Originally created 01/19/99

Study: Super Bowl could be super bust for host city



MIAMI -- The Super Bowl may prove to be a super bust for south Florida, a new study suggests, contradicting the notion that the NFL's premier event generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the host city.

A look at six Super Bowls dating to 1979 -- three in Miami, two in Tampa, one in Phoenix -- found no increase in sales revenue from previous years without the big game, said Philip Porter, author of the study.

One reason may be that the estimated 140,000 fans who attend Super Bowl events in tourist-oriented Florida, Arizona or California displace the usual visitors from colder regions, he said.

"There ought to be a spike that sticks up like a sore thumb," said Porter, an economics professor at the University of South Florida at Tampa. "It doesn't exist. There is no blip. You don't find anything."

Another researcher, Mark Rosentraub, professor of public affairs at Indiana University in Indianapolis, said Porter's findings appear to hold true for Super Bowls held in warm-weather cities. But he said the big game has been a big success for cities that would not otherwise draw tourists during the winter, such as Pontiac, Mich., in 1982 and Minneapolis in 1992.

The NFL, its host committee and tourism officials contend the economic benefits will be huge -- as much as $365 million by NFL projections -- when the Super Bowl makes its eighth trip to South Florida next week. The calculations include direct and indirect effects on transportation, meals, lodging, entertainment and other retail services.

A study paid for by the NFL and conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP found San Diego County garnered $295 million from last year's Super Bowl.

"What they don't talk about is the publicity value, the fact that name is in the media," said Jim Steeg, NFL vice president of special events. "For a week, ESPN will show Biscayne Bay in the background about 36 times."

But Porter said whatever direct Super Bowl profits are made go to large-scale businesses -- airlines, hotels and such retailers as Foot Locker. "The honest local guy who works as the waiter isn't getting much richer or even the restaurant owner," he said.

Two businesses that will busy during Super Bowl week seem to corroborate the study's findings.

"You don't really do the big numbers like everybody thinks -- maybe there'll be a 10 or 15 percent increase," said Steve Sawitz, who manages Joe's Stone Crab restaurant.

David Fine, vice president of sales for the Doral Golf Resort and Spa, said Fox Broadcasting has booked the hotel for the Super Bowl. Not that the hotel would have had trouble filling those $360-a-night rooms.

"Typically, we do well in late January anyway," Fine said. "This is normally our busiest time of the season."

Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Super Bowl brings in corporate executives scouting for places to hold conventions and stockholder meetings. These big spenders can't help but inject dollars into the local economy, she said.

"We know the kind of spenders that are in town during Super Bowl," Grossman said. "I am not at the least uncomfortable with the estimate of a total economic impact of $380 million on South Florida."

Rosentraub said the effect of sports on local economies has long been exaggerated.

"I think Porter is right on target," said Rosentraub, who examined the subject in his book "Major League Losers." Sports "has virtually no economic effect. I try to tell everybody to take the economics out of it when you talk about teams. It's all substitution."

The NFL uses its Super Bowl economic impact studies to encourage cities to build taxpayer-funded stadiums.

"We are being suckered," Porter said. "People who want us to do something for them are selling us snake oil."