It's back to excess at the Super Bowl

Super Bowl excess is back. After being hobbled by the 9-11 terrorist attacks, a sputtering economy and concerns about corporate greed the last two years, the National Football League championship game next Sunday in Houston will ooze a Texas-size lode of wealth and glitz.

Luxury suites at Reliant Stadium are selling for $175,000 on the Internet. Ticket brokers are charging fans $2,000 for a basic seat and $7,750 for a 50-yard-line seat. For those who have them, tickets have a face value of $400 to $600.

Hotel rooms are available -- 50 miles outside of town. Local steakhouses are booked from lunch until midnight. Hundreds of private jets are cleared to arrive in Houston this week, according to the NFL.

The corporate marketing fest is gearing up as well. Cadillac is flooding the streets with 400 vehicles for NFL VIPs and flying in partygoer Paris Hilton to schmooze with guests. Coors is co-hosting a giant party called Circus Maximus on a ranch. Budweiser, Nike, Pepsi, America Online and dozens of other NFL sponsors and nonsponsors are laying siege to the city.

In all, the NFL and Houston business community expects 120,000 visitors and $300 million in spending in southeast Texas this week.

"It's the ultimate collision of sports and entertainment and music and marketing," said John Collins, NFL senior vice president for marketing and sales. The only possible damper on the fun is what is expected to be a huge contingent of security officers who will check and re-check guests at events throughout the city to prevent a terrorist incident.

The last two years were more somber. Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 in New Orleans was suffused with tension and sadness over the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Last year, after a succession of reports of corporate greed and waste, some companies pulled back, and good hotel rooms in San Diego were available right up to the game. Some called it the "Frugal Bowl."

This year, things are different.

"There's more of a comfort zone," said Anthony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch, which has bought $20 million worth of "in-game" Super Bowl television advertising -- the top-price period between kickoff and final whistle. "In New Orleans right after 9-11, it was still a very sensitive time. This will be the third Super Bowl since that time, and I think everyone is willing to enjoy themselves a little more. The bigness is starting to come back."

Houston is also hoping for a comeback of sorts this week. The sprawling oil town and port, the fourth-largest city in the country, has been associated with one blow after another the last few years, from the Enron corporate meltdown to the breakup of the Columbia space shuttle to the story of Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children.


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