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Economist says estimates of Super Bowl's impact often exaggerated

Superbowl
Posted at 4:44 PM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 18:25:12-05

TAMPA, Fla-  — It’s America’s biggest sporting event, and it’s back in Tampa.

Organizers throw out huge numbers when trying to convince local governments that bringing in the Super Bowl is an economic windfall.

Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission got Hillsborough County leaders to agree to contribute $3 million for infrastructure, stadium staffing, and security.

At the time, Commissioner Ken Hagan cited Super Bowls in Minneapolis and Houston as having brought in well over $400 million each.

“That’s why so many cities not only bid on hosting the Super Bowl but are also willing to contribute an average of nearly $15 million in public funding," he said.

Along with $3 million from Hillsborough County’s Tourist Development Council.

Other tax-payer funded organizations chipped in another $4.5 million.

But economist Victor Matheson says the promises of economic impact are greatly exaggerated.

“They sure seem like a great idea when they are in town and there are hordes of people. But when you actually crunch the numbers, the return on investment isn’t very great," said Matheson, a professor at the College of Holy Cross.

Matheson says the big game brings in somewhere between $30 and $130 million dollars.

And the higher estimates are made to encourage cities to dish out tax subsidies for the NFL.

It also leads them to spend more money on renovating stadiums or build new ones to stay in the hunt for hosting a Super Bowl.

Hillsborough County taxpayers contributed nearly $30 million toward renovations at Raymond James Stadium five years ago.

“As a rule of thumb what economists say is take whatever the promoters say and move the decimal point one place to the left and that’s actually a good estimate of the real economic impact.”

Add in a global pandemic that no one could have predicted, and the economic impact of Super Bowl LV looks even worse.

Attendance will be drastically cut for the game.

But even more devastating, is the loss of corporate events and parties that bring in thousands of visitors.

Bridgestone Tires and Anheuser-Busch, are among those who canceled plans.

And ESPN is scaling back its normally massive footprint.

Alex Fernandez and his wife Diana Garcia own one of the many businesses that had hoped to cash in during Super Bowl week.

“When we found out the Super Bowl was here in Tampa it was amazing. It’s every city and every business’s dream," said Garcia.

They had expected Affari transportation to be booked solid.

But the with the pandemic continuing, they only have two jobs booked.

“In a perfect world, we would be doing all the corporate events. All the parties, " said Fernandez.

Will Weatherford is a former state representative and Speaker of the Florida House.

Now he runs a private investment firm and is co-chairman of Tampa’s Super Bowl host committee.

“Even in the midst of COVID, we have a chance to shine on a world stage to show how much Tampa has matured and all the opportunities that are here. This is a wise utilization of both private and public dollars. There’s no dollar amount you can put on the value a city gets from hosting a Super Bowl. Particularly a city like Tampa that is on the move and in growth mode.”

Tampa has changed a lot since the last Super Bowl here in 2009.

Most notably the downtown Riverwalk, which will be used for the NFL Experience.

Even with fewer visitors, there will still be worldwide exposure.

“It’s the most-watched event in the world every single year. People are going to see how it’s grown up and how it’s changed. And our opportunity to tell our story during the most-watched event globally is really unique," said Weatherford.

“I’m not going to cry about what could have been and what should have been. The reality is I’m still alive. My family is still alive. We are going to go forward and Tampa is going to continue to shine and grow," said Fernandez.

The hospitality industry has taken a huge hit during the pandemic.

But for hotels and restaurants, any added boost of business is better than none.

And one thing for sure, this Super Bowl will be unlike any other played before.

“The hope is that the Super Bowl can be a shot in the arm to the world about how we can come together," said Weatherford.