Planning to book an Indianapolis hotel room to attend Super Bowl XLVI next year? Think again. You’re already too late.

The National Football League has booked 18,300 hotel rooms in 141 hotels in and around Indianapolis, virtually every downtown hotel room. And that’s frustrating fans like Cynthia Bertagnolli of Munster.

Well before team captains in this week’s Super Bowl XLV flipped a coin, Bertagnolli was planning for the 2012 event in the state capital. Months ago she began phoning Naptown hotels to book reservations, only to be told that their policy is to wait a full 50 to 52 weeks before allowing reservations.

So Bertagnolli, a nurse, doggedly phoned more than a dozen hotels to secure a room, but was told none were available.

“It feels like the fix is in,” she said.

Bertagnolli is not alone. The Post-Tribune contacted 10 major Indianapolis hotel chains, such as the Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt hotels, which confirmed there is no room at the inn. Hotel reservations staff said they’ve fielded hundreds of similar calls.

“No one gave me a straight answer,” Bertagnolli said. “Eventually I learned that the NFL had booked everything.”

A representative of Marriott’s reservations directed calls to the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association (ICVA) Housing in Indianapolis, which said it does not handle Super Bowl hotel room reservations.

“We’re at the mercy of the NFL,” the ICVA representative said. “They control the inventory of hotel rooms and won’t be releasing them to the public until much later. These are the rules they (the NFL) set and how they want to play the game.”

The ICVA representative referred those looking for rooms to the website, which appears to be an affiliate of Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. A phone number on the website describes how to book reservations at Universal Studios, but mentions nothing about the 2012 Super Bowl. Fan Experiences, an NFL partner, is “an experienced event management company” that said it managed 3,500 hotel room accommodations for the Super Bowl in Dallas and 300 rooms for the NCAA Final Four.

“It’s been very frustrating,” Bertagnolli said. “They bring something like the Super Bowl to Indiana and you play by the rules and try to book as soon as they say the rooms are available and they’re already taken by the NFL and the media. I’m a Hoosier who wants to go to a Hoosier event and we can’t find anyplace to stay. It doesn’t say much about how they regard the little guy, the average fan. It makes me feel pretty bleak and very disappointed.”

NFL holds the rooms

Eventually, Nadra Woerner, director of sales and marketing for Hilton Indianapolis Hotels & Suites, sent Bertagnolli an e-mail explaining the shortage.

“In order to win the Super Bowl as a city, all hotels (especially downtown hotels) had to commit the majority (95 percent to 97 percent) of their rooms to the National Football League to accommodate all of their requirements. This was done back in August of 2007,”  Woerner wrote Bertagnolli.

NFL Director of Communications Dan Masonson confirmed that the league always reserves a block of rooms for the Super Bowl, but referred calls to the Indianapolis Super Bowl Committee and its website. While the site does list the economic impact of the event ($300 million to $400 million), the cost of the Vincent Lombardi Trophy ($25,000) and average length of stay for Super Bowl visitors (four days), it does not explain how to reserve hotel rooms.

Dianna Boyce, director of communications for the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, confirmed that there are no downtown hotel rooms available now. “The NFL holds those and has the right to hold them until 30 days before game time,” Boyce said.

She said while that block of rooms includes all downtown hotels and many hotels outside of Indianapolis, “not every hotel is participating. If you can find a hotel (not downtown) that opened after May 2008, you might find a room. Until the NFL teams have picked where they want to stay, those 18,000 rooms won’t be released. But eventually they will. I would do due diligence and try to use one of the national hotel search engines like to find a room if you can’t wait until the NFL releases its block of rooms.”

She said Fan Experiences will be booking rooms with tickets in package deals, along with the NFL On Location. NFL On Location charges a $250 per person deposit for hospitality packages that include game tickets — which cost $600 to $900 — and optional hotel accommodations and amenities.

John Livengood, president and CEO of the Indiana Hotel and Lodging Association in Indianapolis, said the city would never have been considered  for the Super Bowl if it had not obtained the commitments for the hotel rooms.

“We anticipate many people attending the Super Bowl will be staying in Bloomington, Richmond, Kokomo and other parts of Central Indiana,” said Livengood. “It’s a big negative for our hotels because they had to commit to two weekends: the weekend of the planned Super Bowl date of Feb. 5, 2012, and the weekend after that because right now, because of the contract negotiations between the NFL and the players’ union, nobody knows which weekend the Super Bowl will actually be held.”

So he said Indianapolis area hotels, which already had to agree to commit rooms at lower rates, can’t book conventions or other events for the second weekend until the contract talks are resolved.

Livengood said the city expects to host 150,000 visitors for the Super Bowl. “It’s not a big plus for the hotels, but it’s worth it for exposure it gives for our city and will help Indianapolis attract future conventions, events and other business.”

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