness and safety protocols in hotels, we’re going to get people here for weekends. We’re going to do that.
“We’re going to show people that they can come in for a weekend, have a safe experience and have some fun.”
Perhaps one worthy of another Super Bowl.