Tens of thousands of people are expected to descend upon Glendale, Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, but one of America’s most popular events has become much more than a simple sports game.
While the main attractions remain the football game, the halftime show, and the millions of dollars spent on creative commercials, not everything about the event is as fun to digest as a plate of fried food and ice-cold beer.
With some 60,000 people packing into the University of Phoenix Stadium and tens of thousands of others visiting the Glendale and Phoenix area, the Super Bowl has become a genuine security concern for the American government. At the same time, serious questions have been raised about everything from the use of taxpayer funds to a potential spike in sex trafficking.
The government is prepping a massive security presence
Some estimates project that more than 100,000 people will travel to Arizona to watch the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks, and both federal and local law enforcement agencies say they’re doing everything possible to ensure nothing goes wrong. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said there is no “specific credible threat” against the sporting event, but in light of recent terror attacks in Paris and elsewhere around the world, authorities will be out in force.
At and around the game on Sunday, more than 4,000 private security contractors will be deployed, in addition to another 3,000 Phoenix police officers. More than 100 FBI agents will be in town to perform a range of activities, from conducting online surveillance to working undercover. Department of Homeland Security officials have conducted anti-sniper training sessions, and even some Super Bowl officials were involved in “active shooter preparedness” sessions.
Some officers will also have portable radiation detectors to sniff out potential explosives.
No, seriously, Super Bowl security is intense
As if that wasn’t enough, though, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will have a Black Hawk helicopter patrolling the skies, as well as half a fleet of F-16 fighter jets to enforce a 30-mile no-fly zone above the stadium.
Meanwhile, CBP will also bring massive, mobile X-ray machines near the stadium in order to scan for contraband and explosive devices – machines usually reserved for use at the US-Mexico border.
“We want to make sure that the public knows what kind of work has gone in to make sure that this event is safe,” CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said. “The eyes of the country, and frankly the eyes of the world, are on the Super Bowl.”
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Even the actual footballs will be tougher to get to, all in response to the “deflategate” controversy that has enveloped the NFL over the past couple of weeks. The New England Patriots have been accused of intentionally deflating footballs during their previous games, making them easier to catch and hold onto in inclement weather. The team has denied any wrongdoing, but a separate team has been put in charge of pre-game ball preparation and “added security” will ensure that no one else gets close.
Citizens foot the bill for this effort – and the NFL walks away scot-free
None of these security measures come cheap, however. Although it’s hard to say exactly how much it costs taxpayers to secure the Super Bowl area, it easily requires millions of dollars. According toNJ.com, estimates put the price tag for last year’s event in New Jersey at $36.9 million in taxpayer funds. That money went towards security and transportation, and it’s likely Arizona will pay a hefty price as well.
Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers estimates the city itself will spend $3 million hosting the Super Bowl – cash that won’t be reimbursed by the NFL or offset by the $1 million-plus expected in tax revenues. Proponents of the Super Bowl say the event boosts local economies by packing hotels, restaurants and bars, but these benefits may very well be overstated.
In 2008 – the last time Glendale hosted the big game – the city lost $1.6 million overall.
Frustration with the NFL – listed as a non-profit organization – has resulted in a set of proposals aimed at stripping away that status. A new bill in Congress and the New York State Assembly would remove its non-profit status and subject the organization to more taxes.
Meanwhile, the US Air Force will conduct a flyover at the game using Thunderbirds. On Friday, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the cost of the flyover would be “in the neighborhood of $80,000.”
Here’s one thing you won’t see at the Super Bowl: Drones
Increased security measures also mean the government is on the lookout for drones, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made it clear that the Super Bowl will be a “no drone zone.” Earlier this week, the FAA posted a bulletin stating that drones will not be tolerated flying near the stadium. Anyone seen controlling a drone in the area may be detained and interviewed, the agency said.
“Besides possibly landing a violator in jail, flying an unmanned aircraft over a crowded stadium could result in an FAA civil penalty for ‘careless and reckless’ operation of an aircraft,” warned the FAA, citing a rule sheet that also restricts the use of hang gliders, hot air balloons, and other non-traditional aircraft during the Super Bowl.
Sex trafficking is a huge problem – but it’s not because of the Super Bowl
Another concern that pops up annually with the Super Bowl – as well as other huge sporting events like the Olympics or World Cup – is that sex trafficking activity jumps significantly as tens of thousands of people temporarily flock to one location. Host cities often initiate public awareness campaigns to highlight the issue, and some lawmakers did the same this year.
“The dirty little secret is that the Super Bowl actually is one of the highest levels of human sex trafficking activity of any event in the country,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “And in, for example, Dallas in 2011, we saw a 300 percent increase in ads for sex, sexual acts related to human trafficking.”
While sex trafficking and prostitution is a major issue, the latest research seems to suggest there is no correlation between the Super Bowl and higher levels of sex trafficking. According to a Washington Post fact-check, Cornyn’s claim of a 300 percent increase was also wrong, since the informal study he referenced showed a 172 percent increase in ads for female escorts, and there’s no distinction between sex trafficking and prostitution.
— Escorting Advice (@EscortingAdvice) January 29, 2015
“The hype around large sporting events and increases in trafficking for prostitution is often based on misinformation, poor data and a tendency to sensationalize,” reads a report by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, as quoted by Politifact. “On various occasions, politicians have uncritically repeated this claim, despite the fact that numerous researchers, anti-trafficking experts, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have stated that there is no evidence of a link between large sporting events and trafficking for prostitution.”
In fact, some advocates say that claiming sex trafficking spikes drastically at the Super Bowl paints the false impression that it’s only a problem once a year.
In an article for Fox News, sex trafficking survivor Annie Lobert wrote that this is an issue every day in the US, and that it needs to be treated as such. She said that Homeland Security estimates between 300,000 and 400,000 American children are victimized every year in an industry that generates $32 billion annually.
Around the world, roughly 4.5 million people are victims of forced sexual exploitation, the International Labour Organization estimates.