Will worst Super Bowl economy matter?
Wake up and good morning. If you build it they will come -- right? With only 25 days left until the Feb. 1 Super Bowl game kick-off in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, concerns remain that the severe economic slowdown will pinch the usual off-the-scale enthusiasm, attendance and dollars spent on all things leading up to the biggest football game on Earth. We're talking about an influx of some 100,000 visitors and an estimated $250-million to $300-million infusion into this metro economy, according to traditional estimates. (Photo: The Renaissance Tampa Hotel at International Plaza is one of the closest upscale hotels to nearby Raymond James Stadium.)
A Wall Street Journal story today (subscription required) headlined "Touchdown? Fumble? Super Bowl Hope Is High" explores the area hotel scene for Super Bowl visitors amidst the worst recession in a generation. As the story says: "The current economic downturn has put the event in 'uncharted territory,' " says Reid Sigmon, executive director of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee." A couple of slowing economic indicators are highlighted:
* The number of travelers visiting Florida declined 3.2 percent in the third quarter to 19.8-million from the year-earlier period.
* For 2008, the state could see its first year-over-year decline since 2001, according to data supplied by Visit Florida, a not-for-profit corporation that carries out the work of the Florida Commission on Tourism.
*Average daily room rates for the metropolitan area that includes Tampa and St. Petersburg have begun to slip slightly and hotel occupancies fell 14 percent in November from the year-earlier period, the highest monthly percentage decline in about six years, according to Smith Travel Research Inc., a travel research firm.
Oh yeah, the story also touches on another challenge: the area's new hotel supply that is still in the works. Some 1,168 new hotel rooms (many started in happier economic times) are under construction and soon will be added to the region's supply of about 43,000. And the story includes remarks from Lou Plasencia, our resident hotel industry guru here and CEO of Tampa's Plasencia Group, a national hospitality investment consulting and advisory firm.
The Super Bowl crowds will be "a blessing," he tells the Journal. "It won't save a property but it will give it an opportunity to weather the storm a little better."
Local TV station Channel 10 checked in with Don CeSar Ron Hotel resort host Ron MacDougal. "We are booked solid here. Sold out!" he said this week, citing the NFL, VIPs and family members of players who have largely taken over the whole hotel.
Bottom line? It's going to take a whole lotta bad economic news to put much of a dent in the Super Bowl experience. But it's still possible. We'll be watching closely in the coming weeks.
(Hotel photo by Scott Keeler of the St. Petersburg Times.)
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist