Supersizing their bets

With each athletic showdown, rival mayors raise civic stakes with a spiraling wager of local goods

Email|Print| Text size + By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / February 1, 2008

If the Patriots lose the Super Bowl to the Giants, Mayor Thomas M. Menino will not send Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York just any clam chowder. It will be Legal Seafoods chowder. Menino will also have to pony up products from Stonyfield Farm, Brigham's, and Dunkin' Donuts.

Locally produced goods have become the ubiquitous currency in bets between political leaders backing championship-contending sports teams. But the phenomenon appears to be spiraling out of control as politicians and business executives scramble to get in on the action.

What was once a good-natured tradition among governors and mayors, a measure of civic pride as their professional teams vied for bragging rights, has been transformed into a smorgasbord of branding.

Some critics say: Enough.

"It's just a way of politicians sticking their nose in something," said Frank Deford, the veteran sportswriter and a commentator on National Public Radio. "It's like teams pouring the Gatorade on the coach. The first time it was funny, the second time, OK. And then it never ends. It's really time to end this."

Menino is wagering 760 individual items from no less than seven companies. Bloomberg is betting 338 items marking the 42d Super Bowl, including 42 pastrami and corned beef sandwiches from Carnegie Deli, 42 pounds of rugelach, and 42 black-and-white cookies from Junior's.

The bets come with no risk to the politicians. In most cases, the businesses donate the goods in exchange for a public relations boost and goodwill with influential leaders.

Aides for Governor Deval Patrick and Eliot Spitzer, his New York counterpart, have been working for several days on a friendly wager, but had not announced anything by last night.

Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Chuck Schumer are also betting on the game, the reward being lunch donated to the charity of their choice (Schumer would also wear a Belichick-style hoodie if the Patriots win; Kennedy would don a Giants jacket).

"Nineteen-and-0 is coming at you, Chuck," Kennedy said in a written statement. "Tom Brady and the Patriots are pumped for this one. They're ready for anything the Giants throw at them. We can't wait to see you in a Belichick Hoodie, Chuck."

Such friendly bets have been going on for years. In 1983, Governor Bob Graham of Florida had to send 3,000 bees to Virginia when the Miami Dolphins lost to the Washington Redskins.

But recently it has become more widespread and more corporate. The blog OurCivicPride has started listing some of the wagers.

"This certainly has become a tradition," said Steve Dunleavy, general manager at Regan Communications, a public relations firm that represents several of the food producers on the mayor's list. "It's brand awareness and brand prestige - you get some national coverage."

Some politicians have recycled the spoils: Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis, in a bet with Menino on the 2004 World Series, offered "everything he won in previous wagers this season, including sweet treats from Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn."

In 2005, Governor Mitt Romney refused the initial offer from Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, who wanted to trade Philly cheese steaks for New England lobsters.

"He said the cheese steak had no nutritional value," Rendell told reporters.

The bets usually start with a phone call, sometimes between the politicians but often among their aides.

Businesses are contacted; goods are donated for the cause. A press release is drafted, with a bit of mild trash talk.

A second press release goes out when the spoils are delivered, like the one Boston put out trumpeting its donations from Colorado after the 2007 World Series against the Rockies, which included 100 subs from Quiznos and 100 cups of Celestial Seasonings teas.

But the fate of those subs is unknown, and it could not be confirmed they were even delivered.

Karen LaFrazia, executive director of St. Francis House, had no recollection of trucks carrying tea and sandwiches. If they did arrive, they were overshadowed by something more sumptuous: filet mignon, donated through a bet between Fox 25 and its Colorado affiliate.

"Make the stakes bigger and higher," LaFrazia said. "We would love some Manhattan clam chowder."

But the city has not had to dole out its wagers in quite some time.

"Fortunately, here in Boston we've been very lucky to have a few of them lately," said Menino spokeswoman Dorothy Joyce. "We're not complaining. We were giving for a long time. There's only so much you can give."

But with all of this, there's one hitch.

The bets, technically, are illegal in every state outside Nevada.

Matt Viser can be reached at

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