Super Bowl host bonanza may be a myth

TAMPA — Economic impact. When used in connection with the Super Bowl, the term suggests a gusher of money.

But don't look for any cargo planes dropping pallets of cash. Experts acknowledge that the Super Bowl's benefit does not hit all at once or all in one place.

Many sports economists go even further, saying the game does not increase spending at all.

The organizers of this year's game in Tampa expect a $300-million impact as 100,000 fans spend a long weekend dining, shopping and partying.

"All of these things are a great boost," said Reid Sigmon, executive director of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee.

The estimate is based on surveys of visitor spending at recent Super Bowls and economic models estimating how people re-spent the money they earned through the game.

Those studies concluded that past Super Bowls brought between $116-million to $125-million to Detroit, $463-million to South Florida and $500.6-million to Arizona.

But the full economic impact isn't realized for as much as a year, say the authors of the South Florida and Detroit reports. And the recession could increase that lag.

"If things are a little down, the spinoffs are not going to happen as quickly because people are not going to be spending their money as quickly," said Webster University economist Patrick Rishe, who did the Detroit study.

That's not the only way the game's impact gets spread out.

Super Bowl spending this year will take place from here to Orlando, where the NFL booked half of its 19,000 rooms.

In the worst case, sports economists say, the game's impact is too small to be measured.

"If you take the number they give you and move the decimal point one place to the left, that's probably about right," University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson said. "Do I think it's worth something to Tampa-St. Pete? Yeah, but probably $50-million, max."

Others say every bit helps, especially now.

"Thank goodness we've got the Super Bowl coming in this year," said D.T. Minich, executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. "This is when we really need it."

And you have to include the value of the exposure the game brings, said Paul Catoe, president of the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We generate economic development through tourism, and this is one of the best ways to do it," he said. "Yes, there's expense to it, but it's worth it."

• • •

Even with some Super Bowl parties canceled, Raymond James Stadium will be packed Feb. 1.

Tampa event planner Linda Caivano is among the local business people getting ready.

Sales for her company, Events by Amore, started to tank in May, forcing her to lay off employees. In December, she lost a piece of business worth $40,000.

But she landed several contracts through an NFL program for companies owned by women and minorities.

She'll cater a breakfast at the University of South Florida Sun Dome, serve dessert in the owners' tent at the NFL's tailgate party and feed behind-the-scenes workers on game day. Over two days, she expects to serve 8,000 people.

To prepare, she's expanded her full-time staff from seven to 12 and will use many part-timers.

"This changes our lives," she said. "It's a great chunk of change. It's nothing we would have done or ever have done in January."

She is not alone.

"Without a doubt, it increases business," said Jim Martin, the general manager at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Tampa. "It starts two weeks before. … It builds and builds and builds all the way up to Super Bowl Sunday."

The Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg expects its 361 rooms to be full. Rates for a regular room will run $300 to $400 a night. That's about 10 percent above normal for the season.

"It should be an excellent weekend," Vinoy general manager Russ Bond said.

So how can anyone say the game has no economic impact?

Forget estimates produced by economic models, says University of South Florida economist Philip Porter. Instead, look at things you can measure.

In 1999, Porter studied taxable sales in Hillsborough County, Miami-Dade County and Maricopa County in Arizona for a half-dozen different Super Bowls.

Back then, an extra several hundred million in taxable sales should have stuck out like a sore thumb in Hillsborough, he said.

It didn't. Nor did Porter find ripples of increased spending in following months.

"I didn't see any anywhere," he said. "If it had actually occurred, you should be able to go back and find a footprint of it."

While hotel room rates rise for the Super Bowl, Porter said those gains largely go to out-of-town owners. And the Super Bowl crowds out other business, he said.

Here's how: To have rooms available, hoteliers book fewer reservations just before and after the weekend of the game. So Super Bowl visitors displace other guests.

The Vinoy's Russ Bond thinks there is some validity to that, though he doubts that hotels try to empty out rooms on purpose or that business is lost permanently.

"I think the person just picks a different time," he said. "It's not like they're not coming here at all."

• • •

Since Porter's study, economists have reached similar conclusions in nearly 40 more studies of events like baseball's All-Star Game, the Final Four and the Olympics.

If you don't try to account for displacement and money that leaks from the community, "you're really in jeopardy of inflating the numbers and losing credibility," Rishe said.

Some question Porter's credibility, saying he should do research at the games themselves. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy suggested asking Porter "how many Super Bowls he's been to."

One, it turns out: Super Bowl III in 1969, the New York Jets vs. the Baltimore Colts.

Porter didn't go as an economist.

But the day did foreshadow his work questioning people's assumptions about how money changes hands at the game.

Still in high school, Porter paid $1 to get a vendor's vest. He was supposed to take a tray of peanuts and work the stands.

Instead, he pocketed the vest and moved from seat to seat watching Joe Namath lead the Jets to one of football's greatest upsets.

"I didn't sell a peanut," he said.

Not only that, after the game he turned in his vest, and got his dollar back.

Taxable sales in Hillsborough County

January 1984 (Super Bowl XVIII) — $472.2-million

* Average January — $481.6-million

January 1991 (Super Bowl XXV) — $720.2-million

Average January — $734-.6-million

January 2001 (Super Bowl XXXV) — $1.44-billion

Average January — $1.39-billion

* University of South Florida economist Philip Porter calculated each average using January figures from the years before and after each Super Bowl.

Super Bowl host bonanza may be a myth 01/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 10, 2009 11:03pm]

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