The NFL, not the federal government, should pay for Super Bowl security
By JULIETTE KAYYEM | Special To The Washington Post | Published: January 28, 2019
We just came out of the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history — during which many federal agents, including, but not limited to, employees of the Secret Service, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), FBI, FEMA and TSA were required to work unpaid. And we're just a few days from the Super Bowl, an event that carries a hefty price tag for law enforcement agencies, including at the federal level.
No expense should be spared to protect the thousands of fans who attend: In the world's greatest superpower, we should be able to carry on with our most cherished single-day sporting event, confident that every precaution has been taken to make it as safe as possible. When my now-hometown New England Patriots square off against my childhood-hometown Los Angeles Rams, I want to be focused on the game, the halftime show, the clever new commercials and the snacks on my coffee table, not worried about game security.
But particularly given where the nation is, budget-wise, it's time that the NFL picked up the tab for Super Bowl security, not American taxpayers.
Major events are potential targets for terrorism, and the federal government, through the Department of Homeland Security, applies the designation National Special Security Event (NSSE) to highest-security-level events such as the State of the Union address and presidential inaugurations. Immediately below that designation are SEAR (Special Events Assessment Rating) level I events, for which this year's Super Bowl qualifies. This designation prompts a significant commitment of federal resources and pre-event coordination and planning, but no additional budget.
Many of the functions federal law enforcement are tasked with during this type of event can be found on a list, on the DHS site, related to the 2016 Super Bowl held in Santa Clara, California, including cybersecurity, bombing prevention training, active shooter preparedness and emergency communications. As an example, this year, according to the CBP website, "Between 3 p.m. and midnight on Sunday, February 3," CBP "aircraft will be assisting in the enforcement of an air travel restriction around Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta."
According to an FBI spokesman, USA Today reports, "more than 1,500 public safety personnel" will be involved in security for the upcoming Super Bowl, including an unspecified numbers of federal officials. At the local level, an Atlanta police spokesman told CNN, "every Atlanta police officer will be on duty, working 12-hour shifts from January 26 to February 5."
For last year's Super Bowl, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, $5 million was set aside by the event's host committee to cover security costs, plus more than $1 million to reimburse the Minnesota National Guard. The effort, according to the Star-Tribune, was planned to include "hundreds of officers from 60 police departments across the state, 40 federal agencies and related offices, 400 members of the Minnesota National Guard and private contractors."
And the NFL isn't on the hook for these costs.
When a city bids on a Super Bowl, the NFL stipulates that pregame and day-of-game security will be incurred "at no cost to the NFL." For the host city, that might be an acceptable trade-off: Cities solicit funding from big donors or host committees to offset or augment the cost to public entities in exchange for the event's anticipated (or, at least, hoped for) cachet and revenue.
There's no such trade-off for the federal government. Federal resources allocated to support Super Bowl security are, effectively, chalked up to the federal government's ongoing mission to protect the public, which serves the common good and benefits all, which is true in the broadest sense: Millions of Americans will watch and enjoy the game this Sunday. But as much of an American institution as it is, it's tough to justify categorizing the Super Bowl, with all its attendant costs, as vital to protecting national interests, which should be the motivation at the core of any federal law enforcement action. And, as with a private entity that has the wherewithal to foot the security bill, the argument for the United States incurring the security costs becomes even less justifiable.
Contrast the allocation of Super Bowl security costs with the Delta Airline Foundation's approach to the recent shutdown: Delta contributed to the cost of keeping Atlanta's Martin Luther King Jr. Park open during January's MLK holiday weekend, an act of civic-mindedness that acting interior secretary David L. Bernhardt lauded as an example of "private organizations stepping up to ensure that our visitors from across the nation and around the world are able to have a meaningful experience at national parks."
It makes sense that federal law enforcement, with all its capabilities, has a central role in efforts to make the Super Bowl as safe an experience as possible for fans and its host community. As a responsible corporate citizen, however, the NFL should take a page out of the Delta Foundation's playbook and start shouldering more of the security the costs for its own premier event.
Kayyem is the faculty chair of the Homeland Security Project at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.