St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Celebration begins, but are gains really good?

JANET ZINK, LOUIS HAU and JEFF HARRINGTON
Published May 26, 2005

TAMPA - The game won't be played for four years, but Tampa did a touchdown dance Wednesday at the prospect of hosting the 2009 Super Bowl.

"We just went wild," said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who was in Washington, D.C., to help make the pitch to the National Football League. "We did not go into this as the favorite."

Tampa beat out Houston, Miami and Atlanta to win the city's fourth Super Bowl.

Iorio said Tampa officials thanked the NFL for bringing the Bucs franchise to Tampa in 1976 and for awarding the city its first Super Bowl in 1984, calling them important milestones in the city's history.

"That has done more to put Tampa on the map than anything," she said.

It also generates cash flow, according to the NFL, a prospect greeted with enthusiasm in the Tampa Bay area by everyone from sports bar owners to beach hoteliers, though some economists take issue with their math.

On Wednesday, though, it was time to celebrate.

Paul Catoe, executive director of the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Center, said he, too, was happily surprised by the result and had assumed Tampa was the underdog.

"The biggest thing that's ever happened to me was watching my son being born," he said. "This wasn't as exciting, but it was close to it."

As Tampa Bay area residents saw in 1984, 1991, and 2001, the arrival of the Super Bowl is a major feel-good experience.

Tampa developer Ken Morin said he's been to four Super Bowls, including two in Tampa, and it's always exhilarating.

"There's nothing like Super Bowl weekend. Everyone's in a good mood, everyone's partying, everyone's spending money," he said. "It's a first-class event."

Morin also noted that when the spotlight shines on Tampa in 2009, the city will be bigger and better than it was in 2001, even if only half of the residential, retail and entertainment projects on the books are completed.

"It's going to be a different city than what was showcased last time on national TV," he said.

Business owners from Tampa to St. Petersburg gushed about the impending cash flow.

Daniel Ayala, a manager at Dan Marino's, said he expects out-of-towners to pack the restaurant at Baywalk in downtown St. Petersburg.

"There are a lot of hotels in Tampa, but we've got the beaches around here," he said.

The last time the Super Bowl rolled into Tampa, it brought about 100,000 visitors. Each of them spent an average of $2,500, with the high-rollers spending as much as $10,000 each. Using those numbers, the NFL figured the economic impact on Tampa that year at about $250-million.

But economists have widely differing opinions on whether those numbers hold up.

"I think those are gross exaggerations," said Alan Sanderson, a University of Chicago economist.

Out of that multimillion-dollar number, he said, you have to subtract expenditures that would have happened regardless of the Super Bowl. Take out jacked-up hotel room prices that go to an out-of-town company like Hyatt. Take out ticket prices and souvenir sales for hats and jerseys made outside of Florida. Subtract the millions that won't be spent at area malls because of Super Bowl-related events.

Then add in estimates that Sanderson says are usually not included in forecasts, such as "additional security costs, marketing and advertising that the NFL may foist off on the locals to do."

In the end, "if the NFL gives you a number of $300-million, I'm going to say $50-million max of that" will end up helping the Tampa economy, he said.

Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., said that while a Super Bowl can pull in many out-of-town fans, those fans are usually replacing other visitors who would be in town anyway. It's a phenomenon that is particularly pronounced in a warm-weather city such as Tampa, which draws large numbers of visitors during the winter months.

After studying the economic impact of nearly every Super Bowl hosted in Florida since 1979, University of South Florida economist Philip Porter is similarly skeptical. He minimized the value of the nationwide exposure that comes with a Super Bowl.

Buying advertising during another city's Super Bowl can do the same thing, with the added advantage of controlling the image of the city that's conveyed to TV viewers.

Porter recalled that some of the press coverage of this year's Super Bowl in Jacksonville focused on how quiet and boring that city is, while the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa generated coverage of local strip clubs and lap dances.

"You are exposing your community, but the exposure may be good or bad," he said. "It's not "priceless,' and it's not advertising."

Kathleen Davis, executive director of Sports Management Research Institute in Weston, is far more upbeat about the potential impact.

She acknowledged it could cost the host city $2-million, but figures the payoff is far larger - probably in the range of $250-million to $350-million and "hundreds of thousands" of jobs, most part-time.

Davis backed up her numbers by saying many of the Super Bowl attendees are among the highest-income consumer groups worldwide - and spend like it. Often, hotels require four-day stays for the big game, meaning consumers will spend more on other area attractions, she said.

"It means a whole helluva lot of money for this area," said Joe Redner, owner of several Tampa strip clubs. Previous Super Bowl weekends have been his biggest moneymakers. "We raise the prices, and we have more people. It's just a bonanza."

Green Iguana operations manager Karen Roeder said she expects all four locations to see increased business, including the newest Green Iguana near St. Petersburg's beaches. "People want to stay on the beach," she said. "We're right off the beach."

Not everyone reacted to Tampa's 2009 Super Bowl coup with such enthusiasm.

"I just am underwhelmed," said Sally Thompson, a community activist who teaches a course on environmental management at the University of South Florida. "I wish we spent more time on issues like protecting the environment."

Times staff writer Joanne Korth contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at 813 226-3401 or jzink@sptimes.com

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.