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Experts are at odds over game's payoff
By KYLE PARKS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001
TAMPA -- This weekend will set New Jersey insurance agent Ron Carr back about $5,500.
His four-night hospitality package at the Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore is $350 a night. A spot on a corporate party boat for the Gasparilla invasion is $400. Two days of golf is $160 or so.
"The Super Bowl is a big deal for me, and not just when the Giants are in it," said Carr, 42, a Wayne, N.J., resident who estimates he has been to 10 of the past 15 NFL championship games.
Thousands of executives are rolling into the Tampa Bay area this weekend for Super Bowl XXXV. The NFL estimates that the 100,000 visitors will spend an average of about $2,500 each, but top-of-the-line corporate types will spend as much as $10,000.
If you do the math to figure out the game's total economic impact from the NFL's numbers, you'll come up with $250-million, the number used by league executive Jim Steeg.
Among the visitors included in that estimate are the people setting up all the Super Bowl events. For example, Miami sports marketing exec Marco Marciano has been in Tampa since mid December, planning a golf tournament at East Lake Woodlands and a private party at Ybor City's Club 1509 with actor Carmen Electra, boxer Oscar De La Hoya and Bucs star Mike Alstott. He's staying at a corporate apartment at Post Rocky Point that goes for $2,600 a month.
Wait a minute, say some sports business experts. It's too simplistic to count all the visitors' spending as additional revenue for the host city. Shouldn't you subtract the regular business that hotels and restaurants aren't getting as they deal with the Super Bowl madness?
This debate is not simply an academic exercise. Sports teams use economic impact numbers to help persuade cities to pay for new stadiums. And the NFL promised a future Super Bowl to Tampa as part of the payoff when taxpayers passed a tax in 1996 to cover the $168-million cost of Raymond James Stadium.
"It's very hard to quantify the immediate impact," said Steeg, the NFL's senior vice president for special events. "And just as important, how do you quantify the value of the game beyond what's spent in the one weekend?"
Some of the numbers thrown around are staggering. Kathleen Davis, who runs the Sport Management Research Institute in Westin, conducted surveys at Miami's last Super Bowl, in January 1999, and estimated the game delivered $296-million in direct spending and $396-million in total economic impact.
Perhaps the only sporting events with more impact are the Olympics and the U.S. Open tennis tournament, a two-week event that attracts many wealthy fans, she said.
Davis' research uses so-called multipliers that estimate how the direct spending filters through the local economy. Supposedly, the infusion of cash helps businesses grow over time.
But Robert Baade, an economist at Lake Forest (Ill.) College who studies sports issues, thinks such numbers are wildly inflated. He doesn't think a Super Bowl delivers more than $60-million.
"When such an event is in town, many residents dramatically change their spending habits," Baade said. "No one doing these studies looks at how, for instance, attendance at museums falls 50 percent during a Super Bowl week.
"Everyone who wants a new stadium trots out these numbers, but I just don't think they're justified."
That debate aside, there is something everyone seems to agree on: The best way to measure the long-term economic impact of the game probably has nothing to do with this weekend's spending.
Consider that about half of the 72,000 seats at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday are controlled by the NFL, and most of those go to execs who wield a lot of power in the business world.
"The biggest thing for Tampa is that the area introduces itself to people who haven't been here," said the NFL's Steeg.
The last time the game was in Tampa, in 1991, an NFL survey showed that half the attendees had never visited Tampa before. Steeg compares that to the 1988 Super Bowl in San Diego, when only about 33 percent of the fans were first-time visitors.
Local business leaders hope that some of those visiting execs will remember the Tampa Bay area fondly someday when their companies decide on a site for a new facility.
"It would help if the tourism or chamber people did a long-term survey to see how much new business in the next few years stems from a Super Bowl visit," said sports marketing expert Davis. "That just hasn't been done before."
Insurance agent Carr, who specializes in developing employee benefit programs, comes to Tampa four or five times a year. His company, New England Financial, has a close relationship with Tampa-based Healthplan Services Corp.
Count Carr in that hoped-for crowd of visiting businesspeople who will speak well of the area.
"Tampa is a great town," he said. "There is lots of stuff to do."
Conveniently, Carr had to come to Tampa this week anyway for a sales meeting that ended Thursday. But while some of his activities this weekend involve schmoozing with business contacts, he has no intention of worrying about doing deals.
"I'm going to do a lot of hanging out with a couple of my friends from New Jersey," he said. "This isn't about work. It's about having some fun."
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